Cities are non-partisan

Cities are non-partisan

Refreshingly, the issues handled by cities are non-partisan. A proposed city of Vista Grove, like the existing twelve cities in DeKalb and those elsewhere in our metropolitan region, would have non-partisan citizen legislators. City leadership is not Democratic or Republican. And their responsibilities — improving infrastructure like roads and sidewalks, acquiring parks and multi-use trails, and helping support new local businesses and civic events like festivals — aren’t partisan, either.

In a season of such political rancor, we think it is important to emphasize that Vista Grove Initiative (and the civic improvement objectives that we work on with volunteers) is also non-partisan. Although we have not taken a poll, it is likely — since as a grassroots movement, Vista Grove reflects the progressive community we live in — that most volunteers in their presidential and local office voting, lean more Democratic. A large number of volunteers and supporters are strong, lifelong Democrats.

But those labels are really irrelevant to the mission of giving ourselves a single voice and a means of creating much-desired infrastructure improvements through a new city.

Trying to frame a discussion about cityhood as partisan is not helpful and can be quite counterproductive. It ignores the fact that we have a diverse community with thousands of people from both parties who would like a representative city voice — and who believe in the possibilities of a new city to create improvements in roads, parks, transit alternatives like trails, and sidewalks, and to spur smart economic development. None of these are partisan issues.

Cities provide a strong and effective voice for the communities they represent. In a progressive and diverse metropolitan community like Vista Grove, a city’s priorities could be correspondingly progressive. A few examples from other DeKalb cities:

  • Doraville made history earlier this year when it swore in two LGBT city council members, a proud accomplishment by any standard. It has also recently passed an ordinance prohibiting businesses from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, disability, and other protected identities.
  • Brookhaven was honored as a 2018 Welcoming City by the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and it recently completed a zoning overhaul to include some important, if not yet fully sufficient, steps to provide for more and better affordable housing.
  • Chamblee has long shown how city government can promote diversity and economic opportunity for all across city geography.

The opportunities for positive change, including here in Vista Grove, are limited only by our civic engagement and imagination. These are not partisan issues — they are Vista Grove issues, the priorities, hopes and dreams that we bring to the table, and for which we will fund implementation and elect representatives to work consistently and proactively to fulfill.

What can you do to help make Vista Grove a reality?

  • Donate to help fund our outreach efforts.
  • Encourage your neighbors to sign our petition to let legislators know we want the option to consider cityhood.
  • Help represent Vista Grove by attending other key community meetings (please wear your Vista Grove shirt!).
  • Volunteer with Vista Grove Initiative.
  • To take pictures of our area
  • To help out with our Public Safety and Zoning/Economic development task forces
  • To help organize letter writing and petition efforts

Sincerely,

Andrew, Meg, Lara, John, and Megan

Vista Grove Board Member Bios

www.vistagrove.org

Vista Grove Initiative

http://www.vistagrove.org/

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Current Events Sept. 24 2018

We have a few updates from our last email - it's the Brookhaven City Council meeting that is to happen on the 26th, it's the Oak Groove Festival, and here is a better description of what the County permitting meeting is about, thanks to Martha Gross, who works tirelessly on this. We had very short notice and a very incomplete description of the meeting. 

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A big THANK YOU to 50+ neighbors, Sen. Fran Millar, and Rep. Scott Holcomb for attending our community information meeting Sept. 20 at Embry Hills United Methodist Church! It was a great discussion!

We now have Vista Grove yard signs available to help folks spread the word in their neighborhoods. Click here to sign up to get one for your yard.

There are two upcoming community meetings worth your time this week:

- First (and sorry for the late notice, we just found out ourselves), there's a DeKalb PECS meeting Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. to discuss a DeKalb Business Ordinance change. Martha Gross sent us a short description - what we put in our email wasn't quite accurate:

Also, there are a bunch of great community events coming up, including the Greek Festival Sept 27-30 (Drive thru for food opens Thursday 11am and main Festival opens at 5pm Friday) and Oak Groove on Oct. 14 (come visit us at our Vista Grove booth)!

