Thursday, January 24, 2013

Zoning Sounding Board Confidential

As of last night the zoning code rewrite drafting is about 3/4 done.  Last module is going to involve the stream buffers and related issues.

When the Sounding Board was first assembled, Steve Dush cautioned all of us that discussions would be heated and there was a potential for them to get out of control.

That never happened.  We each had areas of concern and expertise, but no fights broke out.  There were no "hijacked" meetings.  Once we got to know each other in the context of the Board and its goals, once we were sure that none of our perspectives would be dismissed or censored, we came together as a group and looked for ways that all of the diverse interests of Dunwoody's many communities could be accommodated. That is, we recognized that not all districts or subdivisions, or businesses were alike.  One size fits all wasn't going to happen.  We strove to watch a code develop that would accommodate ever-diversifying interests through the next two decades of the 21st century.

We hashed through all kinds of interests.  Some of which I believe will become anachronisms in 20 years when the zoning code has to be reviewed again.  There were all sorts of groups looking to have their interests codified.  There were sloppy displays of Gluteus smoochium to the Atlanta Regional Commission. There were activities and interests I couldn't imagine myself involved with in a million years.  There were major conflicts that needed fine lines drawn.  When last night's meeting rolled around, the Sounding Board members present and reps from the City and the consultants were sitting around, agreeing with each other (!) that the current draft was comprehensive, consistent, accommodating of various interests when able and most of all, fair to the entire city,  not just one segment of it.

There are going to be individual cases to be worked out one at a time.  But the framework is in place.

The most interesting thing I learned was that it is not necessary to personally endorse an activity or perspective to accommodate it in the code.  That epiphany broke down a lot of barriers.  There were some requests and recommendations that I thought were ridiculous.  But determining their place in the code wasn't about what I thought personally.  It was about making room for as many as possible.

City staff and council members have sat in on these sessions at various times, usually without comment.  Last night Denny Shortal visited and offered his personal advice to the team.  (Unfortunately, he did so in the bottom of the 6th out of nine innings, bless his heart.)  Denny's advice was (paraphrased) to base our decisions of what the code should read based on what we would like to live next to personally.

Denny is wrong and last night's advice was bad for Dunwoody.  Here is why:

When peoples' only perception of  "the city" begins and ends at their property lines, communication becomes impossible.  Cliques form that consider other taxpaying and homeowner citizens the "foe" that they must be "protected" against.  Any step in evolution, growth, improvement is met with suspicion and hostility.  Then you see groups of grumpy red shirted-citizens opposed to any change, whatever the reason.  The impact of any previous progress is diluted.  Focusing your attention on only what you, yourself,  "like" and "prefer" pits neighbors against each other and progress grinds to a halt.  Focusing on your own likes to the detriment of others who think differently is to write a zoning code based on fear, rather than reality.  I dont' know if Denny even realizes this is what he has done.

Speaking of basing code upon fear, my colleagues and others interested in this process love to inform me how home occupations are going to be a "hot button" issue.  I can't tell if they're dreading the conflict or thriving on it.  I supposed it depends on who's doing the talking.   The number of recorded complaints regarding home occupations is minuscule compared to the hundreds of home business owners in Dunwoody. No one believes for a minute that any homeowner should put up with egregious nuisances.  There are some little red lizards running around town trying to convince you that home business owners want the right to be a nuisance  That is a lie.

Every effort was put into writing the current code to accommodate the majority of home business owners who get along with their neighbors without causing the problems that are the source of the fear.  Past incidents of code violations by home business owners were examined and the code written to prohibit those practices.  At the same time, the punitive processes were removed.  If this code is passed, home business owners will be free to come forward and be permitted by the city to see one customer at a time, without hiding from a months-long process that drags out in the pages of the Crier.   Music teachers and other tutors can receive their pupils without their parents whispering nervously about being at someone's home.   Neighbors and others can file a complaint where necessary and leave the peaceful owners alone.  Peaceful home business owners don't need or deserve to be stigmatized by the few who cannot function in their neighborhoods.

