Beyond the history-making pandemic and racial justice protests in 2020, Dunwoody faced overcrowded schools, finding a new DeKalb Schools superintendent, police lawsuits and I-285 toll lanes that could take some residents’ homes. There was even controversy with the city’s unofficial motto “Everything Will Be OK.” 2020 had some silver linings, as plans for a new park got underway and several development projects came to fruition.
Pandemic shutdowns and openings
Dunwoody faced similar shutdowns and mask-mandate debates as the rest of the metro area. It was one of the first cities to start significant reopening activities, both official and cautious, such as a partial City Hall opening, and controversial, like a Dunwoody Village concert that drew 100 people on Memorial Day weekend. The city government disbursed various relief funds but especially focused on small businesses and restaurants with such efforts as a painted-picnic-table campaign and funding for equipment to allow outdoor operations in wintertime.
Black Lives Matter protests come to town
The nationwide protest movement over the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd came to Dunwoody, with unprecedented demonstrations organized by activists and residents. Mayor Lynn Deutsch and Police Chief Billy Grogan were among those who attended. Deutsch went on to call for racial dialogue and increased diversity on city boards, but that dialogue has not materialized and the mayor’s first post-protest board appointments were of all-White members.
Misconduct allegations rock police department
Allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct against former Dunwoody Police Department Lt. Fidel Espinoza — including claims he demanded sexual favors for work benefits — rocked the city. One lawsuit and three formal complaints alleged misconduct not only by the once-popular Espinoza but also by other command staff. Police Chief Billy Grogan and an outside attorney have called three of the four complaints untrue or unproven. Meanwhile, the city’s insurer settled for $400,000 a lawsuit from a man who was struck by a police car while running from officers; the department says the officer was cleared by an internal investigation.
Unofficial motto causes controversy
The slogan “Everything Will Be OK” has long been an unofficial city motto, adopted from a famous mural at the Spruill Center for the Arts gallery. The term rose to international prominence early in the pandemic as Create Dunwoody and the Spruill Center collaborated on an artist-supporting fundraiser that sold yard-sign versions of the mural. But mural artist Jason Scott Kofke, who was using the slogan on his own pandemic projects, objected on copyright infringement grounds. The dispute was settled, but the fundraiser soon ended and the gallery announced plans to move the mural to Brook Run Park. A new, rotating display of art installations is taking its place at the gallery.
I-285 toll lanes shock with property impacts
The Georgia Department of Transportation in January revealed preliminary designs for toll lanes, on I-285, which are intended to speed traffic as part of a metro-wide system, but would impact hundreds of properties and would turn some local streets into highway interchanges. Approximately 155 properties in Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs could be affected or demolished. More details will come in the new year.
DeKalb Schools finally gets a superintendent
Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris took over the DeKalb County School District this summer after months of turmoil, including a Board of Education rejection of prior candidate Rudolph Crew, who claimed the vote was discriminatory. Watson-Harris came on in the midst of the pandemic and debates about when to return to in-person classes.
Gold Kist site makeover planned
The former Gold Kist headquarters in Perimeter Center was targeted for remodeling and renovation into a corporate campus. Buckhead-based RocaPoint Partners and New York-based The Georgetown Company purchased the approximately 13-acre site at 244 Perimeter Center Parkway for an undisclosed amount.
Dunwoody Village gets mixed-use zoning, and lawsuit
A rezoning intended to remake Dunwoody Village into a mixed-use, modern-looking, pedestrian-centric area won approval by the City Council. But one shopping center was left out after its owner sued the city in a dispute about the rezoning’s buffer area between it and neighboring houses.
Controversial empty-nester project is approved
After months of deliberation, the City Council approved a rezoning for a gated community across from the new Austin Elementary School on Roberts Drive. Developer Peachland Housing Group says the project, which includes the historic Swancy Farmhouse, would provide better living options for senior residents. There are, however, no actual age restrictions for the homeowners.
School overcrowding concerns
While the announcement of a new elementary school in Dunwoody was welcomed by some residents and officials, they also questioned the move when local middle and high schools remain overpopulated. The DeKalb County Board of Education approved plans to build a 950-student school on the former campus of Shallowford Elementary on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. Along with the opening of a larger Austin Elementary School on Roberts Drive earlier in the year, the new site is expected to alleviate some overcrowding that has led to contentious redistricting and use of trailers as temporary classrooms.
–Holly R. Price and John Ruch