And save the date: Our next Vista Grove community information meeting will be Oct. 18.

How can you help make Vista Grove a reality?

  • Donate to help us fund our outreach efforts.
  • Encourage your neighbors to sign our petition to let legislators know we want the option to consider cityhood.
  • Help represent Vista Grove by attending other key community meetings (please wear your Vista Grove shirt!).
  • Volunteer with Vista Grove Initiative.

Andrew, Meg, Lara, John, and Megan

Vista Grove Board Member Bios

www.vistagrove.org

Vista Grove Initiative

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A single representative voice

Have you had the experience of reading about a local decision — whether it was new construction adding to traffic, a zoning decision that didn’t make sense to you, or a logical community improvement plan that was never implemented — and wondered why the community wasn’t aware of the issue earlier? Or if it was, why local voices were not more impactful?

A city of Vista Grove could communicate with a single representative voice, making it easier to cooperate with neighboring cities and other governmental and non-governmental stakeholders on issues of local importance — among them, reducing traffic and sprawl through smart transit.

Not having a representative local voice on transit has both long-term and short-term implications for our community. For example, following this year’s creation by the Georgia Legislature of the new Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (or The ATL), our neighboring cities are working closely with the county and other municipalities in the 13-county authority. Included as partners in the corresponding study for our county are nearby cities like Decatur  but not our area.

We are missing the opportunity to participate as a community in an important ongoing conversation about transit, as well as to provide input specific to our area into transit plans and initiatives.

For another example, you may have read that MARTA has decided to cancel an important local bus route, Route 33-Briarcliff Rd/Shallowford Rd, or seen the red “bus stop closure” signs. As of Aug. 18, Route 33 will no longer operate on Briarcliff Rd between Clairmont Rd and Shallowford Rd. Maps and descriptions for the entire set of service changes are available online. And this is occuring at the very time that citizens in our area so clearly want and need alternatives to sitting in traffic and spending more time in cars.

This was a change that took many in the community by surprise. One wonders whether, given the opportunity to communicate through our own city government, this decision would have gone forward. The stated rationale was lack of ridership. But if we could add new sidewalks in our area and make access to key transit stops safer and smoother for all nearby residents, more riders could use those lines. A city of Vista Grove’s local input and smart planning and zoning could revitalize our retail and other commercial areas, giving residents additional reasons to be out and about.

If you have concerns about this decision, please contact MARTA’s service planner for this route, Spencer Stoleson. He can be reached at 404-848-5344 or sstoleson@itsmarta.com.  

More generally, if you agree that our community needs to be part of the transit conversation going on between cities and regional stakeholders, and to have our own representative voice on the topic, please consider getting involved with the Vista Grove movement.

How can you help make Vista Grove a reality?

  • Donate to help us fund our education and outreach efforts.
  • Encourage your neighbors to sign our petition to let legislators know we want the option to consider cityhood.
  • Help represent Vista Grove by attending other key community meetings (please wear your Vista Grove shirt!).
  • Volunteer with Vista Grove Initiative.

Sincerely,

Andrew, Meg, Lara, John, and Megan

Vista Grove Board Member Bios

www.vistagrove.org
Vista Grove Initiative
http://www.vistagrove.org/

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Piecemeal Annexations

Our community within unincorporated Dekalb County is surrounded by several cities, and over time, we have seen more instances in which developers or property owners, often in commercial districts, apply for property to be “annexed,” or officially included, into a neighboring city and out of DeKalb unincorporated area.

Annexation into a city has many benefits; however, when piecemeal annexation occurs, it can impact our ability as a community to plan cohesively and in a way that benefits our entire area. Piecemeal annexation results in inconsistent boundaries for services, zoning, and community – neighbors that do not have the same representation or even the same community identity. It is for this reason, that incorporating the Vista Grove community as a whole is far preferable.