Why has this process taken so long?  Because every time this discussion comes up, the first words out of every nay-sayer's mouth is "I'm afraid."  The previous code was written in the 1970s  and is only enforced because of someone's fear, not the reality of the wide variety of activities that take place in a 21st century home.  Home business owners were considered guilty of being a nuisance before proven innocent - and they could never be innocent.  The current code draft balances the needs of home business owners and other residents fairly, without a presumption of guilt on either side.

Read it for yourself at  Nothing in this process or these documents has ever been a secret.

That's just one issue that is going to come up tonight.  (We'll see if I can get over my cold in enough time to attend.)  The accommodation of bicyclists, standards in the Village Overlay District, "mixed use" districts, are all going to be major.  There are advocates both for and against these accommodation, just like for home businesses.

What's going to happen tonight?  How many attendees will open their discussion on whatever issue concerns them with "We can't do that because I'm afraid"?  How many will look beyond their own property lines and accept the different homes that make up Dunwoody and find common ground?  Or at the very least build a fair fence between them?

Take my advice - let the Angel destroy the lizard.  It's liberating to let go of the fear of the "different".  I did it myself.  The entire Sounding Board did.  It's OK to let everyone be happy citizens in their own way.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Great Divorce

C. S. Lewis is most famous for the "Chronicles of Narnia" series of books, starting with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."  However he wrote several other novels based on Christian theological themes.

One of his lesser-known is "The Great Divorce".  It was originally written as a serial in a UK newspaper in the mid 1940s, then published as a book, adapted as a play, and there are rumors of a film adaptation in the near future.

Like his other novels, "Divorce" is a fantasy.  The story opens with a group of people waiting at a bus stop.  Not just any bus stop.  This one is in Hell.  The people are waiting for a bus ride to Heaven.

The group is a bunch of grumbling malcontents who are not capable of being happy.  Of course, you wouldn't expect anyone to be happy in Hell.  Their bus reaches its destination.  The opening chapters describe a green paradise of eternal cool summer morning.  The residents are bright white figures.  However the bus riders are oily ghosts who are so insubstantial, even the blades of grass pierce their feet.

They escape Hell.  They arrive in Heaven.  Others urge them to stay and enjoy eternity.

They hate it!

How could anyone hate Heaven?  The answers came in the stories of each of the "ghosts" as they explored and interacted with others they knew on Earth and died like them, but went to Heaven instead.  The "diverse" bus company included an apostate pastor, a bitter conspiracy theorist/pessimist, a vain old woman obsessed with her appearance, and several self-possessed drama-queens who never realized how miserable they made their families.  They were each so wrapped up in themselves that Heaven was a miserable place and most of them returned to Hell.

Only one of the ghosts from Hell manages to stay:

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder.  Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial....What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear.  As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience....It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him.  He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile.  Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the Mountains.

"Off so soon?" said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger ahn a man and so bright that I could hardly look at him.  His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

"Yes, I'm off," said the Ghost.  "Thanks for all your hospitality.  But it's no good, you see.  I told this little chap...that he'd have to be quiet if he came - which he insisted on doing.  Of course hsit stuff won't do here:  I realise that.  But he won't stop.  I shall just have to go home."

"Would you like me to make him quiet?" said the flaming Spirit - an angel, as I now understood.

"Of course I would," said the Ghost.

"Then I will kill him, "said the Angel, taking a step forward.

"Oh - ah - look out!  You're burning me.  Keep away," said teh Ghost, retreating.

"Don't you want him killed?"

"You didn't say anything about killing him at first.  I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that."

"It's the only way," said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard.  "Shall I kill it?"

..."Honestly,  I don't think there's the slightest necessity for that.  I'm sure I shall be able to keep it in order now.  I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it."

"The gradual process is of no use at all."

"Get back!  You're burning me.  How can I tell you to kill it?  You'd kill me if you did."

