Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Economist on T-SPLOST

The Economist takes a look at our very own little T-SPLOST melodrama:
...The vote raises important questions: what does metro Atlanta want to look like ten years from now? What government functions do citizens believe important enough to voluntarily tax themselves to fund?...
and highlights a new and sinister angle to the debate: some local politicians are claiming it's all a United Nations plot to force everyone to walk and ride bikes. Read the whole thing here. If you too are concerned about "the tyranny of bike lanes," follow their link to The Atlantic Wire article by that title.

10-day Hotlanta warning

click to enlarge
Temperatures in the Atlanta area are expected to reach 100F over the next several days; extreme UV levels are also expected.  The GA Department of Natural Resources also predicts air quality to hit code orange:
Under code orange conditions, the outdoor air is likely to be unhealthy for some people. Children, people who are sensitive to ozone and people with heart or lung disease should limit prolonged outdoor exertion during the late afternoon or early evening when ozone concentrations are highest 
To stay cool and safe, review these heat preparedness tips for people, pets, and for your landscaping too.

Monday, June 25, 2012

New ruling to benefit home insurance holders

The AJC reports on a ruling that awards homeowner insurance claimants the ability to receive payment for permanent loss of value (i.e., damages that need to be disclosed at future closings and therefore can affect resale value), in addition to just for repairs:

"This is a big deal for homeowners," said former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who supported the rule change. "It's a major sweeping case that's going to give a lot more rights to the insurance consumer. It's one of the biggest cases for consumers that's come down in years." 
It works like this: A homeowner whose foundation was damaged by a storm may get money to repair the house, but the home's value could still plummet because owners have to explain its troubled past to potential buyers.  . . . continue reading @ AJC

Sunday, June 24, 2012

This morn', at the South Fork of South Peachtree Creek...

catbird: photo by Russ

...on and along the trail at Medlock Park: one great blue heron; a family of mallard ducks (mama, papa and 6 teenagers); crows; and a catbird, belting out an impressive medley.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

PolitiFact on T-SPLOST

Hat tip to Decatur Metro for this link to's fact check on the TSPLOST:
Your PolitiFact Georgia scribes have completed nine fact checks on the referendum July 31, which has made bedfellows out of earstwhile enemies... read on @ 

For other truth-o-meter readings on sundry statements by Georgia politicians, bookmark the PolitiFact Georgia page.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tree Care by The Tree Butler

Dave Butler joined the MANA community meeting on June 16 to share information about tree health. As we are all aware, our neighborhood is lucky to have a lot of large trees. Several large trees have fallen this year and many of us wonder: is there a problem and is there anything we might do about it? Dave gave a short presentation and answered questions from the audience.

Dave began by explaining that that MANA and the greater Druid Hills area are both experiencing problems with trees that are now 60+ years old as some of these trees are reaching the end of their natural lifespan. Another issue is that we have had a lot of droughts which cause damage to the trees' root systems. As drought or stress "prunes" the root system, the tree's footing also weakens.  Last summer, we had a record number of extremely hot days. In a separate conversation, Dave also pointed out an issue specific to our neighborhood: our soil is generally quite shallow, especially at the ridges, so it dries out quickly during the summer and does not support the trees very well when we have strong winds and already weakened root systems.  The area around Woodridge Drive at Alberson Court, Gardenia Lane, and Whelchel Drive is a good example.  A lot of trees have fallen there lately.

What can homeowners do to protect their trees? One key thing is to ensure the tree receives sufficient water. That may mean watering during dry spells, but also routine measures to ensure that the tree is not losing water unnecessarily, whether to competing plants or the atmosphere as the ground dries. Dave used a different illustration during his presentation, but made all the points illustrated below:

