Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bees galore

June 2013: not shy about raining.
We may break
10" yet!

All this rain and green means there's lots of bug activity out there. Here are some of of Medlock's busy bees.

Tomato fairy godmother: this tiny bee is loaded with white pollen
from working the tomato blooms. 
Same tiny species as above (?), working the bee balm.
Here's a bumble bee, executing a typically graceful face-plant on a bee balm blossom. Notice the size of this bee
to the flower's stamens: it gives a good perspective on how small the bee in the previous photo is.
With so many bees around, who shows up if not the dread tiger bee fly? It's a fly that feeds on bees. Boo, hiss.
The wings have clear spots that give them a tattered appearance.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pre-application meeting for proposed Scott Blvd. Baptist Church development [July 8]

See more at

The pre-application meeting for the proposed development at Scott Blvd. Baptist Church will be held on Monday, July 8th at Scott Blvd Church (2532 N Decatur Rd  Decatur, GA 30033) at 7pm. | map |

Our recent post includes early concepts for this development that is expected to include retail, 200 apartment units, and a natural foods store as an anchor.

Please attend this meeting to hear what the developer has in mind and share your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Context for cityhood movement sweeping DeKalb County

The following is a summary of remarks made by Davis Fox [Policy Analyst and Project Manager  who works with Kathie Gannon, DeKalb County Commissioner for Superdistrict 6] at the MANA Neighborhood Association Community Meeting – June 17, 2013. Bolded items indicate questions from the audience, followed by Mr. Fox's answer.

The current cityhood movement in our state can be traced to Sandy Springs (Fulton County) and how
the legislature would not allow them to incorporate because its local delegation refused to support this cityhood plan. When the state legislature swung to a Republican majority, the law was changed (to allow legislators outside the delegation to vote on a cityhood plan) and other cities soon followed (Johns Creek, Milton, Dunwoody, Brookhaven).

To clarify, incorporation means to form a city within a county. City of Decatur is an example of a city within the County. Unincorporated means any land within the county that is not within a city’s boundary. The Medlock area is an example of unincorporated DeKalb.

Before a city can be formed, a financial viability study must be completed. Simply including homes is not enough; commercial and industrial properties pay significantly more than residences. City proponents will draw boundaries that include as much commercial/industrial area as possible and this creates a “panic effect” as the rest of the unincorporated areas fear there will be no tax base to support them. For example, the City of Briarcliff organizers felt pressure when the City of Lakeside proposed to “grab” the Toco Hill commercial area. The City of Lakeside proposes to incorporate most of the Lakeside school district. The City of Briarcliff is a larger area and includes most of the Lakeside proposal. The financial viability of both proposals is unknown until studies are completed.

Fulton County’s new city proposals were deemed financially viable and the cities did ok during the recession in particular because they did not have legacy pensions systems (this was a large burden for older cities whose pension funds decreased dramatically during the economic downturn). Another reason is that these newer cities have fewer employees and outsource a lot of services.

The process to form a new city is as follows: if proposal is made and found to be financially feasible, a charter is approved by the General Assembly. This charter then goes to a referendum for those residing within the proposed city. If the referendum is passed by the affected voters, the Governor then appoints a commission to organize the city, and an election is held to choose a mayor and commissioners. This all can happen fairly quickly, and elections could be held next fall (2014).

How would the overlapping proposals be handled? The Carl Vinson Institute at UGA focuses on doing feasibility studies, it offers no answers about services or boundaries. It could be that both the Lakeside and Briarcliff proposals are found to be viable. This would pose a legislative conundrum; a decision must be made, and studies may need to be revisited unless a compromise is reached.

School impact? It’s unlikely there would be much impact on public schools because the school board is separate. Remember that around 2/3 of your property tax is directly allocated to the public school system. City of Atlanta and City of Decatur both have their own school systems. In the case of annexation, those residents would be incorporated into a city, and instead of their taxes supporting county public schools, they would support the city’s school system [it may be possible for children to continue to be part of a county school system. This occurred in Gainesville and Hall County]. City of Decatur’s schools are expensive and they need to limit the number of children and incorporate only commercial/industrial property. The legislature has left the issue of education to the counties and no new school systems can be established without a constitutional amendment. In very rural areas, the formation of new municipal school systems could leave outlying areas without the resources to fund public schools. It’s unlikely that cities will be able to create their own school system anytime soon. 