"It is not so....I never said it wouldn't hurt you.  I said it wouldn't kill you."

"If you wanted to help me, why didn't you kill the damned thing without asking me - before I knew?  It would be all over by now if you had."

"I cannot kill it against your will.  It is impossible.  Have I your permission?"

Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

"Be careful," it said.  "He can do what he says.  He can kill me.  One fatal word from you and he will!  Then you'll be without me for ever and ever.  It's not natural.  How could you live?  You'd be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now.  He doesn't understand.  He's only a cold, bloodless abstract thing....I admit I've sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won't do it again.  I'll give you nothing but really nice dreams...."

"Have I your permission?" said the Angel to the Ghost.

... "Damn and blast you!  Go on can't you?  Get it over.  Do whatever you like," bellowed the Ghost:  but ended whimpering, "God help me."

And with that, the Angel destroyed the Demon whispering in the soul's ear.  The former Ghost became a saint and Heaven rejoiced as he entered.

The difference between the Ghost who stayed in Heaven and the rest that returned to Hell was that the one who stayed chose to stop listening to his fears being reinforced in his head.  Everyone else couldn't see beyond themselves.  Their fears and their misery were so familiar and so comfortable that it was a horror to release them - even if it meant eternal joy.

In any community, including ours, there are a lot of little demonic lizards, sitting on a lot of shoulders, whispering in a lot of ears, reinforcing the comfortable fears that make even neighbors distrust each other.  To be happy, you have to choose to kill the fear.

Friday, January 18, 2013

AT&T Email and Outlook - It's not you, it's them

If your ISP is AT&T in any way, shape, or form (including Uverse) and you're getting error messages when you connect via Outlook, it's not you.  Don't waste your time uninstalling and reinstalling your entire MS Office suite.

AT&T email servers had a hacking incident recently and every geek on deck is twiddling knobs to close the new vulnerability.

Of course, that means someone twiddles the wrong knob and FUBARs authentication with 3rd-party email programs.

Use your webmail or smartphone-based mail client for a while.  Calling AT&T doesn't usually help, they just deny changing anything on their end.  Security, ya know.

I'm in this boat as well.  I'm handling all mail on my phone.  If something is mission-critical, give me a call.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

State BOE Hearing will be webcast at 1 PM

The hearing for the DeKalb Board of Education will be webcast.  The state BOE will hear from DeKalb's BOE members before determining their fate.

Whether or not you have children, whether or not they live in your home, and whether or not they attend DeKalb public schools, this affects each of us.  Not just because of "home values" but because 64% of the property taxes we pay have funded the actions that brought us to this point.

The weather is a bear today so listen in online.

Viewing the webcast requires the RealPlayer plugin.  Download for free here.

1 PM  January 17
Be there or be square.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dunwoody Chamber on Business Radio X Monday Morning

Every month, the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce is featured on Business Radio X, an Internet radio program dedicated to local business enterprises and entrepreneurs.

This month, one of the featured guests on a special edition of the High Velocity Radio show, dedicated to the Dunwoody Chamber is Dunwoody graphic designer and home business owner, Debbie Smith of DesignSeven.

If her name isn't familiar to you, her work is.  Not only has she designed a series of print graphics for the Dunwoody Chamber, (which I have had the great pleasure of adapting to the Chamber website) but she is also responsible for much of the art that you see distributed for the Sustainability Commission.  Debbie also created the new logo for the Dunwoody Nature Center, which is the cornerstone of their new branding and publicity campaigns.

Debbie is going to be talking with the host about doing business in Dunwoody and her involvement with the Chamber.

Listen in at 10 AM on Monday, Jan 14 live.  Or, check back to the Dunwoody Chamber site in a couple of weeks and a mobile-friendly file will be available for review.

Dunwoody business is not just business - it's our neighbors and our lives.  Get your neighbor's perspective this Tuesday.

UPDATE:  Debbie was a smashing success!  Access the recorded show here.
Debbie will be back in the future with a show dedicated to graphic design.