Monday, August 27, 2012

Welcome, Dunwoody Reporter readers. :-)

I noticed some new "faces" visiting the DWG after Melissa's article went up.  Welcome, thanks for visiting and I hope you find something interesting.

Bloggers stir things up, get people talking

In our conversation I learned from Melissa that Dunwoody is unique in the number of bloggers based inside city limits?  Who knew?  I never thought anything of it but I agree w/ Bob L that it's a good sign of civic involvement.

As I've said before, not everyone likes to post as publicly as this - that's OK.   There are other ways to state your opinions and suggestions on whatever the issue du jour is.  Email, phone, chatting over a beer next to the pool or the tennis court.  Make your own contribution to Dunwoody in your own way.

For example...  in current events....

Discussion over the "Village Master Plan" and Dunwoody Village Parkway is going to come to a head tonight at City Hall.  Bike lanes, sidewalks, trees, how many lanes, median, no median, and probably more issues will be aired tonight.  I have too many questions about this plan (or plans) to have an opinion yet.

Has anyone heard any official comment from Regency, the company that owns Dunwoody Village?  How about the Simpson Organization, that owns Dunwoody Plaza?  (Plaza = that shopping center across from "the Village" that is home to the 1420 Room, Dunwoody Pediatrics, and others.)  The only comment I heard in passing was that Regency barely stopped short of telling Dunwoody to take their Master Plan and shove it.  Like it or not, corporations are legally allowed to own and control their properties.  Unless we woke up in communist China this morning, they have rights too.  I would love to hear from one of their representatives at the meeting tonight during public comment, or otherwise see their POV represented in the discussion.

How about the tenants?  Ditto the questions above.  I've heard claims that part of the DVP redesign is to stimulate business.  Do the business owners with rent invested agree?  Are the opinions consistent between the branches of national chains vs. large local enterprises vs mom-and-pop outfits?  I'd like to hear those voices represented tonight too.

On a related tangent, the plans for area redevelopment (as well as the zoning code rewrite) make reference to "shared parking" and "right-sized" parking areas.  Meaning that someone, somewhere thinks there's "too many parking spaces" and all of the tenants should "share" them.  That isn't going to happen in Dunwoody Plaza.  Each entity (especially El Azteca, Enterprise, 1420 Room, and Dunwoody Pediatrics) has their own customer parking spaces marked with a sign or paint on the blacktop.  Some of them have a tow company on speed dial for violators.  I don't see "shared parking" happening in this sector any time soon.  Expect some resistance to that concept.  Plus, negotiations on purchasing land for a right-of-way will be tense.  

The original cost floated around for a DVP redesign was $500,000.  Now that number is 5 times that at $2.5 million.  Why?  If there's a good reason for the larger number somebody, please, say what it is.  (By "good reason" I do NOT mean "Well, the feds are offering a grant.")  Watching a cost inflate that much is enough to make any citizen worried no matter how good the intentions are or how brilliant the idea.

How much time will the redevelopment take?  It doesn't just matter for drivers, it's critical for the business owners.  All around Atlanta when there have been major street repairs, realignments, or construction, the local small businesses watched their customer base shrink to near-zero because of the inconvenience.  It's worse with weather delays or other extensions.  Some family-owned and other small businesses had to close altogether. You don't stimulate business in an area by making it impossible to function for an undefined period of time.   How will the businesses along DVP be protected during a project that will certainly affect their bottom lines?  

I'll have a better idea of what to think about this project when the above questions get answered.

In the mean time, here are a few other opinions.

Bicycle Lanes in Dunwoody (trust me, it's related)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

See, Click, Fix... Enforce?

One of the first interactive communications that Dunwoody City Hall launched after incorporation was See, Click, Fix, an online application for reporting non-emergency problems to City Hall.  This service has been featured on Channel 46's "Harry Pothole" segments since then.

The premise is easy:  you go to the website on your computer (or via the corresponding smartphone app) and report an issue that you see.  City Hall acknowledges each report as it comes in and assigns it to the right department for resolution.   You can see on a map where other problems have been pointed out,  post comments, get others to comment and receive updates from City Hall.

Most complaints get shunted into two departments:  Public Works or Code Enforcement.  If it's an honest-to-God emergency, don't bother with the app, call 911.

When you're reporting an issue, especially if it goes to Code Enforcement, you, the citizen have some due diligence and some responsibility in order to make your strongest possible case.

1)  TALK to the owner first.  Whether it's a business or a residence, be a human and let the person in charge have a chance to be human right back.  Maybe something is going on you don't know about and the situation is temporary.  If the person is NOT human (read:  rude, dismissive, etc) then step right up to Code Enforcement.

