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Thoughts from JP

           
             Remember to Vote on November 2!

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

  • A Comprehensive Development Plan We Can Accept

  • Keeping the Buckhead Debate Civil

  • A Return on Taxpayer Investment

  • Good News on Yard Waste Collection

  • The School Bus Driver

  • Chastain Horse Park's Remarkable Aim to Help Heal Those in Need

A Comprehensive Development Plan We Can Accept

The Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) is an every-five-year planning document Georgia requires its cities to indicate how they will accommodate growth, and it has created quite a stir.

By a 12-2 vote on October 28 --- three days before the document was due --- Atlanta City Council amended the plan to address concerns voiced by 182 of the city’s 242 neighborhoods, including those in Buckhead and District 8. 

Central to the plan was an assumption that Atlanta would grow from its present population of 500,000 to 1.2 million by 2050, necessitating significant zoning changes to accommodate that growth and to provide additional housing stock. We did not accept that forecast. 

The original proposal would have led to more significant density increases in large and historically single-family neighborhoods throughout the city through allowances for accessory dwelling units that could have become separate lots. This was perceived as having the potential to alter the character of many neighborhoods, which led to the outcry.

You can find details here on the changes made by Council to the CDP. 

Pay special attention to these changes on Page 33 of the plan. The most significant changes pertain to creating a new protective language to define “growth areas” and “conservation areas.” 

“Growth (areas) will be organized into already-developed areas that are suitable to take on growth. This includes the historic core of the city, the corridors that flow outward in every direction, and outlying clusters like Buckhead and Greenbriar. These growth areas represent an enormous capacity that, if properly designed, can easily accommodate Atlanta’s expanding population.”

“Conservation areas: The rest of the city will be protected from overwhelming growth. The intown neighborhoods and lush suburban territories will grow in ways that retain and improve their charm and their leafy tree canopy. These Conservation Areas represent ecological value, historic character, and housing options that, if properly designed, can make living with all those new neighbors a pleasure.”

Changes were also made to ensure that Council maintains authority regarding zoning decisions.  

These actions hit a “pause and reset” on the comprehensive development plan conversation and allowed the actual plan to meet the state’s October 31 deadline. 

Your voices and feedback were heard. My Council colleague, Matt Westmoreland, worked tirelessly and collaboratively with community representatives in D8 and throughout the city, and he deserves our appreciation.

Thank you all for your active engagement in this process and to Chair Westmoreland for his leadership on this critically important issue to D8 and the rest of the city.
 

Keeping the Buckhead Debate Civil

Reflecting on the divisiveness built since the Buckhead City movement began hits like a punch to the gut. 

“We’re played as patsies,” the writer said about the mayoral candidates’ responses to my Buckhead Pledge. “(The) City of Atlanta hates and uses Buckhead. The smaller the jurisdiction, the better. Buckhead needs to get out.”  

There was more, but that’s the gist of this constituent’s thinking. Despite the intense language, I understand the writer’s frustrations. That’s why I asked the five leading mayoral candidates to sign the 10-point pledge to give Buckhead the respect and attention it (and the entire city) deserves.

Four of the five candidates agreed, either in part or full, with the pledge. Councilmember Antonio Brown did not respond.

The Buckhead City movement faces a lengthy journey to get on the ballot. Some voters, understandably confused by the proliferation of yard signs, thought it was on the ballot this November 2.

Whatever happens, I persist in the belief that the next Atlanta mayor will have a significant impact on whether this movement continues to build. By the time you read this, November 2 will likely have passed. However, there’s a strong chance that no candidate will have received a majority of votes, meaning a November 30th run-off between the top two finishers is probable.   

Discussion and debate of an issue are healthy but what concerns me most is the animosity built around the Buckhead City issue.  Social media is full of it, and the name-calling and labeling are especially painful. It feels as if the culture wars have come to Buckhead.

That has to stop. Unless we remain civil toward each other, a good outcome is unlikely.

Facts matter and I urge you to learn as much as possible. Perhaps the biggest misconception is that the Atlanta annual operating budget is $2 billion, and the loss of Buckhead revenue would not be that impactful.

The city’s general fund --- the cost of operating Atlanta --- is budgeted at $709 million for the fiscal year ending next June 30. About half of this is for police and fire protection; This is where your property taxes go. The difference between $709 million and $2 billion is in other Atlanta entities such as the airport and water department supported by the fees they generate, not property taxes.

This is important because the property taxes lost to Atlanta would hugely affect that $709 million, perhaps as much as 40%.

There are other hard questions to ponder for those who say Atlanta’s future is not their concern. What will become of the Atlanta Public Schools that serve 5,500 kids in Buckhead? That’s nearly 60% of all school-aged children in Buckhead.

