New Austin Elementary prompts redistricting
A new facility for Austin Elementary School will open in January, with the capacity to hold an additional 450 students, but Dunwoody’s public school overcrowding problems are far from solved.
The DeKalb County School District ended the year in the process of redistricting its elementary schools. After three public input meetings, the staff has presented its recommendation, a plan that involves moving students from Hightower Elementary to outside the Dunwoody cluster.
The redistricting plan is expected to go before the School Board for a first read in January 2020 and for adoption in February. It is set to go into effect August 2020. Austin, Chesnut, Dunwoody, Hightower Kingsley and Vanderlyn elementary schools will be impacted.
Ambulance response times draw concern from council
For a year, DeKalb County has been out of compliance with its agreement to provide timely ambulance response services in Dunwoody, according to documents produced by the city.
The Memorandum of Understanding with DeKalb County, approved by the Dunwoody Council in November 2018, requires 90 percent of response times to be 9 minutes or less for Advanced Life Support (ALS) and 15 minutes or less for Basic Life Support (BLS).
But ALS ambulance response times have been longer than 12 minutes nearly every month this year, and BLS was over 15 minutes most months, according to data presented to the council from the DeKalb County Fire Chief.
The city declared DeKalb County in breach of the MOU in July. The county has attested that it is not violating the contract because overall emergency medical response, provided through ambulances and fire rescue, does comply with the standards in the MOU.
Dunwoody Village comes into focus
Since January, the city has been working with Atlanta-based planning firm TSW to review and rewrite Dunwoody Village zoning regulations in an effort to encourage developers to help transform the area into a more walkable town center.
In November, TSW presented a draft of the revisions to the public for input. The plan is expected to come before the Planning Commission and then City Council early in 2020.
Initially adopted in 2011, the Dunwoody Village Master Plan envisions transforming the area into a more walkable, mixed-use city center. Rather than one overlay, the draft code divides the area into four districts.
Along Chamblee Dunwoody Road and between Dunwoody Village Parkway and Mount Vernon would be the Village Center. This zone would have the highest density, up to five stories, and all developments more than 15,000 square feet would be required to have a mix of uses.
To the west and north of the Village Center would be the Village Commercial District, which allows for up to four stories unless a development is near an existing single-family home. To the southwest and east would be the Village Residential District, and along the south would be the Village Office District. Both would have a maximum height of three stories.
Housing, in some form, would be allowed in all four zones. No detached housing would be allowed within the village, but townhomes would be permitted in the commercial and residential areas. Each district would have its own usage restrictions and design standards.
DeKalb Schools seeks new superintendent
The DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Stephen Green announced in May that he would not seek to extend his contract but said he would serve until its end in June 2020.
Then in November, the school board voted to terminate Green’s contract immediately and appoint Ramona Tyson as interim superintendent.
Tyson brings 32 years of total service to the DeKalb County School District, serving as a classroom teacher, administrator, deputy chief superintendent, interim superintendent, chief of staff to three superintendents and chief administrator to the board.
The district is still searching for a new superintendent to take over next summer, employing national search firm, BWP and Associates.
Dunwoody strengthens protections for pedestrians
In November, Dunwoody became the first city in Georgia to pass an ordinance to protect “vulnerable road users,” such as walkers, bikers, scooter users, utility workers and other travelers not protected by the shell of an automobile.
Introduced by Councilman Tom Lambert, the ordinance establishes rules for all travelers to safely share the road, prohibits intimidation by drivers against VRUs and protects drivers from liability if bikers or pedestrians act recklessly or unlawfully.
The policy requires drivers to leave a 3-foot distance when passing other road users. If the driver must cross into the opposite-direction traffic lane to create the 3-foot distance, they must travel behind the biker or pedestrian until it is safe to move over.
This ordinance change, which will not be enforced until May 2020, comes amid months of a public information campaign meant to educate on pedestrian safety.
Entitled “See and Be Seen: We’re All Responsible,” the campaign is meant to help drivers and pedestrians understand and obey the rules of the road.
The campaign includes videos, ads, a special website and social media posts that focus on education, enforcement and solutions. It is a coordinated campaign involving Dunwoody Police, Public Works, Geographic Information System and the advocacy group Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety.
The police also conducted several pedestrian safety enforcement details in 2019. One is featured in a video for the campaign. During a detail in April, 32 citations were written, and two arrests were made for hands-free violations, seatbelt violations and drivers failing to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
“Distracted driving and pedestrian crashes often go hand-in-hand,” said Sgt. Robert Parsons. “Even with the new hands-free laws in place, we still see distracted driving violations on a regular basis … We also frequently receive complaints from pedestrians that drivers are not yielding to them in crosswalks.”
In the 10 years since incorporation, Dunwoody has expanded the sidewalk network by 20 percent with 11 miles of new sidewalks. The city is halfway to its goal of having sidewalks on both sides of all arterial and collector roads.
This year, the city extended the sidewalk at Windwood Hollow Park on Lakeside Drive to connect to the linear park by the reservoir on Peeler Road and implements crosswalk improvements on Mount Vernon Road at North Peachtree Road and at the intersection of Tilly Mill Road and Andover Drive.