By managing their own planning and zoning, consistent with a comprehensive plan unique to the community, cities work to implement the kinds of land uses and enhancements that are consistent with the beautiful, economically vibrant, walkable, and bikeable community that we desire. But when commercial properties on our borders are annexed into other cities, the result is that we have no say in zoning decisions, even those that impact adjacent neighborhoods and property owners.

As a recent example, the Houston TX owner of Camden Apartments (12.89 acres situated at on Briarcliff Road-- near I-85) has applied to be annexed into Brookhaven. At the same time, an application has been submitted for the strip of three commercial properties on 3.845 acres (the “Clairmont-Briarcliff Property) to be annexed into Brookhaven. The Clairmont-Briarcliff Property fronts on Clairmont Road and extends from Briarcliff to the I-85 exit. You can review the Camden application here, and the Clairmont-Briarcliff Property application here. The annexation request does not include a few other commercial parcels and the small Riviera Terrace condominium community and would surround those on three sides by the city of Brookhaven.

The Clairmont-Briarcliff Property remains under contract by a Conyers-based developer, The Gipson Company. The developer proposed a rezoning in DeKalb County for the Clairmont-Briarcliff Property, to allow a proposed Wendy’s, an Express Oil, and a RaceTrac gas station. A number of our interested community members attended the rezoning meetings and expressed concerns about whether this use was best for that site and our community, about traffic concerns related to ingress/egress design, and about whether the impact of adding all of these businesses in this area had been well-considered. After this recommendation, the developer withdrew the proposal.

Yet, the current Clairmont-Briarcliff Property application requests, after annexation into Brookhaven, exactly the same zoning variance that the DeKalb Planning Commission recommended be denied: “rezoning with SLUPs [special land use permits] for drive-thru & auto rep[air] & gas station & alcohol outlet…” The Brookhaven Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the application at a public hearing on Sept. 5, with Brookhaven City Council consideration on Sept. 25.  Here is a summary of questions at the recent July 23 public participation meeting. Note #2 “Q:Why did you withdraw in DeKalb? A:Politically it appeared that we could not get it approved and it made send(sic) to come into Brookhaven.”

If this situation concerns you, then consider communicating with the Brookhaven Planning Commission as a community member, and as necessary with the Brookhaven City Council. They need to hear your input. This commercial area centered around Briarcliff and Clairmont roads should be one of the very vibrant destination areas for our community and the subject of revitalization efforts, including in a potential new city of Vista Grove. It is located at a key commercial intersection, and includes dilapidated properties that the community would like to see revitalized as part of uniform and comprehensive planning. This is one of the primary gateways into our community.

More broadly, if you are concerned about the process of piecemeal annexation, supporting the timely Vista Grove incorporation of our area will help unify our community and to avoid the challenges presented by piecemeal annexation. We want and need our local business to stay in our community, and to continue the virtuous cycle of civic enhancement and improvement, rather than leaving to look for additional services or perceived “greener pastures” in our adjacent cities. We need to do more to uniformly encourage positive development along our commercial corridors, including Briarcliff and Clairmont. As a city, in addition to managing its own parks, road repairs, police services and planning and zoning, Vista Grove will have an economic development office that helps to proactively seek out the kinds of sustainable and community-centered developments that make for a great place to live.

On the other hand, without our own city helping to keep local business local, the forces that have encouraged and incentivized past annexation mean that, over time, additional piecemeal portions of our geography are likely to annex into those other cities. That occurs even as, often, the neighborhoods are left behind — with less revenue to support benefits in their area, and less local control and direct input over decisions that impact traffic, aesthetics, environment, and overall quality of life.

How can you help make Vista Grove a reality?

  • Donate to help us fund our education and outreach efforts.
  • Encourage your neighbors to sign our petition to let legislators know we want the option to consider cityhood.
  • Help represent Vista Grove by attending other key community meetings (please wear your Vista Grove shirt!).
  • Volunteer with Vista Grove Initiative.

Sincerely,

Andrew, Meg, Lara, John, and Megan

Vista Grove Board Member Bios

www.vistagrove.org
Vista Grove Initiative
http://www.vistagrove.org/

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July 2018 Status Update

Summer is winding down and our thoughts turn to settling in to tackle the work ahead. It’s been a busy summer and we wanted to give you an update on where we stand with Vista Grove and what lies ahead.