2)  DOCUMENT everything.  If a conversation doesn't lead to a conclusion and it looks like this is going to drag out, start keeping track of conversations and complaints filed.  That can help you if you want to emphasize that a situation has been going on for a long time.  If there's no documentation, and you claim a situation has existed for weeks or months, then it's your word against theirs.

3)  PICTURES are worth a thousand words, literally.   No one else can see that camera in your head, so use the one on your phone.  A single picture of an unacceptable circumstance can sometimes make the difference  between a personality conflict and proof of wrongdoing.  Look at the dots in the above widget - some of those complaints are just a few words, with NO pictures at all to flesh it out.  The posts that do have attached images make a very clear, indisputable case for their position.  If you happen on a problem and want to report it, whip out the camera and take a picture!  Or a video, something visual.

A word about proofs:  when you want to file a complaint about something or someone, the proof is your job.  In our society the burden of proof in any legal proceeding is always on the complainant.  That may be troublesome but worth the effort to get your problem resolved.  You can also get neighbors or other witnesses to contribute their POVs as well.

So, you've decided to go to Code Enforcement.  What makes for a persuasive complaint?

1)  The Facts, All the Facts, Nothing But the Facts.  This is where the documentation comes in.  What exactly is the property owner in question doing wrong?  Spell it out.  Bullet points are helpful.  Include your photos.  Reference the municipal code.  Above all, do NOT "embellish" or exaggerate your claims.  It does nothing for your case but dent your credibility.

2)  Check Your Emotions At the Door.  A formal complaint is not the time for hyperbole, unrelated arguments added as red herrings, fabrications based on personal assumptions, derogatory comments about people themselves, or quasi-philosophical rantings.  These actions do not make your case, they break it.  If your facts are in order, you can be upset and still be in control of yourself.  Your worst-case-scenario is that you get branded as that nutter who can't get his story straight and the authorities make a mental note to ignore you.  Stay calm and keep it about the facts.

3)  Can I Get a Witness?  If other people see the problem you see, get them to add their voices to your concern.  Not everyone wants their name on the internet and that's understandable.  On SCF, votes to emphasize a case or complaints themselves can be made anonymously.  Be aware that all information collected by Code Enforcement or Public Works is public record and may be collected with an Open Records request.

4)  Follow Up Regularly.  If you read through the comments and notes on some of the cases documented in the widget, you'll see the last followup is often months old. Are they resolved?  In progress?  Any changes?  Who knows?   There may be a legal snag on the City's side.  The entity you're complaining about may have a legal case of their own.   Maybe your interpretation of the law is faulty.  Maybe resolution requires resources that the City has to wait for.   You won't know if you let it slide so set a reminder on your calendar to peek in via web or phone on a regular basis.

This is all the reasonable due diligence a citizen needs to make a case.  But it's only one side.  The other side of this equation resides at City Hall.  The appointed or hired officials have their own diligence to perform.  Here's the rub:  does City Hall always see these issues through?  Look at the map widget - there are a lot of "Open" posts that have not been acknowledged and "Acknowledged" posts that have gone unanswered, some for months.  Are the questions not resolved?  Or did someone get tied up and forget to close them?

With a daytime population of 150K, there are going to be conflicts that cannot resolve themselves and need to be assisted by City Hall.  Are they all getting addressed? According to the See Click Fix page for Dunwoody in the past 30 days, 11 new cases were opened, 12 were acknowledged, but only 1 has been closed.  And that's just online using the app, it doesn't count what's filed in person or on the phone.   Stay tuned, there's more....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

HGTV's "Elbow Room" is casting in Atlanta

I received this announcement via email from Johlt Productions.

Hi there,

HGTV's Elbow Room is casting in Atlanta!

Does your family sing karaoke? Do you play guitar? Have you always wanted a music room in your house?

Do you work from home? Could you use a home office?

Are you into woodworking? Would you like a home workshop?

Could you use a fitness room in your home?

If so, please fill out these questions and email them to:

1. We love pictures! Please make sure to send us pictures of: YOU and YOUR FAMILY, EXTERIOR OF HOME (front and back), and NUMEROUS PHOTOS OF THE PROBLEM AREA/ROOMS. **Please just attach the pictures, do not create a collage or presentation**
2. Name, phone numbers and occupations of home owners
3. Name/ages of all children
4. Address of property
5. Year house was built
6. How long have you lived there?
7. How have you outgrown your home? Please tell us in detail, tell us stories, give examples.
8. What do you love about your neighborhood?
9. What is your ideal renovation?
10. Do you have an area to expand in to? Or would this be an addition?
11. Why do you need our help?
12. How is your life hindered without this renovation?
13. How do you want the space to look/feel after the makeover?

Thank you for taking the time to fully explain your situation. We're excited to learn all that we can!

Elbow Room Casting
JOHLT Productions