Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

The sets are up, the homeowners putting on final touches, and the tourists are making their final trips.

Shrek and Fiona were stopped in their tracks by this sight:

So work isn't going to continue on Shrek's Swamp.

That's the story we're telling everyone.

But seriously folks....

Between someone being sick at one time or another plus my 3-year-old son's first official experience in trick-or-treating, we're going to focus on the kids and their fun this year.  We'll come up with something funny and gross to revive Shrek in 2014.

If you're coming to see us in Briers North, here are the guidelines.  Remember to park legally and respect any "no parking" signs you see on Tilly Mill Road.

The passing out of candy begins at 6:00pm and stops at 9:00pm. No one is admitted to the subdivision after 8:30pm.

We start closing the subdivision to automobile traffic at 5:45pm and we do not reopen until 9:30pm.

 There isNO parking inside Briers North subdivision. If you park outside, please do so legally. Depending on their evening activities, the North Peachtree Baptist Church (corner of Tilly Mill & Peeler) sometimes donates their parking lot for anyone wishing to park there, with proceeds being given to the Boy Scouts.

Trick-or-treating in Briers North on Halloween is AT YOUR OWN RISK. This is a public event on public streets and is NOT sponsored by any association or group. Briers North assumes no liability or responsibility for visitors.

NO pets are allowed during this time (they get scared and some of the children get scared!)

If you enjoyed Halloween in Briers North in the past, or plan to visit this year, please consider giving a small donation. Donations help to make this a safe event for everyone and are gratefully received!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween - What If?

Life is waaaaay too serious around town leading up to elections.  It's Halloween for cryin' out loud (well, Mischief Night, anyway) and in my neighborhood, nothing else matters until after the crowds are sent home.

On our street, most homes are decorated with a theme.

No one has done it yet, but what if...
Someone had the idea for a "Phineas and Ferb" theme?




Little Suzy Johnson


Agent P

Monday, October 28, 2013

Zoning: More Truth, More Consequences

Back to the zoning vote analysis.

In the previous post, we saw that the council members who shot down the original version of Chapter 27 that they were voting on actually benefit from home based businesses themselves.

The irony continues.

During the same September 17 meeting, Heneghan and Deutsch were getting agitated that the new code proposed a limit on pets in a residence.  In an ideal world, such a limit would not be necessary.  But remember:  the theory behind this rewrite is, what limit defines the boundary between activity that does not affect a neighboring residence, and one that does?  Hence, limits were created that, in general life-experience in Dunwoody represented that limit.  This was applied to every situation and in some there was a lot of give-and-take and compromise on where the line was drawn so that as many sides as possible got some advantage out of it.

In principle, I had hoped that the zoning code would simply define what a nuisance is, then adapt it to any activity that may come up in the future.  The consultants weren't going in that direction, though, and there wasn't anything I could do about it.  So I went with what we had.

Heneghan and Deutsch were the  mouthpieces from this point on in the above meeting.  Bonser didn't jump in much.  Shortal called for greater restrictions in the form of smaller numbers.  Heneghan and Deutsch were upset that there was ANY limit on ANY animals whatsoever.  This in spite of the fact that earlier this year, there was a well-publicized incident of animal hoarding in John's district where a child had to be removed from the home for their safety.  So clearly, there was precedent for this element of the code - no hyperbole or other fictitious or hypothetical scenarios required.

These two demanded that all limits on all animals be removed.  Deutsch is quoted in the Dunwoody Reporter as saying:
“I think we need to take this number out of here,” she said. “I don’t think we need to tell people they can have 10 dogs. I think we need to regulate the nuisances.”
Boner, Heneghan and Deutsch were also very supportive of using back yards as barnyards, so their sympathy for animal owners is even broader.  

What does this have to do with home businesses and their approval (or lack thereof)?

It shows that Heneghan and Deutsch applied a different standard to their evaluation of home occupations than they did to other residential activities that have the potential to be a neighborhood nuisance.  

In their minds, activities inside a home (or even inside a yard) should not be "over regulated" with rules or limits or numbers, because it's unenforceable and intrusive and only reported nuisances should be addressed individually.  The standard is the opposite for home business owners:  in spite of the low number of complaints against home businesses, these homeowners are considered "guilty until proven innocent".  They have to prove a negative by proving they are *not* a nuisance in order to be permitted by the city.  (Again, excepting home tutors and teachers, as it shook out in the final review.)  They upheld this stance even after their own research showed that most municipalities in Metro Atlanta do not require or need SLUPs for their home business owners to see customers.  A cursory glance at the city's research and the proposed zoning code shows that Dunwoody's proposed permitting ordinance was modeled after Marietta.