Will taxes go up when new cities are formed? New cities begin with financial feasibility studies. The millage rate is proportional to the services the city provides. Police and fire departments cost more than parks, for example. In addition to services, the level of service also goes into the price tag. Shorter response times cost more money. New cities tend to have fewer employees and outsource a lot of services. Dunwoody is the only city with lower taxes than unincorporated DeKalb. One reason Dunwoody has lower taxes than unincorporated DeKalb is their ability to implement franchise fees at higher levels than DeKalb. Dunwoody collects ~ $3 million in franchise fees. [N.B. Per the  GA Municipal Association franchise info page at, franchise fees are agreements that cities and counties strike with utilities and cable providers, and the money exchanged reflects the cost of placing those utilities in the public right-of-way. Cities can collect franchise fees on all utilities, counties can only collect on cable companies. This can add up to 7%+ of municipal revenues.] Most new cities cap their millage rate at 3 unless citizens authorize an increase. No new city has exceeded this cap but Dunwoody is discussing doing so to create a fire department.  Other cities are also discussing increases to their millage rates. [Reading between the lines… taxes are going up everywhere and regardless??]

Is it true that city residents pay for services twice? No. Their taxes go towards the services they provide. Cities may contract with the county for services, e.g. parks, police, etc. There are some hidden costs and a city may pay for some county services; for example, a county will do an annual financial audit, and some support services may be duplicated somewhat (e.g. information technology, legal). The county can proportionally scale down [for services taken up by a new city], but it is more difficult at least initially to scale back support services.

What happens to those taxes if City of Decatur annexes Suburban Plaza?  Look at your property tax assessment. You will see sections such as County, Bonds, Police, HOST Credit, Homestead Exemption and a % indicating the millage rate that is being calculated against 40% of your property value. Only 2 or 3 items will change position when a property becomes incorporated. Services that the City assumes will not be paid by the County and those taxes go to the City.

To illustrate Mr. Fox's comment, the above compares city vs unincorporated residential property tax based on a $201,000 property. Click to enlarge.

Another thing to remember is office buildings are very desirable and valuable because of business license fees. These are based on the number of employees. So, in addition to the franchise fees mentioned earlier, those license fees would also go to the City of Decatur. It was a big hit for the County to lose Dunwoody.

N.B., City of Decatur does not base license fees on the number of employees but rather on profitability ratios (per applicable class, see

Have Lakeside and Druid Hills (proposals) picked services? Not sure but think that Lakeside has picked planning (zoning, permits), police and parks. Briarcliff picked the same as well as roads and drainage.

Regarding the Lakeside/Briarcliff proposal overlap, if one proposal is feasible, will the other one have to pay another $30,000 to re-do its study? Not sure, but the Vinson Institute is part of UGA, UGA is a state school, so hopefully they would adjust the study without gouging.

So, the feasibility study is about money, not a zero-sum game? No interest in the impact in surrounding areas? Yes, the study is about the study area, there is no analysis on impact on unincorporated areas.
Follow-up question: Isn’t that irresponsible? Concern for the unincorporated areas is not what drove the policy and law regarding how cities are formed.
Q: If we work towards improving Medline and there is reinvestment won’t Decatur step in and annex it?

The methods of annexation are limited. DeKalb delegation could approve the Suburban Plaza annexation but they also represent the rest of DeKalb Co. so hopefully they would refuse. Another way is for property owners to ask to be annexed. Given that Selig has a long-running feud with City of Decatur, that is unlikely.

Q: What is the timing on all this? If both groups get their $30K, the study can be done in a 6 month period. The legislative session begins in January could review each proposal if there is a sponsor for each city.  If the proposed cities had non-overlapping boundaries, both could go forward and there could be 2 referendums. Brookhaven was approved in the 2012 legislative session, held elections in 2012 and had a council in place by 2013.

Basically there are three options: support a new city, support annexation into an existing city, or stay and improve the county.

Q: What does it mean for us if Lakeside proposal goes through? You would not be able to vote on Lakeside (you are outside its boundaries), You would only vote on a Briarcliff proposal.

Q: Could overlapping boundaries be hashed out? Unknown! Ideally, the two organizations would work together.

