Thursday, September 27, 2012

Random Samples in the Dunwoody Area

Chamblee's Own Georgetown?

Chamblee Plaza to Get Facelift

After years of decline, another major shopping center is staged for a revival.  A new owner (Trinity) has taken over Chamblee Plaza and is planning its resurrection.  A food truck rally is scheduled to become a regular event to renew interest.

Can Chamblee Plaza repeat the success of Georgetown?
It wasn't long ago that  Georgetown Shopping Center was "that other part of Dunwoody" that was just oh-so-undesirable for the "right" Dunwoodians.  With an upscale contemporary makeover of the facades, a new monument-style sign at the main entrance, a renovation of the Kroger supermarket and some new hip, trendy merchants in the storefronts, it is becoming the new must-shop part of town with a feel comparable to any of the "desirable" neighborhood shopping nodes.   There's no reason why Chamblee Plaza cannot enjoy the same success.

Jet Pizza Opening in Orchard Park (old Oscar's)

It looks like that space vacated by Oscar's Villa Capri is not going to be vacant for long.  Jet Pizza is loading in and the welcome mat is out for job applicants.  If anyone has heard of this outfit, the comments are open.

Dunwoody Nature Center Seeks Corporate Sponsors

Dunwoody Nature Center has become the extended back yard for lots of Dunwoody and regional families.  My family are members here and it isn't summer without daycamp for the kids.  If your company, however large or small, is looking for an opportunity to support a Dunwoody institution, this is your chance.  Sponsorships are affordable for any enterprise from international corporations down to local home-based operations.

Visit the Sponsorship Page for the possibilities.

Neighbors When You Need Them - Dunwoody Door Lift

I had an "oh, crap" moment the other day when my garage door opener failed.  While getting two toddlers to preschool.  And I'm late for a meeting.  And my hands are full of sh....  stuff.

When the day started to calm down I did a search for "dunwoody garage door" and found Dunwoody Door Lift, the only garage door installation and repair service in town.  With one call they had a technician out to my house the very next day and the problem was repaired within an hour.

Garage door repair isn't something you think about until you need it.  So it's easy to forget that Dunwoody Door Lift has been established in Dunwoody for almost 40 years.  It is also a  long-time home-based business that is a shining example of how home-based businesses can operate  peacefully within a neighborhood.

When it's time to repair or install a garage door or opener, please consider Dunwoody Door Lift and give them a call at 770-393-1652.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dunwoody's Scarlet Letter

The Life Center Ministries variance request with the local opposition and request for lawyer money was a key agenda item at the last DHA meeting.

The variance request was coming from a church in Sandy Springs but because of its proximity to the Dunwoody city line, neighborhoods inside of our city were riled up too.  The reason I looked forward to this discussion was because I wanted to see how different Life Center's plan was from all of the churches/synagogues in Dunwoody who also provide preschool and daycare.  Along Mt. Vernon alone you have Dunwoody Baptist, All Saints, and Dunwoody United Methodist. Not far away are the JCC, Kingswood UMC and North Peachtree Baptist.  All of these faith-based communities provide preschool and/or daycare with several elements in common:

  • While there may be a preference for children whose parents are members, all programs are open to the public.
  • Children enrolled in these programs may reside outside of Dunwoody, and even outside of DeKalb county.
  • Some parents of enrolled children choose these programs because of proximity to their work, rather than their home.
  • The programs are not free of charge - each requires tuition.  Some find it very expensive.
  • Most, if not all, subcontract some part of their program to an outside vendor.
  • All of these programs have  200 children registered, or more, per year.  

Fortunately for the Dunwoody area, the parent of a preschool child has a variety of equally outstanding options, those above, and the non-sectarian private options throughout town.  The saying goes that a parent could choose a preschool blindfolded, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey style, and always select an excellent program their child will benefit from.

When I walked into the DHA meeting, I was anticipating a comprehensive discussion of pros and cons from all sides in the debate to fully understand the source of the conflict.

But that's not what happened.

First, the pastor of Life Center Ministries cancelled his appointment to appear, and did not send a representative at all.  There was no getting the story from the horse's mouth.