First, we hope you can join us for our next community information meeting Thursday, July 19 at 7 p.m. at the Leafmore Creek Park Clubhouse or at our August 16 meeting at 7 p.m. at Temple Beth Jacob (and please RSVP so we put out enough chairs).

We’re excited to announce that we’ve raised enough money through individual donations to pay for the feasibility study conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute at UGA. THANK YOU to everyone who donated to help us with this vital step! But we’re not through yet — we still need donations to pay for education and outreach (meeting costs, t-shirts, yard signs, car magnets, etc.) as we turn our efforts to informing as many members of our community as possible about the results of the study and the strong economic foundation for city service delivery (parks, roads and drainage, police, and planning). So, if you haven’t already donated (or are ready to donate again), please give to the next phase of our Vista Grove efforts here.

We look forward to moving forward with a bill in the next state legislative session that would support a vote on creating a City of Vista Grove. The 2019 legislative session will be year two of the two-year legislative process to hold a voter referendum on a City of Vista Grove. Initial bills were introduced in the House and Senate during the last legislative session. With your continued support and following the legislative process, we expect a vote will be scheduled in November 2019.

Several of our taskforces have begun meeting and are making excellent progress toward creating a robust roadmap for what our community could accomplish with the resources and planning capability of a city.

Volunteers and community members like you continue the important work of building awareness and support fora vibrant Vista Grove. We’re so grateful for all the support and enthusiasm we’ve seen so far and look forward to building on that momentum this fall!

What can you do to help Vista Grove become a reality? 

  • Donate to help us fund our education and outreach efforts.
  • Encourage your neighbors to sign our petition to let legislators know we want the option to consider cityhood.
  • Help represent Vista Grove by attending other key community meetings (please wear your Vista Grove shirt!).
  • Volunteer with Vista Grove Initiative.

 

Sincerely,

Andrew, Meg, Lara, John, and Megan

Vista Grove Board Member Bios

www.vistagrove.org
Vista Grove Initiative
http://www.vistagrove.org/

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Smart Transit Planning for Vista Grove

Smart transit planning for Vista Grove

Summer road trip season has arrived, and it’s a good time to reflect on the traffic challenges that our community will need to meet. If you’ve spent any time on one of our major arterial roads, especially during peak hours, you know how critical it is that we create options for the community to travel to our public spaces, commercial centers, and recreation areas in ways other than driving. The ability to easily travel is more essential than ever to our quality of life.

Instead of accepting that we are doomed to sit in traffic or idle on congested roads, we critically need our community to be connected by a variety of integrated transit solutions, whether they be bikeways crisscrossing our area, walking paths and trails, or options like a shuttle or connection points to light rail to move into and out of the city and to connect with the growing regional transit structure. We want proximity to amenities, and to vibrant destinations here in the community. We want the ability to implement innovative options in the same way as neighboring cities, be they bike lanes and bike rental services, local access shuttles and connection to light transit, new networks of sidewalks, or reworked and modernized pedestrian areas.

To realize that kind of walkable, bikeable, and connected Vista Grove, we need smart and specific planning. Smart planning should be focused specifically on this area and also examine the impact of projects on our region as a whole. It means an overall and ongoing traffic assessment, and an appreciation for innovation, including the sorts of projects and innovations neighboring cities have employed. It means using the most creative means necessary to reduce sprawl and traffic congestion. Our area needs to be part of the conversation other cities are having about these initiatives and to make our own decisions about transit.

In addition to smart planning, a connected Vista Grove would mean having adequate resources and an energized civic platform to implement the plan. Our Vista Grove feasibility study confirms that a new city will be economically strong and able to comfortably fund exactly the infrastructure improvements we need. Transit was a major impetus for Emory University, which recognized the challenges of our traffic-laden area and annexed into the city of Atlanta to take advantage of light rail expansion. And Chamblee, Brookhaven, and Tucker (among other neighbors) are showing us the kind of initiative and energy that a city can bring to activate, implement, and complete such projects.