Q: Could the government put a stop on all this hanky-panky? Could there be a lawsuit? Unknown. This is a snowball effect, it’s hard to stop.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fuqua Development: ideas for Scott Blvd. Baptist Church location

Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader met with neighborhood representatives for a brief update on the proposed development at the site of the Scott Blvd. Baptist Church (2532 N Decatur Rd.). The redevelopment is led by Fuqua Developers; the Fuqua team presented some drawings they note are are very preliminary at this stage.  A community meeting is being planned for early July and as soon as the date and location are settled, we will post that information here.

As proposed, the development covers 5.5 acres.
All ten homes on Barton Way are under contract.
A natural food store would serve as anchor.
The project is a mixed use development. In addition to retail, it would include 200 apartment units (5 stories high).

The large square on the North Decatur Rd. side would be a natural grocery store. Overall, retail is on the periphery,  parking is in the middle (2 levels), and residential on the back and adjacent to the grocer.

View from North Decatur Rd. Retail in front, apartment building visible on the back.
View of the North Decatur/Scott intersection shows a wide buffer from traffic, with wide sidewalks and outdoor sitting. 
Scott Blvd. side. Apartment buildings visible on background.

Medline LCI: redevelopment, walkability, and wellness

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) has shared a Google Earth map of the Medline Livable Centers Intitiative project. Per the ARC, the Medline study
"focuses on the area around DeKalb Medical Center and will plan for redevelopment of underutilized and vacant properties to create a variety of housing options and an appropriate mix of commercial, office and retail. The study will incorporate Lifelong Communities concepts and the establishment of a “wellness district” for the DeKalb Medical Center area. Additionally, the plan will address sidewalk and bicycle facilities along the major corridors in the area to create a more walkable center and to improve connections to MARTA bus routes and Emory’s Cliff shuttle."
Medline LCI (orange boundary), per Atlanta Regional Commission's Google Earth map. Pink line marks the City of Decatur Town Center study boundary. A yellow asterisk marks the Medlock/North Decatur/Scott Blvd intersection, relative to which the Scott Blvd. Baptist Church is almost at 12 o'clock. Suburban Plaza more or less spans 1-3 o'clock. Click to enlarge.
The  Medline study will not be ready in time to steer the redevelopment of Suburban Plaza or of the Scott Blvd. Baptist Church property. Even so, these projects have and will continue to face scrutiny by County planning and review by the Commissioners, whose decisions will be informed by the goals of the Medline LCI study.

Community discussions about the Medline LCI study will begin soon, once the contractor who will lead the study is hired.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

MANA community meeting notes [June 18]

The meeting took place on June 18 at North Decatur Presbyterian Church. Please mark your calendar for our next meeting, October 21, 7pm, same venue.

Welcome and introductions: Lynn Ganim (MANA VP)
Cityhood initiatives: Davis Fox (Commissioner Gannon's Office)
City of Briarcliff Initiative (Herman Lorenz)
Zoning Updates: Theresa Same (MANA Zoning)
Senior Activities (Lifelong Communities): Kathryn Firago (MANA Senior Outreach)
Schools: Tanya Myers (MANA Education) and Natalie Caudle (N. Druid Hills Charter Cluster Initiative)
Neighborhood Watch (Nextdoor): Barbara Dalton (MANA Neighborhood Watch)
Membership kick-off: Judy Perras (MANA Treasurer)

The meeting began with introductions by VP Lynn Ganim, followed by a very thorough "cityhood primer" presented by Davis Fox, who works with Commissioner Kathie Gannon. Mr. Fox gave context to the cityhood movement in the Atlanta area, and answered questions from the audience [to be posted later this week].

Friday, June 21, 2013

It's gonna be a long day!

Welcome to summer! If today feels long, it's because it is...


Feel like celebrating? People often do. See

Earth's tilt varies, with the solstices showing maximum tilt to the sun in summer,
and away from the sun in winter. Our northern summer solstice means
we've just reached maximum tilt to the sun. From here on, we march towards
equinox (meaning "equal night"--to denote the length of day and night are
about the same) and the winter solstice (max tilt away from the sun).
Image from
Photo by Gregg Kemp, Manteo, NC, June 21-Sept 23, 2006.
Image via

NOAA's website reminds us that seasonal changes are caused by the earth's tilt and not by Earth's orbit dramatically swinging us closer or farther from the sun.