Second, there was very little analysis of the variance request itself.  All that anyone said was that they were going to build buildings, that Life Center was using Discovery Point as a vendor, and that it was "COMMERCIAL".

The word "commercial" was used no less than two-dozen times in a 15 minute discussion.  (That was where I stopped counting.)  It was COMMERCIAL that parents would pay tuition to drop off children there.  It was COMMERCIAL that they were outsourcing management to Discovery Point.  When other words failed, someone just repeated COMMERCIAL, COMMERCIAL COMMERCIAL.  As if that single word was enough to conclude the case.

When the subject of tuition came up, I mentioned to the lady sitting behind me, "What do you mean, all of the church daycares in town charge tuition."  Her response was an aghast look and an urgent whisper, "But, but....  it's COMMERCIAL!"

Someone else described what other Discovery Point centers look like and claimed that this would be the appearance at Life Center.  Was it true?  No one knows.  No one brought any proof one way or another.  But it doesn't matter, because that same person repeated the magic word:  COMMERCIAL!

Fran Millar added to the performance.  When the discussion turned to the type of church Life Center Ministries is, Fran chimed in with his own indictment:  "Remember, he is a BUSINESSMAN!"  I have to hand it to Fran:  in spite of his own business dealings and support from the business community, he can read an audience and play to it like he's headlining Caesar's Palace.

Dunwoody (and as it would seem from this scenario, Sandy Springs) are inherently hostile to anything described as "COMMERCIAL".  No matter what it is, no matter how large or small, no matter who is involved, "COMMERCIAL" is evil and "C" is the new Scarlet Letter, like Hester Prynne's embroidered "A" in Hawthorne's novel.  What exactly is this commerce everyone is so afraid of?  The definitions below come from the dictionary at

com·mer·cial   [kuh-mur-shuhl]
adjective1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of commerce.
2. engaged in commerce.
3.  prepared, done, or acting with sole or chief emphasis on salability, profit, or success
4.  able to yield or make a profit:
5.  suitable or fit for a wide, popular market: 

com·merce   [kom-ers]
noun1.  an interchange of goods or commodities, especially on a large scale between different countries (foreign commerce)  or between different parts of the same country (domestic commerce);  trade; business.
2.  social relations, especially the exchange of views, attitudes, etc.
3.  sexual intercourse. (????  -DWG)4.  intellectual or spiritual interchange; communion.
5.  ( initial capital letter ) Also called Commerce Department. Informal . the Department of Commerce.

When you pay someone to cut your lawn or prune your bushes, that is commercial activity.  When you pay a babysitter while you go out for the night, that is commercial activity.  When a church or synagogue pays their light bill or has a contractor resurface a parking lot, that is commercial activity.  When you take your children to preschool at All Saints or Dunwoody UMC and pay their tuition, that is commercial activity.  When Kingswood UMC or Winters Chapel UMC have their consignment sale, that is commercial activity.

Life is commercial!!!

I think what causes residents of a certain age to become fearful is not necessarily the fact of commercial activity, but the perception of the scale and the inherent belief of change.  Fear is a powerful motivator.  Perhaps that's why there was so little factual discussion and no documentable evidence of the alleged concerns one way or another.

I was able to glean two items out of the discussion that could impact the variance decision.  First are the operating hours.  A local resident claimed that the operating hours would be from 6 AM to 6 PM, corresponding to peak traffic times along Mt. Vernon.  I have no idea whether or not this is true.  It may very well be.  Or, it may be an assumption on the part of someone who researched Discovery Point and merely concluded that these hours would be applied.   The second was reported by Sam and Molly Portis who were also sitting behind me at the meeting.  They claim there is a house on the property with significant cultural and historic value that would be destroyed if the church's plan were approved.  That could be very important but alas, the documentation was not presented at the meeting itself.

I have no idea which side in this dispute is in the right.  There was no evidence presented.  There was talk and the word "COMMERCIAL" was thrown out like candy at the 4th of July parade.  But no documentation, photos, diagrams, business plans, ANYTHING that could back up what anyone was saying.

But no one needed to bring proof.