Let's review:

The same people who want up to 46,000 people to have an opinion on what matter of conversation occurs in a single house on a single street, even if they are not affected, also want homeowners to be permitted by right to turn their backyards into kennels or barnyards without submitting a single piece of paper or notifying a single adjacent neighbor.

This means that the standards were based not on factual research, but personal taste and politics.

Here's some food for thought as the new zoning codes are implemented:

If the zoning codes were edited based on individual convenience and preference, how many other decisions by these council members were made the same way?

Were any of their decisions since getting into office based on a balanced, objective review of factual data?

Suppose someone decides they want to try to pursue the SLUP process.  What guarantee do they have that their applications will be reviewed on their merits and not the personal taste of the council members?

Time will tell.
Because I want to end on a positive note:  there has been progress on this front.

Teachers and students rejoice! You are no longer shackled by an unfair approval process and you are free to welcome your students and your families as you see fit. Please be good stewards to your neighborhood and a good example to the community of how home businesses can be an asset to the community when managed by good neighbors.

Zoning: Truth and Consequences

What did we learn from the Zoning rewrite?

First, some basics:

1)  The zoning code consultants, who actually did the writing, plus the sounding board and the Community Development staff approached all of the questions and edits with the same standard.  What is occurring in the community?  What does it take to engage in diverse activities without neighbors stepping on each other toes?  In short, we realized that good fences make good neighbors and we built a lot of fences.

2)  Leading up to the final vote, there was a lot of sabre-rattling about home occupations, backyard farming, bicycles, etc as "hot button" issues.  None of these are really "hot buttons" in the big picture.  They only become "hot buttons" when someone is trying to drum up opposition to them.  These topics did not come up even once during any candidate forum, or letters to any newspaper.  The only time these niche issues become important is when taken in the larger context of deciding what is "Dunwoody's residential nature".  Residential living means different things to different people, even within a single neighborhood.  So during this election, promises by anyone to "preserve Dunwoody's character" ring hollow and insincere.  There is no one "residential character".  All of the alleged "hot button" issues listed above are already alive and well in our city and are already accepted to one degree or another by the populace.

3)  The glimmer of good news is that home teachers and tutors will no longer have to endure an excessive process that invites 46,000 people to weigh in on the subject of conversation in a home between the homeowner and their visitors.  Despite the painstaking detailed research performed by the consultants and sounding board, the modernized process for licensing and tracking home business activity was gutted by City Council, even after unanimous approval by the homeowner-staffed Community Council and Planning Commission.  So while there is still some discrimination against some home businesses based on their type of enterprise, home tutors will be exempt and our city's government can avoid another embarrassing debacle that brought this debate to the forefront.

Teachers and students rejoice!  You are no longer shackled by an unfair approval process and you are free to welcome your students and your families as you see fit.  Please be good stewards to your neighborhood and a good example to the community of how home businesses can be an asset to the community when managed by good neighbors.

Unfortunately, this resolution and how it came about brings out more questions than answers about some of our council members, their decision making, their priorities, and even their integrity.

The section of Chapter 27 regulating home businesses that some council members objected to had been passed unanimously by both Community Council and Planning Commission without a single edit.  From the original writing process all the way through the first two levels of voting, there had been no objections.  By the time City Council had its turn to vote:  there were four naysayers out to gut this section:  Denny Shortal, Adrian Bonser, John Heneghan, and Lynn Deutsch.  A look at the makeup of these four council members' districts and past activities make their objections counter-intuitive.

1)  Denny Shortal:  while he is on record as opposing any activity that he does not endorse for his front yard, Denny has several dozen licensed home based businesses in District 1, many of whom see employees, customers, or both on a regular basis.  He did not cite any of these as reasons for eliminating this chapter.  Either Denny is oblivious to this activity in his district (making it by definition, a non-nuisance), he believes these citizens should be merely ignored, or he is very aware of them and doesn't care.

2)  Adrian Bonser has spoken out against any changes in the process to legally permit customers in a home.  However she has been a customer in *my* home on several occasions, and at no time did she ever voice a concern that I had not submitted to a SLUP process.  She is not seeking re-election, so that's enough said.

3)  John Heneghan opposes any changes to home business regulations only when sitting in a city council chair.  His blog is a different story.  In March of this year, he openly promoted a garage sale hosted by the owner of Emily G's that included discontinued stock.  (The products were converted to "personal property" via some legal slicing and dicing.)