Solargraphs capture the sun's path across the sky over time (hours, even months). The image to the right shows the sun's path between June (higher parts of the "sun band") and September (lower parts). The source of this image,, also includes how-to instructions for making inexpensive pinhole cameras. For many more striking solargraphs, visit this Flicker stream.

Eventually, sunflowers agree that east is best.

It is not only humans who like to keep an eye on the sun. Many plants display heliotropism (orienting leaves or flowers to track the sun). Sunflower plants turn to follow the sun when they are young, usually while flowers remain at the bud stage. Once the plant matures and the stem becomes woody (to better support the heavy flower heads), the flower fixes eastward. So, if you get disoriented, seek directions from friendly neighbors... or mature sunflowers. 

p.s. Time to break out the sunblock!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dog found (Superior / N. Decatur Rd.)

Archie is found! Will be home for dinner.

Peach Jam 2013 [June 26-30]

Look to your nearby farmer's market for Peach Jam 2013 events []!
Image via
If you would like to participate in any of the competitions, you need to register:

"PEACH JAM 2013 is a four day celebration of Georgia's favorite fruit, the peach, brought to you by Slow Food Atlanta and Community Farmers Markets. 
Guest attendance is free at all events. Samples of each category can be purchased at the markets on the day of the events.  This registration is for competitors only.  
Peach BBQ sauce competition
Wednesday, June 26th: 5-7 pm
Pig Roast and Peach BBQ sauce competition at the Decatur Farmers Market. Professional level entrants, limited to 25 participants. Registration is $25 and includes peaches.
163 Clairemont Ave, Decatur, GA 30030 
Cocktail competition
Thursday, June 27th: 5:30 -7 pm 
Cocktail competition conjunction with the Midway Pub and the East Atlanta Farmers Market. Professional level entrants, limited to 25 participants. Registration is $25 and includes peaches.
561 Flat Shoals Ave, Atlanta Ga 30316 
Peach cook-off
Saturday, June 29th: 10 am - 12 pm
Peach cook-off (all things peach) at East Lake Farmers Market.  Amateurs and professionals welcome, limited to 25 participants. Registration is $25 and includes a bag of peaches.
Corner of Second Avenue and Hosea L. Williams Drive
Atlanta, GA 30317 
Cobbler Competition
Sunday, June 30th: 11 am - 12:30 pm
Cobbler Competition, parade, and festival games at the Grant Park Farmers Market. Amateurs and professionals welcome, limited to 25 participants. Registration is $20 and includes peaches.
In historic Grant Park, 600 Cherokee Ave Atlanta Ga 30312 
All recipes should include fresh, Georgia Peaches.  Prizes vary based on event, but include fame and fortune!
Individual event details will be emailed after registration.  Questions? Contact"

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Support for the City of Briarcliff feasibility study

Red dog wearing a blue cape? No, it's the competing cityhood proposals that stand to affect our area!
Existing cities (Atlanta, Decatur, Avondale Estates and Clarkston) are colorized and labeled in black. Lakeside proposal is outlined in red,  Briarcliff proposal is outlined in a dashed blue line, and Tucker proposal is outlined in pink. Lakeside and Briarcliff boundary lines are slightly offset for clarity--position does not denote different coverage and where they overlap, both are following Hwy 85 and 285. Original map courtesy of Google.
Please report any inaccuracies to so that we may better inform our readership.
As has been reported in the media and here, proposals for new cities in the northern part of DeKalb County are gathering steam. CHCA has just posted an informative piece on this issue at

As noted in the MANA editorial below [to appear in our next newsletter], the time has come to form an opinion about the future of the region. Georgia law specifies that before a cityhood proposal can be brought to the legislature, it must include a financial viability study, and the City of Briarcliff Initiative is collecting funds ($30,000 needed) to commission said study from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at UGA. Since MANA is included in the Briarcliff proposal, the MANA Board has voted to contribute towards this study. If the study is not commissioned, funds will be returned to the donors. The Lakeside City Alliance (whose proposal excludes MANA and CHCA) is likewise collecting funds for a feasibility study.