Because in Dunwoody, if anyone has a complaint about anyone else, for any reason, all you have to do is claim they are engaged in COMMERCIAL activity.  It doesn't even have to be true!  A complaint could be based on a personality conflict or other neighbor feud.  It doesn't matter.  Just make sure to repeat the word "COMMERCIAL" when you complain about someone and an army will materialize to subdue whomever you dislike and gain whatever solution you want.

Per this week's Crier, Life Center Ministries has withdrawn the application for the day care center and required variances.

See, it works!  Just yell the word COMMERCIAL COMMERCIAL COMMERCIAL as frequently as you can and you don't have to trouble yourself with standards of proof or evidence.  Your word is law when you brand your sworn enemy with the Scarlet C.

Friday, September 21, 2012

INTRODUCING: Wine Xplorer!

Last night I launched one of my big summer projects!!

The front door of Wine Xplorer's venue
in  Dunwoody Plaza
WineXplorer is a cozy wine tasting club in the Dunwoody Plaza shopping center on Dunwoody Village Drive.  (The same center that houses the 1420 Room, Dunwoody Pediatrics, etc.)  This location serves as the new physical headquarters of the Atlanta Wine Meetup.  The club has over 3,000 members and now has a venue for comfortable, casual, neighborhood-scale wine tastings and related special events.

I met the owner/coordinator Katt Martin through the Chamber of Commerce.  She had commissioned a combination online community/e-commerce website based on Drupal, the same CMS that the Dunwoody Chamber website is built in.  However, she was becoming unhappy with the results and wanted a new developer to take over the project.  That's where I came in.

First step was to go through the database and additional functions that were built already, find the bugs, then find what had not been included or done incorrectly.  There were a couple of standard Drupal "modules" (plug-in additional functions) that had been customized by the previous company - but there was no documentation included.  Oh joy.  The project started by reading lots of code line by line.

Next issue on the table was the appearance.  The version I received was not even close to what Katt wanted to represent her club.  Katt wanted a unique combination:  the sleek, glossy, uncluttered structure of now-standard "Web 2.0" technology, but instead of the cool greys and blues that are typical of that design, she wanted a color palette of earth tones to exude a sense of warmth and comfort and closeness.  That's not a combo you see very often.  The result is what you see in the image above.  In honor of the Wine Xplorer club, I call this theme "Cabernet & Chocolates."

There are numerous features in this site, some included with the initial launch, others planned to debut in a scheduled sequence.  First and foremost is membership.  Members can join the club free of charge and engage in the online community as well as participate in events.  Next - the calendar of events.  The site owner and her staff schedule club events for the venue and display them in a calendar form.  From there, a visitor can browse the upcoming events, and purchase tickets securely right where they're sitting.  Tickets for multiple events can be purchased in one secure transaction.

Bring your camera when you attend an event.   Registered members are welcome to upload their photos to the gallery and share their experience and POV.

Finally, membership has its benefits.  The first benefit that rolled out with the site launch are Xplorer Points.  Members earn "points" by participating in events and interacting with the online extension of the Wine Xplorer community.  The points can be used to get discounts on future purchases.  Katt has more surprises in store.  I'll let her brag on them when she wants me to pull the trigger.

Looking for more than just membership?  The Wine Xplorer community welcomes wine bloggers, wine experts, and other who would like to add their expertise to the website, to organizing events, and growing the club.  Opportunities are on the site as well.

Your Host, Katt Martin!
Best of all, Wine Xplorer is a community in real life as well as online.  When I first visited to go over programming mid way through the project.  I was determined to keep my mouth shut so I wouldn't embarrass myself with my lack of knowledge about wine, even though I have a firm grasp on what I like.  I need not have been concerned.  Wine Xplorer is not only not expensive or difficult, it is also not overbearing, or intimidating, or pretentious.  Anyone who enjoys wine and is interested in learning or experimenting is welcome, from any walk of life.  The venue at Dunwoody Plaza has a comfortable homey atmosphere.  It's impossible NOT to make yourself at home.  There's even an adjoining "wine cave"-type room if you'd like a more formal tasting experience.