In a far-reaching op-ed in the October 10th Atlanta Journal-Constitution, APS board chair Jason Esteves described the process. Here is Esteves’ op-ed. 
 
Where would a Buckhead City get its water and wastewater treatment, and at what cost to homeowners and business operators? Who will own parks as Chastain and Memorial, and would they remain parks? Police and fire protection, a central element of the Buckhead City plan, will require more than personnel. Fire trucks alone can cost nearly a million dollars.  

These are but a few of the big, tough questions to consider. Will Atlanta’s famed Phoenix change course and crash and burn? Will the “Atlanta Way” become a mere memory? 

Next year’s legislative session will likely determine if Buckhead gets to vote in November 2023 to secede from Atlanta, though the process, given its unique nature, still is unclear. The city’s primarily Democratic delegation has come out against the move, whose strongest proponents are outside Atlanta and Buckhead.

As I have said repeatedly, Buckhead residents have every right to be upset with Atlanta for how they’ve been treated. 

Is the answer to push the nuclear button, which brings about its own complexities and collateral damage? For four years, I have worked to make Atlanta work for Buckhead. Much work remains for this to happen, and Atlanta’s next mayor will play a pivotal role.  

As we wrestle with this question over the coming year, I implore you to gather the facts and cast aside the heated rhetoric. Stop the name-calling and finger-pointing and ask what you can do to make for a better Buckhead AND a better Atlanta.
 

A Return on Taxpayer Investment

Notwithstanding the concern over Buckhead getting its fair share of Atlanta’s resources, improvements have occurred in District 8 because of two taxpayer-approved measures --- the 2015 Renew Atlanta bond program and the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, also known as TSPLOST.

You’ve likely passed projects with signs that show a silhouette of the Atlanta skyline and the words Renew Atlanta or TSPLOST. Those are your taxpayer dollars at work.

The resurfacing and repaving of much of Northside Parkway and the PATH widening between Powers Ferry Road and Lake Forrest Drive in Chastain Park are two examples.

Above is a scorecard of projects in District 8 that are completed, underway, or scheduled to begin.  Many will be familiar to you.

Good News On Yard Waste Collection

With the help of private contractors, the Office of Solid Waste Services has begun to make a dent in the piles of yard waste that accumulated across the city, including in District 8.

Al Wiggins, Jr., the Commissioner of Public Works reported to the City Utilities Committee that the city could finally deliver consistent, predictable yard waste collection, albeit every two weeks.  D8 residents have told me they have seen improvement in recent weeks.
 
This is the “blocking and tackling” essential to making a city run well. It is also one of the ten items in my Buckhead Pledge. I asked the mayoral candidates to pledge to find the most efficient way to provide solid waste services, including managed competition or outsourced to private-sector businesses. The city must do a better job of delivering the services Atlantans pay for.

This link to the Office of Solid Waste Services will allow you to see your week for yard waste collection and to set a reminder.  If you have 21 bags or more of yard waste or tree branches to be collected, please continue to use the Bulk Waste pick-up feature. Bulk Waste operations have also been outsourced, which has resulted in shorter waits for collection dates.
 

The School Bus Driver

From August to May, they negotiate the streets of District 8, delivering precious cargo to elementary, middle, and high schools. They’re school bus drivers, often anonymous to those of us caught behind their flashing red stoplights. 

Atlanta Public Schools wants us to know these public servants and has produced a story about Ronald Benton. He delivers students to Morris Brandon Elementary, Sutton Middle, and North Atlanta High School.

Here is APS’s account of one of the quiet heroes who serve our community daily:
 
For as long as he can remember, Ronald Benton has always wanted to be a bus driver.

"My mom says that I've wanted to be a bus driver since I was four years old," said Benton, a proud North Atlanta Cluster bus operator who began his transportation career at APS in 2016. "I have some family members who work at MARTA, but I've always wanted to drive a school bus. When I started driving, I loved everything. Of course, it's the kids. But, it's also everything about the bus itself: the color, the stop sign, the feeling of being in control. I guess my mom was right. I just love school buses."

Benton, known affectionately as "Mr. B" by students on his Morris Brandon, Sutton Middle, and North Atlanta routes, gives much of the credit to his high school bus driver, Ms. Brown, who developed a great rapport with her passengers. That camaraderie left a lasting impression on Benton and continues to influence how he engages and interacts with his riders each day.

Thanks to the rapport and respect Benton has established with students over the years, many feel comfortable talking with him.

"I remember Ms. Brown greeted me every morning and every afternoon, and if I was running late, she'd stop and pick me up," he said. "It was the relationship that we built, and I love that for me and my little people. If there's an issue, we can talk. Even my 11th graders who were sixth graders when I first started, we still talk. They'll say, "Hey, Mr. B! Guess what?' I tell them we can talk. I love that relationship. I love to see them grow."

