Emotions ran high at Monday night’s council meeting leading to a threat by Mayor Mike Davis to remove citizens for spontaneous outbursts and comments during council’s discussion about a proposed roundabout at the Vermack and Womack road intersection. Citizens had reacted to a statement by Davis that Womack was not a residential street, but a main thoroughfare through the city.
Womack Road is lined with nearly 60 single family homes zoned residential. The street is also home to Georgia Perimeter College and Dunwoody Elementary School, both near the intersection with Tilly Mill Road. Homeowners on both Womack and Vermack Roads have consistently referred to the area as their residential neighborhood when pleading with council to stop plans for a roundabout.
According to traffic studies, the intersection has a failing grade for motor vehicle movement. Residents who live in the neighborhood say that the intersection is only a problem for a few hours on weekdays before and after school and at rush hour. Three schools and a college are within a half mile of the intersection. Dunwoody High School is located at the intersection.
In a close vote (4-3), council decided two weeks ago to remove funding from the 2012 and 2013 budgets to continue design and construction work for the intersection, but put the topic back on the agenda Monday night as a discussion item. To date, the city has paid a design firm more than $68,000 of $129,000 budgeted for this stage of the project.
Determined to see the design work completed, Councilman Terry Nall requested further council discussion. The design work needs to be finished, said Nall, so that council could consider all options for the intersection and “identify an intersection improvement solution with a balance of efficiency, safety, cost and neighborhood aesthetics.”
Councilors John Heneghan, Lynn Deutsch and Doug Thompson also expressed safety for pedestrians as a primary concern.
“I think what the community really wants is answers to the safety aspect of whatever is offered,” said Heneghan.
Thompson said he would not support anything but the most pedestrian friendly design.
Carrying signs and wearing red shirts, nearly 50 citizens of all ages attended Monday’s meeting to protest this road project and the restructuring of Dunwoody Village Parkway. Some brought their young children who also carried signs and held them high during public comment.
And, for the second time in two weeks, Davis read a statement advising citizens against outbursts including shouting, applause and laughter. Davis clarified that applause was allowed for ceremonial and recognition items and said that public comment was a privilege and not a right.
As public comment proceeded, Davis reacted to citizens who spoke out of turn by saying that he would stop public comment. Eight residents spoke against the proposed roundabout and one spoke in favor.
Jessica Strauss-Hurwitz, a Vermack homeowner referenced a quote from Davis about his vision of young families moving to Dunwoody and said the roundabout would drive away potential homeowners from the neighborhood.
“Look at all the emails and petitions you have received from young families all around Dunwoody,” said Strauss-Hurwitz. “We are the people who buy your homes. Community and walkability are extremely important to us. If you want to continue to bring our demographic to Dunwoody, then you need to listen to our needs.”
Strauss-Hurwitz also told council that “no one with common sense wants their children walking to school and having to negotiate a roundabout. No one wants to move to a city that is so quick to impose eminent domain on its citizens or force a solution on them that was not warranted, requested or researched properly.”
Dan Schultz, homeowner on Conover Drive spoke in favor of the proposed roundabout and said that the intersection is in desperate need of improvements.
As this was a discussion item, council did not vote, but five of the six members present said they would support continuing the design study. Councilor Denis Shortal said he would not support it and Councilor Adrian Bonser was absent.
Nall asked Director of Public Works Michael Smith for additional statistics on pedestrian and traffic counts because the current numbers provided to council do not match what residents say occurs at the intersection. Nall also requested another community meeting on the topic after design work was complete.
Opposition to several city projects has prompted the formation of a citizen group called “Save Dunwoody”. Members say the group already has more than 100 citizens and expect rapid growth.
A website aptly named www.savedunwoody.com is up and running with a link to contact the group to be added to an email list or request a yard sign. The website includes a statement that the group wants to encourage the city to avoid expensive and wasteful solutions for current and future projects.
Thoughts on current city projects are posted on the site and include the proposed roundabout, changes to Dunwoody Village Parkway and the loss of more than 300 trees to build a 12-foot-wide concrete multi-use path in Brook Run Park.