We've met the goal of a completely seamless online community that includes calendars, online ticketing, e-commerce and various forms of member interaction including photo sharing and blogging - with more to come.  In addition, this online community blends seamlessly with real life interactions and an easy-to-use administration interface where various members have different abilities to manage different elements of the site.  This is the ideal spectrum that an interactive website is supposed to accomplish.

Next event is a Wine Social tonight at 7:30 which I'm going to try to attend if I can get the kiddos squared away early enough.  Tickets are still available at the site.  Keep your eyes peeled for more local wine events from Wine Xplorer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Who is the Face of Dunwoody?

Most Facebook comments from city hall aren't too exciting.

This one should be interesting!  Are you the face of Dunwoody?  Your spouse?  Your neighbor?  Or kids?  Here's a chance to find out.  Comments are open if you go to the event and would like to report back.

We will be out at Brook Run Park this Saturday 9/22 taking pictures from 4pm-7pm. We are looking for men, women, families, kids, and pets who would like to be models for our Dunwoody photography. No experience necessary, just have fun! Please contact Molly 404 949-3776 for more information.

A Greenway By Any Other Name

The latest hot topic in Dunwoody development is the resurgence of "multi-use trails".

This topic nearly came to a riot before the last election when the first "greenway" plan was presented.  The original version involved confiscating easements (private residential property that utilities pay to use for their equipment) and paving them over for general public use.  While some were willing to donate their property to this purpose, others, notably those who would stand to lose 1/3 or more of their lot and have the greenway uncomfortably close to their homes, objected.  Loudly.  The "greenways" were removed from the parks plan.

Now in 2012 the subject is "multi use trails".  Same concept, same purpose, different name, slightly different approach.

These trails run around Brook Run Park in this overlay drawing, except at the northwest end of the park where the trail diverts south so as to avoid private property that is surrounded by the park.  The rest of the trails (in red) run directly on the perimeter for the most part.
The sales pitch images are oddly familiar:

The text in the  links and warmfuzzyfeelgood pitch images are exactly the same as the original Greenway presentation.  The only difference is that "Greenway" has been substituted with "multi use trail".

Not only is this new proposal flat-out laziness, it assumes that no one will notice or call out city staff for it.

The best thing I can say about the Brook Run greenway is that it employs municipal land, rather than privately owned residential land.  The city can make whatever plans they want without intruding directly on anyone's castle.  The similar trails in Georgetown are being planned in with the rest of the development from scratch.  Again, nothing to tear down.  

(Note:  words are great, pictures supporting them would be better.)

There are still drawbacks.  First, the amount of construction involved.  Brook Run had a small network of forest-like trails to stroll or hike along.  We're talking nature trails, not paved highways.  Then that evolved into "paved walkways".  Now we're back to the original 12-foot-wide greenway.  Development projects in Dunwoody have a tendency to expand during discussion, along with their budgets (cf, Dunwoody Village Parkway).  I'd still like to know why this is the usual trend.

Second:  when the playground and skate park were built, homeowners on the opposite side of Peeler Road went completely ape at the number of trees being cut down and the lack of screening between their homes and the active parts of the park.  Does anyone think the reaction will be different this time?  The trees are not going to obediently uproot themselves and replant elsewhere.  The screening that immediate neighbors say they want is going to be completely demolished.  The Q&A claims that only a "minimum" of trees are going to be removed but doesn't clarify a number and there are no artist renderings or even sketches superimposed over photographs to demonstrate this.  Only the same greenway sales photos from the original presentation.  

Speaking of trees, how is this plan getting reconciled with the efforts of the Sustainability Commission who claim to want to preserve tree canopy in Dunwoody?  You can either develop land for greenways by cutting down trees or you can preserve trees via force of law.  You can't do both.  I don't find the Q&A credible when it implies that few trees are going to be disturbed.  There's 12 feet of pavement plus a buffer zone on either side, especially during construction.  Again, there are no photos of the area to be built itself to confirm anything in the City's documents.  