Not one word about SLUPs, "commercial activity", or "preserving neighborhood character" anywhere in this blog post.   Other home business owners in District 3 think John considers them a friend, and thus have not sought a SLUP for their customer contact either.

4)  Lynn Deutsch only recently started openly opposing any changes to home business regulations.  Which is ironic since she actually attended the garage sale that John promoted.  Again, Lynn was not concerned about whether the neighbors were notified that a business with a lot of administration going on in the home had its application straight, nor was she concerned whether the neighbors approved of the business or the special-occasion garage sale.  She was  concerned that no one take her picture.

In addition, during the special called meeting of September 17 where council discussed and debated  this and other aspects of the proposed Zoning code, Lynn requested that farmers' markets be approved in the zoning code for churches, etc.  (Listen for it at the 1:55:14 mark) Most houses of worship in Dunwoody are in residentially-zoned areas.  That means Councilwoman Deutsch, right after condemning commercial activity in a residential neighborhood for home based occupations based on the "inherent nuisance" theory, turned right around and endorsed commercial activity in a residential neighborhood in the same meeting.  At least John let a few weeks go by before contradicting himself.

This means that of the four council members looking to eliminate this chapter as written, three of them personally endorse and patronize home based businesses that make use of employees and customer contact without any additional regulations - when it meets their needs or is otherwise convenient for them.

But wait - there's more.....

(Part two in progress.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

UPDATED: ANSWERS ARE COMING IN | My Questions Submitted to Candidate Forum

Dunwoody Homeowners Association Candidate Forum

Date: October 17, 2013
Time: 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Dunwoody High School
5035 Vermack Road
Dunwoody, GA 30338

General Rules:
No campaign literature and no campaign signs at the debate or on school property
No surrogates may stand in for a candidate
The moderator will select questions from those submitted in writing. The debate moderator has broad discretion to ask follow-up questions after a candidate’s answer, so the public can be fully informed about specific positions.
Candidates will be asked questions in alphabetical order and reverse order, alternating with each question.
If a candidate is singled out by name, or a group/entity to which he belongs, for criticism that candidate gets 30 seconds to respond.
General Format:
Dick Williams is the emcee for the event. He will introduce the candidates, explain the format and introduce the moderator.
WSBTV Reporter, Tony Thomas, will be the moderator for the forum. He will select and ask all questions during the forum. There will be a pool of questions from which he will choose.
Candidates will be seated by district on stage by 7pm. One microphone will be shared and passed from speaker to speaker.
Each candidate will have 2 minutes for opening remarks, 90 seconds to reply to each question and one minute for closing remarks.
The first 2-3 questions will be directed to all the candidates. Once those questions have been answered, the moderator will direct questions to each candidate by district. The moderator will choose the order of the districts but the candidates will go in alphabetical and reverse alphabetical order alternating with each question.

The questions will come from a variety of sources. The Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, Dunwoody Homeowners Association and The Crier will write questions. The public is welcome to submit questions in advance to the DHA via email at The audience may also submit questions the evening of the forum from 6:30-6:45. After 6:45 no questions will be accepted from the audience.
Questions will be sent to the candidates via email on Wednesday morning, October 16 with the understanding more questions may be submitted via email and in person prior to the forum.
Candidates Running for Dunwoody City Council:
Post 1 (District 1 Local)
- David Davis
- Henly Shelton
- Denis Shortal (incumbent)
Post 2 (District 2 Local)
- William A.J. Mercier
- Jim Riticher
- Heyward Wescott
Post 3 (District 3 Local)
- Sam Eads
- Doug Thompson (incumbent)
I was playing around with the idea of having another DWG candidate questionnaire as I did last year but with Every. Little. Forum. having questions submitted in advance with no real "debate", I didn't see the point.  So for those who expressed interest, maybe next time.

During my weekly Chamber of Commerce office hours, the staff were talking about coming up with questions to submit.  The following are the questions I asked to be included.  Hopefully they will be presented and answered tonight.  If they get canned before the forum, all of you gentlemen running for office are welcome to post an answer in the comments below at your leisure.  

For the "Clean Sweep" Slate:
"When you announced your candidacies, you initially distanced yourself from all of the major organizations that play a large part in Dunwoody's life:  the DHA, the Chamber, etc.  Why should a member of these organizations vote for you if your very identity is tied up in not being associated with them? "

"If you are elected, how do you plan to work with these organizations as an elected official if you want nothing to do with them as a candidate?"