1) Know your tree anatomy: the tree's root system extends beyond the visible crown of leaves.
2) Arborists suggest using mulch at least to the drip line (the periphery of the tree's crown). But note that the root system extends well beyond the crown's width. Try to mulch as close as you can to the drip line.
2a) Mulch well but do NOT pile mulch all the way to the tree trunk. That invites excessive moisture retention and can lead to rot; rot opens the way for insects and disease.
Image courtesy of ---> lots of great info!
3) Trees need water. They use water as part of their metabolism but also lose water due to evaporation, more so when air is dry and hot. The "rule of thumb" for dry spells is to water 1" per week. That means the amount of water it would take to cover the intended area to a depth of 1". If you don't want to measure and calculate, a good rule of thumb is to dig into the soil; if it is moist to ~4" below the surface, your tree is sufficiently watered.
3a) It's better to water deeply even if you water less often. Shallow watering encourages roots to remain near the surface. That translates to a higher percentage of root mass becoming dehydrated in dry conditions and a tree that has limited ability to "drink long and deep" when water is available over longer periods. A top heavy tree is not a stable tree.
4) Remove English ivy (Hedera helix) from tree trunks and bases. [Tips for removing ivy: "shoulders and ankles"]

If we have a villain in the neighborhood, it is English ivy. Although it can make a great ground cover if strictly controlled, English ivy can be very damaging to trees. When it covers a tree's base and trunk, it hurts the tree in several ways: (1) ivy roots compete with tree roots for water and nutrients and (2) the leaves reduce air circulation which can encourage bark damage. At first blush, it may look like ivy acts like a "living mulch" but the net effect is to the tree's detriment: less water and fewer nutrients for the root system, and the risk of bark rot which invites fungal and insect damage. A tree's bark is much like our skin: damaged tree bark is the equivalent of an open sore.
As long as ivy remains on the ground, maintenance is ongoing. These pines were cleared of ivy from ground level to shoulder height. The white arrow points to a ~4" severed ivy "trunk".
 12 months later, dead ivy tendrils still cling to the trees, and new growth is covering the breach from the ground up (in this case, 4+ feet of growth in a year).
Just when you thought ivy couldn't make any more trouble, we come to ivy's secret agenda: reaching sunlight because only when it grows to the tree canopy will it be sufficiently mature to bloom and produce seeds. The seeds are eaten and dispersed by birds, far and wide. (3) If you allow ivy to work its way up a tree, through the years, it will produce vines that are as thick as a man's arm. And with that goes a lot of foliage very high off the ground. The result is an artificial "thickening" of the tree's natural canopy by leaves that are not shaped to the tree's advantage. That means (5) that your tree now has an ivy "sail" that catches a lot of air and possibly ice.  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 = a top-heavy tree with possibly rotted trunk/limbs and a weakened root anchor. Add high winds or ice storm buildup and what's a tree to do but surrender to gravity?

In evaluating a tree, an arborist completes a multi-point checklist, however, Dave said homeowners can look for some obvious signs of trouble:
1) Starting with the base, remove any vegetation and look for the presence of mushrooms. Mushrooms are fungal fruiting bodies and reflect damage to roots or bark because fungi feed on already-decaying wood.
2) Check the canopy in summer: you should see lots of healthy leaves and branches. If you see a lot of bare/dead branches in the upper canopy, that is not a good sign.

An audience member asked about pines--what are signs of trouble? Dave said it will be similar: look for cracks or cavities in the bark, excessive browning of foliage. All trees lose leaves/branches naturally but any time you see excessive browning out of sync with the season, you should explore further.
N.B.  Some of the above information was not part of Dave's presentation at this MANA meeting, but has been shared over many years of service to our neighborhood via his work at the Clyde Shepherd Nature Presearve, the community garden, etc.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lost cat: Pye

Click to enlarge.

Coyote study (includes Metro Atlanta)

Dr. Chris Mowry is an ecologist at Berry College who, among other things, studies the expansion of coyote range in the US.

His Coyote Research page has links to some of his work as well as a lecture titled "Coexisting with Coyotes."

Additionally, Dr. Mowry is collaborating with Zoo Atlanta and the Fernbank Science Center to track coyote sightings in Metro Atlanta. If you would like to help him collect data, you may use this survey to  report your sighting.

Monday, June 18, 2012

T-SPLOST: how will local governments spend their share?