As a city in charge of our own planning and zoning, we in Vista Grove could and should make these decisions ourselves because the shape of our infrastructure and transit systems has a dramatic impact on all of us. As one of the founders of the Beltline has noted, “transportation infrastructure does more than move people. It builds communities, and it constructs our way of life. In short, it matters what kind of infrastructure we build, so we should think carefully about how we would prefer to live and make sure that the policies and projects we invest in are supporting those lifestyle goals." (R. Gravel, Where We Want To Live.)

Today, the situation is very different than when our area’s neighborhoods were laid out in the 1950s and 1960s. Our community was considered a retreat from the city, and its lack of connection was considered desirable. Now we are part of a bigger metropolitan region, one whose population has been exploding while our roads and other infrastructure have aged.

The good news is that we don’t have to accept the status quo. As a city of Vista Grove, economically strong and with a shared purpose of modernizing our area for the benefit of all, we could transform Vista Grove into a smart transit community ready for the 21st century and beyond.

If transit is an issue especially important to you, we would welcome your help as a volunteer for our Public Works and Transit task force.

What else can you do to help Vista Grove become a reality? 

  • Donateto help us fund our education and outreach efforts.
  • Encourage your neighbors to sign our petitionto let legislators know we want the option to consider cityhood.
  • Help represent Vista Grove by attending other key community meetings (please wear your Vista Grove shirt!).
  • Volunteerwith Vista Grove Initiative.

Sincerely,

Andrew, Meg, Lara, John, and Megan

Vista Grove Board Member Bios

www.vistagrove.org
Vista Grove Initiative
http://www.vistagrove.org/

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FAQs about the Feasibility Study

An economically strong Vista Grove – FAQs about the feasibility study

If you have not yet reviewed the feasibility study of a potential City of Vista Grove, please do: It confirms that our community can implement a massive plan of infrastructure improvement. We have the resources to provide our own local parks department, planning and zoning services, and road and sidewalk maintenance. And the City of Vista Grove will be able to deploy its own police force.

Here’s a link to the study: Fiscal Feasibility Analysis of a Proposed City of Vista Grove

To best improve the quality of life across Vista Grove, including through a potential city, we need to be engaged and informed. That means understanding the process of how our local government works, how it is funded, and how it can work most efficiently — and the study is very helpful in that effort.

A few points about the study to keep in mind:

Why do we need a study?

The purpose of the feasibility study is to verify that a new city will be able to pay for the services that we want it to offer, and to do so with no tax increases. And it will — the feasibility study has confirmed that we have a strong foundation for a City of Vista Grove.

Who pays for the study?

Community donors, including many of you, through contributions to Vista Grove Initiative. Our non-profit was formed to commission this study and to educate ourselves on how a City of Vista Grove will provide its services. VGI contracted with the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute to conduct the analysis. We are still collecting to pay the balance of the $20,000 cost of this study. So please, if you have not contributed, take a moment to make a tax-deductible contribution to VGI and help to defray the cost of study. www.vistagrove.org/donate.

Just how economically strong will a new City of Vista Grove be?

Very strong. Even employing a conservative analysis of expenses, the study confirms that a City of Vista Grove can provide these services with a $10 million surplus. Those surplus funds can be used for infrastructure improvements in Vista Grove — repairing our roads, adding parks and trails, and laying down new sidewalks in the areas that we need to make our area walkable, bikeable, and connected.

What else can you find in the CVI study?

You will see a very detailed analysis of the different sources of revenue for a new city (which are much wider than just property tax dollars), and the specifics of what delivery of the various service — for example, road maintenance and police officer salaries — would cost.

We’re excited by the possibilities of what a City of Vista Grove could accomplish for our community, and we think this study makes it clear that a lot is possible.