For the other candidates:
"You have been involved with at least one major organization in Dunwoody prior to being a candidate for City Council in this election.  How do you intend to reach out to those Dunwoody citizens who have a negative impression of or a bad experience with the DHA, Chamber, City Hall, etc?"

"If you are elected, how do you plan to include the concerns of those citizens who are not involved with one of these groups, or whose opinions differ from their "official" positions on various issues?"

Watch for endorsements prior to November 5.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Taste of Dunwoody 2014 is Open for Sponsorships

The 11th Annual Taste of Dunwoody benefitting Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta is coming on January 25, 2014 at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia.

Plans are being made at this moment for the always-sold-out Taste of Dunwoody.  Dunwoody Friends of CHOA sponsors this event annually to benefit patient care programs at Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta.

With the medical issues that two of my three children have, my family are "frequent fliers" at Scottish Rite and the MOB across the street.  So SDOC Publishing is committed to sponsoring this event, without fail.

Last year's event at Concourse represented a quantum leap for Taste of Dunwoody - it was HUGE!!!  This year is expected to be at least as big in its new home at Crowne Plaza Ravinia.  As usual, Yacht Rock Revue will be providing the live music.

Now is the time to plan to be a part of this Dunwoody tradition.

Sponsorships:  sponsor Taste of Dunwoody for as little as $500.  There are sponsorship levels affordable for almost all firms, from international corporations down to home-based entrepreneurs.

Contribute a silent-auction prize:  Don't let the polite browsing fool you, competition for some of these prizes is fierce.

Enter your restaurant (food truck?) for exhibition:  How would you like to promote your establishment to several hundred (thousand?) revelers in one night?  This is the place.  Don't know for sure if the door is open for food trucks or just brick-and-mortars but there's one way to find out....

Best thing about being a sponsor:  your tickets are included so you won't be shut out after the mad dash of ticket sales.

More information and people with the answers at the official Taste of Dunwoody page.

Dunwoody Friends on Facebook  (Hi Jill!)

Friends of CHOA on Facebook

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

This Should Be the Official Dunwoody Brand

Spruill Center is becoming more and more a family favorite.  Ever since my eldest was two, she's enjoyed some kind of class:  music as a toddler, and now as a grade-schooler she's in every week for ceramics.  ("Creative Handbuilding" it's called, for her age group.)  Her younger brother and sister are not-so-patiently waiting their turns when they can indulge in a class just like their big sis.

I remember when this sign went up outside Spruill Gallery.  Right after the latest recession started.  I don't know how many of us knew it was part of an exhibit (I didn't....).  There wasn't a single person who drove past the sign that didn't have something on their minds and felt soothed to some degree.

No disrespect intended to Sky Design, but this thought does more to uplift and unify the diverse, competing, and combative elements of today's Dunwoody than any graphic element.  It's even consistent with the foundation market research they performed.

Let's be honest:  the latest government September/October surprises have been a drag and I'd like to believe there is a future beyond election day.

I always thought this sign should be a T-shirt.  I found out today that it is and I'm stocking up!
From Spruill Center's latest newsletter, distributed today:

"Everything Will Be OK"
Can Now Be Everywhere You Are

Everything Will Be Okay merchandise is now available for purchase at the Spruill Gallery. Take a piece of history home with you today!

Glass Plaque $25; Dichroic Glass Pins $12; T-Shirt $15; Glass Pendant $22

"Everything Will Be OK," a History

At the opening of Spruill Gallery's Emerging Artists exhibit in the summer of 2009, local artist Jason Kofke erected a simple, yet powerful piece on the side of an old seed house on the grounds of the Spruill Gallery. The plain white panel read "Everything Will Be OK" in hand written black type.

Often passersby would be halted in their daily errands and stop to snap a picture of the sign. Many felt compelled to share stories about how the sign had affected them.

The original sign survived through many seasons, through every storm, but this work was never meant to be permanent. Soon the white background began flaking and peeling. In the summer of 2012 the original sign deteriorated beyond repair. Yet, personal testimonials continued, each more touching than the last: a couple struggling to stay together; a laid off father; siblings who lost their mother; a sick child.

It was because of these shared experiences that the Spruill Center decided to recreate the sign in a more permanent way. The sign that you now see is painted on PVC board and is ready to weather whatever Mother Nature throws its way, much like those who are moved by the words.

Find us about a mile north of Perimeter Mall at the intersection of Ashford Dunwoody Road and Meadow Lane.