In Public ‘in the dark’ on T-SPLOST $1B, the AJC explores the question of how local governments will use a sizeable chunk of money that is allocated to them:
Each of the region’s counties, cities and towns would get a share of the $1 billion to spend on transportation. But unlike the regional $6 billion fund, there is no requirement to list a single project for the $1 billion local fund. In many cases, voters at the polls July 31 will have no way of knowing where the projects are that the local money would build. . . . The Atlanta Regional Commission has been working for months to get the local governments to assemble lists. Its referendum website has a place for counties and towns to post their discretionary project lists. A few have. Most have posted nothing. Some have generic transportation Web pages.
So... off to the Atlanta Regional Commission's website, and in particular, their T-SPLOST section. A small link at the bottom shows plans for DeKalb (pdf). There are other maps/presentations at the ARC's website so make sure you visit.

Below is some detail for our area. Looks like ours side of Clairmont gets nothing, but Buford Highway gets some pedestrian improvements, thank goodness. There are also improvement plans for North Druid Hills Rd.

Red = roadway projects, Blue = transit projects, Green = Bike/Pedestrian projects
And here, a screen capture of the GoogleEarth Flyover Tour of projects for the inside the perimeter central region. For the whole presentation, go to Clifton Corridor improvements are highlighted ~6:36 minutes into the video, the Lindberg/Emory rail around 6:5,1 and the image captured below, showing cycling/pedestrian improvements within City of Decatur, around 7:40.
Screen capture from Central Subregion Referendum Tour

Sunday, June 17, 2012

MANA Community Meeting notes

Notes from our June 16 meeting... with bullets by Bev Moore.


See local media and MANA website for information.

2) Annexation, Cityhood movements
Among many topics, Commissioner Rader discussed recent redistricting and encouraged us to educate our (effective January 1) House Representative, Rahn Mayo, to ensure that he is aware of our neighborhood's needs and concerns. Mr. Rader also talked about commercial properties in our area of DeKalb County that are important to the tax digest (in addition to Suburban Plaza, the Farmer's Market, Toco Hill, Executive Park, the news Emory Pointe development, etc.) and how annexation by nearby cities can harm our interests. There were some comments about what might be best for our area, and Mr. Rader mentioned an interesting case per a precedent set by the city of Gainesville, GA, where they annexed some residential properties but excluded their participation in their school system. Mr. Rader also clarified that as far as City of Decatur annexation desires, only residential property owners would get to vote (commercial property owners do not, neither do other nearby residents).

• Explained loss of some of his precincts to redistricting and gain of one, Brookhaven.
• July 31- Brookhaven cityhood vote. Gave history of legislative guidelines and described area that would become new city, if passed.
• Low density, single family household areas don’t generate enough tax base, so commercial areas are included in cities, which takes away higher value tax areas from county.
• Police, firefighters, and parks and rec would suffer budget pressure.
• Higher value tax bases are not distributed evenly across county.
• DeKalb County citizens need a way to address issues, including cities’ ability to annex commercial areas.
• Decatur mayor interested in annexing Suburban Plaza with new Walmart, Emory Commons, and Kroger shopping areas. Would not have to include residential areas in school system. Only residents of areas would have a vote.
• DeKalb has many tax exempt properties.
• City of DeKalb would stave off cityhood attempts, but legislature not likely to pass.
• We need to familiarize new legislators with these issues.

Those concerned about the many issues facing our county should attend the Candidate's Fair on July 9, sponsored by the Civic Association Network of Central DeKalb.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Agenda: MANA Second Quarter Community Meeting [June 16]


1. Intro (Sharon Johnson)

2. Treasurer's Report (Judy Perras)

3. County Report: The Cityhood issues- Impact on DeKalb County if Brookhaven passes, some possible scenarios (Jeff Rader)

4. Zoning Report (Theresa Same)

5. Parks Updates (Sharon Johnson)

6. Medlock Area Tree Presentation: A look at the health of our aging tree population. (Dave Butler)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Suburban Plaza: land disturbance permit applied for

Via Deanne, some explanations about the permit process via Kathie Gannon's office:

From Commissioner Kathie Gannon's Office:
You may have heard that on Friday Wal-Mart applied for a land disturbance permit at Suburban Plaza. The engineering staff is reviewing the applicant’s engineering drawings and will provide comments back to the applicant on June 19th. After this initial review and comment meeting, the applicant will have an opportunity to revise their plans and resubmit them for further review and approval. The first set of plans and permits will only affect the demolition and land disturbance. Building design is not under consideration at this point. The land disturbance permit includes decisions affecting demolition, grading and clearing, sedimentation/erosion control, the installation of water/sewer and other utilities, drainage and the stormwater management plan, access points onto public streets, parking lot design, landscaping, outdoor lighting, and building footprints. Commissioner Gannon and Commissioner Rader have previously met with engineering staff and will continue to insist that all DeKalb ordinances and codes be strictly followed.