Next is the question of materials.  Sustainability Commission and related "green" advocates have been touting  "green" building and "green" materials to the sky since the city was founded.  Now they have a chance to put that rhetoric into action by using the much celebrated "pervious paving".  But wait, there's a snag.  It turns out that "pervious paving" materials are only functional if nothing "green" falls on them.  Like leaves, dirt, or pine straw.  So we're now back to concrete, the less expensive of the standard paving alternatives.  The "green" advocates have not been forthcoming about the disadvantages of "green" materials - we have to find them out the hard way when it's time to consider their use.  

These questions of mine are just for the Brook Run section of the greenway plan.  They don't apply to the Georgetown development because the land was already cleared for development.

Before I can decide what side of this plan I stand on, I'd like to see more than an aerial photograph of the entire park.  I would like to see on-location photos of the areas being developed with similar markups clarifying what is going to be disturbed and what isn't.  I'd like to see the engineers' reports that confirm that water runoff will not affect the properties on the opposite side of the street from the greenway where it runs along the edge.  (Especially along Peeler Road where the curbs are crumbling and water is a major issue during storms.)

I want to believe that what is being presented is the best option.  But no one at the city is showing it in any tangible way.  Recycled sales photos from the old greenway project and memos on city stationery don't cut it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

INTRODUCING: Northside Tree Professionals

I'm pleased to announce the launch of a new site for Northside Tree Professionals.

Northside Tree is a Dunwoody-licensed company that has become a trusted institution over the 40-plus years of its existence.

Northside had invested in a new brand identity that is evident in all of their printed materials from their paper stationery, to the employee uniforms (both labor and management) and all of their vehicles.  You've probably seen their bright red trucks and equipment tooling around town.  The only thing remaining was their website:  it looked absolutely nothing like their new brand image.

Well, now it does!  This site is based on the WordPress content management system (CMS) and was designed to coordinate with the rest of their marketing outreach.  There is a new interactive quote request form and structured, easy-to-find content.  Even with all of these upgrades, it is still a work in progress.  The guys have been collecting images and video as well as case histories to present throughout the summer season.  We're going to sort it, compile it, and incorporate it into the new site this fall.

There's even a matching mobile version for your smartphone.  You can switch between them through the link at the bottom of each page.

Check out Northside Tree on your computer, tablet, or phone and stay tuned for more treats in the next month or two.

Friday, September 14, 2012

There but for the grace of God goes any of us

"20/20" is airing an episode tonight on ABC regarding extreme neighbor conflicts.
The episode is featured tonight on their website.

Video and interviews show surreal behaviour by neighbors rubbing each other the wrong way.  If these extremes can happen in these idyllic neighborhoods, they can happen anywhere.

What is to prevent these types of extremes from occurring here in Dunwoody?  Comments are wide open.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Federal Law Enforcement or Big Brother via Internet? You make the call.

From Yahoo News /Digital Trends earlier this year:

US gov't claims right to seize any .com domain

If your domain ends in .com, the United States government says it has the right to seize it from your control, reports Wired. The same goes for any URL that ends in .net, .cc, .tv, .name, and .org.
This troubling declaration of power comes after US authorities shutdown the online sports gambling site last week — even though the website was owned by a Canadian company, which many assumed put it outside of US jurisdiction. Not so, apparently. That’s because the only company allowed to issue new .com domains is VeriSign, which is based — you guessed it — in the US.
According to a spokesperson for the department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), anytime the US government wants to take down a .com, .net, .tv, or .name domain, all it has to do is issue a court order to VeriSign, which quickly complies. The same process applies to the Public Interest Registry, which controls the .org top-level domain.

In principle, if you're obeying the law, not using your .com (or dot-whatever) domain to violate US Federal law like online gambling, selling counterfeit or pirated merchandise, you won't have any trouble.  In short, the article clarifies that since the US invented the internet, the US makes the rules.  .com may be used worldwide but it is, at its core, an American domain issue and VeriSign is going to obey every last order to keep its federal contract to issue .com and .net domains.

If you're going to engage in activity that violates US federal law, you probably want to pick a different nation's domain.  I'm not recommending that, nor am I saying that's 100% protection either.

So how close are we to the line between "freedom of information" and prevention of abuse that harms law-abiding citizens?  Comments are wide open.