City of Briarcliff Initiative
by Lynn Ganim

Many of us have opposed the creation of a city including our part of the county, preferring to remain in DeKalb County, but events have made it necessary to reconsider that opposition.  Momentum and political power seem to be on the side of a creation of a Lakeside City. This proposed city does not include the Medlock or Clairmont Heights areas and would isolate us politically from much of the rest of the northern and central section of the county. We do not know how that would affect our property values, levels of service, or taxes.

 We, of course, can choose to do nothing.  Or we can support the study for the proposed new city of Briarcliff, which pays tribute to the interests of our area. If the legislature chooses to accept neither of the cityhood proposals, then we continue as we have.  If the Briarcliff initiative passes the legislature, we can vote our preferences.  If the Lakeside City initiative passes the legislature, we will have no say at all.  For now these seem to be our choices.

A new formal organization now exists to “investigate and study the possibility of forming a city within unincorporated central DeKalb County, Georgia.” This proposed city of Briarcliff would include most of unincorporated DeKalb County inside an area outlined by I-285, I- 85, and the city limits of Decatur and Atlanta.  The new city overlaps much of the already-proposed Lakeside City Alliance map but adds neighborhoods and sections left out of that proposal; it was created by a group that includes representatives from many neighborhoods and civic associations in the relevant sections of the county. As a result, Briarcliff constitutes what proponents claim is a more logical and inclusive entity for a city in DeKalb County.

There are several steps in the process of cityhood.

Georgia law requires that to be called a city an entity must provide at least three of the following services: law enforcement, fire protection/fire safety, road and street maintenance or construction, solid waste management, stormwater collection and disposal, electric or gas utility service, code enforcement, planning and zoning, and recreational facilities.

Georgia law also requires that there be a study of the feasibility of any new city to provide the services it requires and pay for them.  This study costs $30,000 and must be conducted by a properly- recognized  organization  like the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia.  Work on the study must begin by July 1, 2013, so that it can be completed in time for the next legislative session. This is a crucial first step towards cityhood.  Fund-raising has already begun.

Once a study has been completed, the legislature then must decide whether or not to authorize a referendum on the proposed city.  Our understanding is that no more than one proposal for the same general section of the county would pass.  If the legislature approves the plan for a proposed city, the people directly affected will have their say in the referendum. No one else in the county would vote on the issue.

As a result of the concerns stated above, the MANA board has just approved supporting the study for the City of Briarcliff by contributing $1000 to the cost of the feasibility study. The board is also offering up to $500 in matching funds for contributions from the neighborhood. Details about the match are still being worked out and will be available at the MANA web-site at  They will also be discussed at the MANA Community meeting on June 17.   We emphasize that we are supporting the study, not necessarily the city itself, because we believe this option gives all of us more opportunity to have our voices heard. Otherwise, events may overtake us before we have a chance to decide for ourselves.

Since this situation is very fluid and extremely important to our neighborhood, we urge you to keep up with the local news about it, as well as information on the MANA web-site and the Civic Association Network site at

At a meeting in early May a representative of the City of Decatur stated that they are still interested in annexing certain (unspecified) commercial areas to increase the percentage of revenue they get from businesses and “straighten out” their borders.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Charlotte connection?

11 Alive reports that
A study is underway to consider connecting Atlanta to Charlotte through high speed rail. ... The money for the study is covered by a Federal Railroad Administration grant that was matched by GDOT. At this time, there is no money earmarked to pay for building the rail line.  Read the rest @
The GA Department of Transportation has additional information in its Atlanta to Charlotte Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan page, such as project need and purpose, corridor history, study process, project schedule, FAQs, public scoping meetings (June 4 in Suwanne, GA), and a study area map that shows the potential routes being studied:

Study area map, via
Click to enlarge

Monday, June 3, 2013

Medlock Pool: 2013 hours

2013 Hours
Closed on Mondays
Tuesdays - Saturdays:  Noon - 6 p.m.
Sundays:  1 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Children under 8 must be accompanied by an adult.

Adults 55 and older are free. [Thanks for the tip, Jean C.!]

Daily admission for DeKalb Co. residents is $3 (adults 18 and over), $2 for youths (ages 3-17) and free for children under 2 years of age. Annual pass is $45.

The pool will be open through August 2. It is unknown at this time if the pool will open for additional weekends in September.

See DeKalb County's Aquatics brochure includes pool hours, swim lesson schedule, etc.