From Commissioner Jeff Rader's Office:
I just wanted you all to be aware that on June 8th, DeKalb County received an LDP application (A/P #17974) for demolition and land disturbance, the first steps of development of the Selig site at 2525 North Decatur Road.  The first Plan Review Comment Resolution meeting will be held on 6/19/2012.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cyclist mugged, robbed on Medlock Rd.

Alarming report, occurred on Monday June 4 ~5pm; if you see anyone fitting the description of the assailants, please call 911. reports on this incident:
The 41-year-old victim was riding his bike near 800 Medlock Rd. at about 5pm when he saw two men walking in his direction, the police report said. He said he saw the first suspect whisper to the second, and as he passed them, the first suspect kicked him to the ground. ...The first suspect was described as a white male about 5 feet 6 inches tall, about 165 pounds, wearing blue jeans and a black shirt. The second suspect was described as a white male about 6 feet 2 inches tall, wearing blue jeans and a hoodie with the words "air force" on the front.

Walmart/Suburban Plaza protest

Good Growth Dekalb will resume their rally's at the six-way intersection at North Decatur Road, Scott Boulevard and Medlock Road from 5:00-6:30 p.m.: June 8, July 13, August 10
For more information see their website at

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

DeKalb seeks volunteers for education SPLOST oversight committee

Copied in its entirety from
The DeKalb County School District is seeking residents to volunteer for a committee overseeing the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue program and related school construction.Apply online at ... The deadline is June 17, 2012 at 11:59 p.m.Ideal volunteers on the 12-member panel would have experience in development-related fields or in finance, accounting, education or the law. Volunteers must meet at least two hours quarterly starting in August, and must pass a background check and sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Education SPLOST budget issues have been recently covered by The Champion.

Also see the DeKalb County School System's SPLOST IV page.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus @ MANA [June 5]

OK, this is a little out there but here's a photo of the transit of Venus that's happening right now, as Venus passes through the space between Earth and Sun. Photo taken by streaming sunlight through inverted binoculars (light shining in through the "wrong" end of binoculars) onto an unfortunately not very flat piece of paper...

 Photo shows sun (light orb) and Venus (dark dot around 4 o'clock). 

Commissioner Rader explains how to file a property tax appeal

Commissioner Jeff Rader offers a very informative response to the recent, confusing-to-many property tax statements that DeKalb County issued recently. In his statement, he explains how to file for an appeal:


Update: AJC reports on puzzling property tax assessments in DeKalb County.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Suburban Plaza/Walmart: updated site design

The following is an updated version of the Suburban Plaza Redevelopment article that Theresa Same, MANA Zoning Chair, contributed to the current issue of our Medlock Matters neighborhood newsletter

Before I dive into my update, I want to again state that after engaging legal counsel and speaking with our County Representatives the MANA Board and I decided that it is in the best interest of our neighborhood to work with Selig Enterprises and Walmart on the redevelopment of Suburban Plaza. I believe that my job as your Zoning Chair is to give you as many facts as I can about this development so that you can form your own opinion. I respect that those opinions vary greatly throughout the neighborhood and that many of you feel very passionately about how this redevelopment will affect our neighborhood – all of which I attempt to honor in my discussions with Selig and Walmart. At the same time, the board and I are realistic in trying to negotiate the best development we can for our neighborhood with one of the most powerful retailers in the country; this is especially difficult within the confines of our county and state laws/ordinances that generally favor business and cars over residents and alternative transportation.  

As I drive or walk through the neighborhood, I can’t help but notice the growing number of “Stop Walmart” signs.  People stop and ask me everyday what is going on with the Suburban Plaza redevelopment. The truth is there has not been a lot to report since our negotiations with Selig/Walmart and the Zoning Board of Appeal’s decision in December to approve Selig’s request for a parking exception on the property [this link calls up all updates we've had since then, posted on this website]. This slow-down in activity is about change because things are starting to take shape for the redevelopment.