4681 Ashford Dunwoody Road
Atlanta, GA 30338 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Show Your Website Some Love (Your Customers Will Love You Back)

You've invested in your business - the property, the equipment, all of the advertising and marketing.  Today a website is an essential part of that structure and it takes far more than a few DIY clicks to make it successful.
Setting up your website, crafting your text for readability by both humans and search engines, organizing your images to capture and hold attention, and making sure everything works is only the first step.  I was interviewed recently about what makes a website successful over time.  It all comes down to paying attention to details.

Here are some tips for keeping your website fresh, now that the holiday season is in sight.

1)  Read your website regularly.  If this sounds obvious, it's not.  When you get caught up in the work of your business, you're going to start forgetting the details of what your site actually says.  It can happen to anyone!  Larger companies with various committees or departments should include those chairs in the review process as well.  They can provide various perspectives from their own expertise.

2)  Keep a list of your website, business email, and social media logins.  It doesn't have to be a digital document, it can be written down on notebook paper or company letterhead.  Make sure it's somewhere secure but accessible to you when you need it.  Everyone forgets a password from time to time, computers crash, or new employees come on board and take over these responsibilities.

3)  While on the subject of logins, change your passwords annually, at least.  Make sure those passwords have at least a combination of a capital letter, a lowercase letter, a numeral and one punctuation mark.  That combination will keep your security complex enough to foil most hackers-for-hire.  If you're keeping a list of your passwords, then it won't be hard to remember the changes.

4)  Ask for feedback from your customers.  Good business owners ask for feedback on their goods and services from their customers.  Ask for feedback on your website too.  You can do this in person in your store, via email newsletter, or you can host a poll online; is an easy-to-use and popular choice if you're doing it yourself with some options that are free.  You never know where you'll get the next big idea to make your site profitable for your business.

5)  If you are maintaining your own website, dedicate the time to maintenance.  Lots of small business owners are excited at the idea of having "total control" of their website.  Then when it's time to update:  nothing.  If you set appointments to meet with customers or suppliers, make an appointment with your website too.  Maybe you just ran across a new picture that will make a better impression.  Or you're offering a new special deal that hasn't been mentioned.  Or you added a page marked only "Coming Soon" and never got around to filling it in.  (Hint:  never do this!)   If you're going to maintain the information on your site, set aside the time for it or you'll make a poor impression without trying.

6)  Scheduling time for your social media outreach is doubly important.  Social media is intended to be the latest, up-to-the-second information or perspective on your business or field.  If you're not posting and communicating to your customers or "fans", you won't be at the front of their minds when they make a purchase decision.  Social media has to be especially "real" and sincere; so it takes a lot of thought to get the most out of those media.

7)  Make sure your website is usable on mobile devices.  That Adobe Flash intro page that was so hot in 1999 and made your company look like the most cutting-edge in the business is officially yesterday's news.  Have a website that functions on tablets and smartphones is no longer a luxury or optional.  The number of smartphone and tablet users has tripled in only two years and continues to rise.  Your website has to be easy to use on a screen of any size:  from an iPhone to a 60-inch TV screen and everything in between.

8)  Go Google Yourself!  No, that's not an insult, that means search for your website on Google (or any other search engine) and see where your site ranks.  If it's not ranking on the first page or two of results, you may want to have a talk with an SEO specialist to find out why and how to get it ranked higher.  Don't forget to look for feedback on review sites like Kudzu or Yelp.  Both positive and negative feedback can give you the direction you need to keep your customers happy online.

9)  Make sure your website and social media are included in other advertising.  If you have brochures, pamphlets, signage, postcards, or vehicles, you can direct viewers to your website on the spot.  Include the URL (the address) and indicate which social media your customers can find you on.  Best of all, include a QR code so that customers can connect with you at the speed of thought while they're thinking about it with their tablet or phone.  QR (for "quick response") codes are two-dimensional bar codes that carry enough information to direct a visitor to your website or perform other tasks.

10)  "But I really don't have the time to manage my website myself.  How do I get the most out of it?"  If you're growing your business and you don't have time to invest in your website, then invest in a webmaster.  Dedicate an employee to the job, or hire a consultant to work with your team.  SDOC Publishing offers full webmaster services to several clients that have requested it ( is an example).  Decide with your webmaster what their duties will entail:  Social media maintenance?  Content updates?  Software upgrades?  These services can also be combined with Hosting agreements for even greater convenience.

Treat your website like any other investment:  provide for its maintenance and upkeep and it will serve your business for years to come.