Benton now plans to combine his love for children with his desire to become an educator. Thanks to his flexible work schedule, he is currently studying to earn a bachelor's degree in early childhood education at Georgia State University. He ultimately wants to teach at a daycare or Headstart program and own a franchise of daycare centers.

Working as a bus operator has proven the perfect training ground.

"I correlate bus management to classroom management. My bus is my classroom. I communicate with students, everyone says hello, walks to their seat, and stays seated," he said. "And all of my elementary children and everyone else can tell you how to get home and how to get their friend's house. If I was unable to drive the bus for some reason, the older ones know how to use the radio to call to get assistance. I have a good bunch."

In the meantime, Benton makes sure that students, parents and families, and community members are aware of the importance of bus safety and his role as a bus operator.

Here are some of Benton's top safety tips:

1. Don't run stop signs

2. Appreciate bus operators and the challenges associated with driving a school bus

3. Be at the bus stop to receive your child

"This is a bus - I'm not driving a car or a motorcycle. It takes me a minute to stop - whether I'm going 6 miles an hour or if I'm on the highway going 45 miles an hour," he noted. "Also, a bus is a machine. I have to drive this bus, drive for myself and the drivers in front, behind, and both sides of me, look in a mirror and watch children at the same time - and make sure they're doing what they need to do. And if an issue occurs, I have to handle that while driving."
 

Chastain Horse Park’s Aim to Help Heal Those in Need

A walk or drive on Powers Ferry Road past the Chastain Horse Park offers a glimpse into the world of elegant equestrians and their beautiful horses.

If that’s all you know about the Chastain Horse Park, you’re missing an important story. It is also a place many turn to for the therapeutic help a big horse can often provide.  

This is the story of yet another program the Chastain Horse Park, a 501c3 nonprofit, provides. The beneficiaries are the youthful victims of sex trafficking. To learn more about the Chastain Horse Park’s Healing through Horses and how you can support it, please go to chastainhorsepark.org
 
Chastain Horse Park makes a difference in the lives of teenage girls and women on the difficult journey of rehabilitation after having been sexually exploited and trafficked.  We interviewed a young woman who answered questions in writing and by phone on the condition that her identity remains confidential. For the sake of her story, we’ll call her Kristy. 

Kristy took lessons in tennis, dance, and gymnastics. In school, she joined the book club and student council. She dreamed of becoming a psychologist.

As a teen, though, Kristy dabbled in drugs and started to steal. At 19, after her freshman year in college, her parents kicked her out after testing positive for an illegal substance. She bounced from place to place and eventually endured sexual assault.

“That scared me. It made me angry and physically violent,” Kristy said.

The special bond between animals and people played an essential role on the road to recovery for Kristy. Eventually, she joined other girls and women in metro Atlanta at Wellspring Living, a nonprofit that for more than 20 years has helped survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation. The organization offers clinical therapy, education, and instruction in basic life skills. Wellspring Living also has discovered a new way to help survivors: therapeutic horse lessons.

Since 2019, Wellspring Living has taken women to Chastain Horse Park, where instructors help them settle into the saddle. Accustomed to having little control, participants take the reins. They learn to control a horse. They also learn to trust.

“A horse doesn’t care what color you are, if you have a stutter, if you don’t speak – you’re non-verbal – if you have an amputation,” Rainer said. “They are going to treat you and any other person, with a disability or without the same exact way.”

“For someone that has been cut down and not given a voice, being able to work with a thousand-pound horse is a huge achievement,” said Kelcy Rainer, therapeutic program director at Chastain Horse Park.

Thousands of people worldwide benefit from equine-assisted services, from people with post-traumatic stress disorder to developmental disabilities or conditions like cerebral palsy.  Organizations around the United States are also harnessing horses’ healing power to help survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation.

“Most of the time, they’re coming in very guarded. They don’t have a certain level of trust for anyone because of their past experiences,” Rainer said.

Kristy rode a horse named Hank. She was scared at first, but Hank stayed calm, and that helped her relax. Her fear diminished. Her confidence increased.

Kristy also is focused on the future. She works at a clothing store, measuring customers and selling suits. She aspires to study computer science.

That future is possible because of organizations like Wellspring Living and Chastain Horse Park, primarily because of the unique bond connecting horses and people.
 

District 8 Contacts

 

J.P. Matzigkeit    

jpmatzigkeit@atlantaga.gov

404.330.6051

 

Katie Howard

jpmatzigkeit@atlantaga.gov

404.330.6051

 

Jim Elgar

jqelgar@atlantaga.gov

404.546.4911

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