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Let neighborhood shape its growth

Equal Time: This column is solicited to provide another viewpoint to an AJC editorial published.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
By Jim Durrett
Published September 20,20007

Late last year, residents of neighborhoods near the already congested intersection' of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads got the kind of wake-up call that makes you sit bolt upright. A developer had announced big plans for one quadrant of that intersection. It quickly became clear that other land owners and developers might have ambitious plans for other nearby properties, too.

DeKalb County commissioners Jeff Rader and Kathie Gannon rushed to find an opportunity to engage neighborhood residents and business owners in a planning process that might help make sense of what had quickly become a tsunami of pending development. Hard experience has shown that only by actively engaging citizens and providing them a forum to discuss development can they shape growth, molding developers' plans so that they respond to needs and wishes of area residents.

To lead the planning process, Rader and Gannon turned to the Livable Communities

Coalition, a broad -based nonprofit whose mission includes helping local governments shape sensible, appropriate development. The coalition, in turn, engaged nationally renowned planner Alex Garvin to provide the expertise necessary to propose a plan. He was charged by the coalition with creating a plan that would map feasible improvements to the area's publicly owned public realm - its green space, streets and limited sidewalks.

Public meetings (six so far, with a seventh this week) began in March. Online surveys and frequent e-mail correspondence have been used to gather additional ideas and feedback to the draft plan, which continues to be reshaped. Part of Garvin's plan – a key part - calls for consideration of a tax allocation district, or TAD. Garvin in essence asks: Given the development that may occur in the area some of it proposed by land owners who already have the zoning approvals they need shouldn't we insist upon providing improvements that the area needs and the community wants? Given the lack of government funding at all levels to pay for those improvements, can we find a way to pay for those improvements as development happens? If this area qualifies, as it appears to, as a redevelopment area eligible for tax allocation district consideration' shouldn't we examine this opportunity as part of the funding package? Lastly, if we don't get those improvements now, when will we?

A plan built by engaged area residents is the best opportunity a neighborhood has to shape future growth. A tax allocation district, which funnels increased tax revenues from new development to pay for needed improvements now, may be the best opportunity a neighborhood can have to see its needs met now.