So what’s next? Our next community meeting will be April 26 at 7 p.m. at the Embry Hills Swim and Tennis Club (3131 Alton Road Atlanta 30341). We’re also holding a barbecue fundraiser May 12 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Briarcliff Woods Beach Club (1830 Morris Landers Drive NE Atlanta 30345). Tickets will be $12.50 for adults, $7.50 for children ages 5-12 and children under 5 will eat free.

What else can you do to help make the City of Vista Grove a reality?

  • Donate to help us fund our feasibility study.
  • Encourage your neighbors to sign our petition to let legislators know we want theoption to consider cityhood.
  • Attend Vista Grove meetings and events.
  • Help represent Vista Grove by attending other key community meetings (please wear your Vista Grove shirt!).
  • Volunteer with Vista Grove Initiative.

Let’s keep the momentum going!

 

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Legislative Sponsorship

We’re frequently asked by neighbors why the legislative process is so complicated. The process of starting a new city involves a set of statutes that define how a city is created, as well as rules adopted by both houses of the Georgia General Assembly. On top of that, the process of introducing a bill or legislation in the General Assembly can be quite involved.

The statutes allow any group of citizens who wish to exercise their right to form a city to do so. The statutes describe the general process, which includes selection of services, introduction of a bill containing a map and city charter, and a referendum, or vote, by the citizens of the proposed new city. Our state constitution provides oversight of local governments like counties and cities to the General Assembly, which is why part of this process involves beginning with a proposed law, or bill. And because city creation is a matter of both regional and state interest, any member of the General Assembly can introduce such a bill; there is no requirement that the person introducing the bill live in the particular area. Sometimes there is more than one sponsor, as multiple legislators may have an interest in the bill.

Vista Grove began this two-year process in February with the introduction of a House bill by an experienced member of the DeKalb delegation, Rep. Tom Taylor. He helped found the city of Dunwoody and served on its city council, and is one of the most knowledgeable legislators on the process of city creation. On the Senate side, Sen. Fran Millar, another DeKalb legislator who has deep expertise on the legislative side, will sponsor and carry the bill forward in 2019. And as a precautionary measure, it was decided that a companion bill to our House bill should be introduced for the 2018 session as well by another senator, Josh McKoon.

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Partnership

A Strong Vista Grove Means a Strong Region and County

Partnership is a vital aspect of how cities can operate effectively in DeKalb County today. For some needs, it makes more sense for a small and very responsive city government to handle them; for others, where a uniform type of non-localized service is provided over a large area, it makes more sense for the county to handle those needs.

This goes back to the history of the region. DeKalb, of course, covers a very large land area. When it was set up, the area was largely rural and the population much, much smaller. In recent years, the population has swelled, and the county today is comprised of many different neighborhoods, which are part of multiple larger communities. Tucker, before its incorporation, is one example. Vista Grove, united by Lakeside school communities and shared history, is another. And across the county, different communities are in different states of economic development. They also have different needs.

What Tucker, Brookhaven, and Chamblee have shown us is that counties and cities can partner, providing different but collaborative functions to make sure those different community needs get the most direct and efficient attention. To determine which functions make the most sense, one excellent question is, “How dependent is this service on direct input from a particular set of citizens in a particular geographic area?”

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Now what?

OK – now that a bill is introduced, what comes next?

Our top priority for now is fundraising.  We need to complete funding for the feasibility study, which we are doing in installments, and your contributions are so important. To continue to foster informed discussion and put on informational events, there are also ongoing expenses for the Vista Grove website and assorted items such as rental of meeting spaces.  We count on your help to make that happen.

In this regard, we will be holding regular community outreach meetings to continue to introduce ourselves and discuss Vista Grove with more of our neighbors. As we reach out, we’d appreciate your help with communications – it would be wonderful if we could identify one contact in every neighborhood email or other social media group who could post any announcements to their group. Something like an old fashioned phone tree!

We have also created several task forces that will be working on specific plans for projects to benefit the community, including enhancements to parks and greenspace, and sidewalk and trial expansion. We have a good parks and recreation report started which we are working to update and expand in light of the exciting new park and trail possibilities  that have opened up as a result of the funding identified in our feasibility study.

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