Design: Selig has engaged two separate architecture firms to focus on improvements to the site and buildings. One firm is working to provide suggestions for improving the pedestrian connectivity within and surrounding their property; the other architecture firm is focusing on branding and building imagery for facade renovations. As per our contract Selig has agreed to schedule meetings with MANA and selected representatives from the immediate surrounding neighborhoods so that we can provide feedback on design concepts.  I expect these meetings to begin soon.

Permitting & Schedule: Both Selig and Walmart anticipate applications for initial permits for site work will be submitted in the upcoming weeks. The renovation of the existing shopping center, including the demolition required for the construction of Walmart, is anticipated to begin in the first half of 2013, barring unanticipated delays.

Leasing: Selig is currently talking/negotiating with several national retailers and local businesses who are interested in being a part of the redevelopment of Suburban Plaza.  I will update you as the contracts are signed.

Walmart: Selig has told me that preliminary contracts with Walmart have been signed. Walmart is currently in their due diligence phase of the process.  During this time, Walmart will pursue the steps necessary for submitting their applications for building and other permits. This includes completion of their due diligence, civil design, and interior and exterior building drawings and plans.  Their main focus will be determining if the store can be built as they intended for the budget they have allotted.

Site Plan: The most current site plan for Suburban Plaza redevelopment appears below.  This is a work-in-progress, so it is subject to change.  We have placed the most recent site plan next to the last published site plan so that the changes can be easily seen.

October 2011 and June 2012 site concepts for Suburban Plaza. Click to enlarge.
Below, we have enhanced the black and white concept drawing (dated May 2012) that we shared in the newsletter to highlight key differences.

MANA notations to Selig Enterprises document appear in orange. These highlights refer to changes relative to the concepts we received in 2011. Click to enlarge.
The main items to note are:

( 1 )  The addition of a garden center to the new Wamart building (see my comments on this below).
( 2 )  Details are provided on the underground parking below Walmart.
( 3 )  Underground parking will be added below tenant C. The entrance and exit to this parking will be behind the building.
( 4 )  Parking lot pedestrian crosswalks have been added. Additional walkways have been added beyond the highlighted areas. There has also been an effort to adjust the parking lot alignment to improve safety.
( 5 )  The location of the main entrance from North Decatur Road had to be adjusted due to the current placement of electrical line.  The layout of the greenspace had to be adjusted in order to accommodate this change. There is still a net gain in greenspace as compared to the current site.

Walmart Garden Center: As many people may have heard, Walmart has decided to include a garden center.  This is contrary to statements made by Glen Wilkins, Walmart Representative, at our community meeting in November. We are disappointed about this, but want you to know that this does not violate their contract with MANA. In December, just a few days before the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, Walmart corporate executives struck the “no garden center” condition from our proposed contract. Their explanation was that they wanted to sell garden supplies, patio furniture, grills, etc., and that language disallowing a garden center in the contract would limit their right to sell these kinds of items. MANA tried to come up with modified wording for the contract, but Walmart would not agree to any limitations. It should be noted that Glen Wilkins and I differ on our recollection of this conversation. I am still trying to figure out if this is a matter of semantics or if Walmart now plans to have a full garden center. The C1 zoning for the site allows them to have a garden center. Also note that the entire garden center is contained within the permissible building area set during negotiations.

Glen Wilkins recently met with the owners of Intown Hardware, Dave Jones and Tony Powers.  In my conversations with Dave, he stated that they are “concerned about Walmart, but not worried.”  Like MANA, they concluded early in this process that they would not be able to stop Walmart; therefore, they will work to differentiate themselves from Walmart in terms of product offerings and service. Dave and Tony have been moved by the outpouring of concern and support the neighborhood has shown, and they say the best way we can support them is to continue shopping at their store.
Side-by-side view of Selig concepts. Click to enlarge

MANArtistic rendition of what the side-by-side concepts look like if overlaid. Click to enlarge.

Please continue to check this website for the most recent information on the Suburban Plaza redevelopment.