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Council Members Winston and Bakhtiari Speak with Constituents

By Paul Bolster

The leadership of SAND committed the entire February 9 meeting to hearing from our two members of City Council, Jason Winston and Liliana Bakhtiari. SAND President Kate Champion’s plan for the next year is to increase involvement in neighborhood decisions. Here is a brief summary of questions/answers, compressed for space. 

What is the status of the Ormewood Forest? Liliana: Part of the property will be developed and part green space open to the community. Working with Georgia Tech where tree cover is most needed in neighborhoods, Tree Ordinance needs updating.

Can the Council do anything to stop the Police Training Academy? Jason: Nothing the Council can do. Everything was fast-tracked. He is serving on an ARC study committee focused on the South River Forest, expanding green space in southeast Atlanta. He wants to lessen the impact on the community. Liliana: Been against it from the start. Past administration did a bad job listening to the community. Would like to see as much green space as possible in the final plan. Offended by protesters being called terrorists by city and state officials. 

What is the future of Red’s Farm? Jason: We had a meeting with the family on March 2. They are putting a price tag on the land and he will be looking for City resources for possible preservation. 

How is the City using the increase in the residential tax burden—increased values and 2 mill rate increase? What can be done about low commercial Assessments? Jason: Serves on the finance committee. Most of the money went to salary increases to make City jobs more attractive—police, fire, first responders, service workers. It created the largest “reserve” fund which secured a high bond rating when the City borrows money. Liliana: It increased the PAD program (Policing Alternative and Diversion) to cover the entire City. Neighborhoods will be encouraged to call 311 when they see people in need rather than 911. In the future the program needs to expand to 24/7. Both are aware of commercial property tax inequity, conversations have started.

What is happening with Housing in the Thomasville area? Jason: Between the foreclosed land of Forest Cove and the Housing Authority there is lots of land for affordable housing. Proposals are under consideration. He encouraged people to participate in the discussions through the NPU process. The City needs to buy land and use available land for affordable housing.

Why the changes on United that took away residential parking? Jason: The plan to increase safety on United came from a six-year process involving neighbors, Atlanta DOT, and Georgia DOT. State provided funding for the restriping, crossing strobe; GDOT now in charge.

How about changing the proximity of wine shops to parks? Jason: We should look at this, along with overhauling the permitting process.

What is happening with Trash Mountain? What happened to the park? Jason: Land for years was the local dump and became a Brown Field under federal rules. He has worked with the developer to make 20% of the units “affordable” and to include covered parking. Watershed had a chloride plant there and the soil around it had to be removed. When the land is remediated it will be sold to the highest bidder. This is a first for Watershed to release property.

How do we get citizens engaged in the re-write of Atlanta’s 20 year old zoning ordinance?

Jason: We need to do things differently. Past approaches are not always the best approach. There should be study groups in each neighborhood. City Hall planners are open to more engagement. Liliana: Planning a traveling town hall meeting in neighborhoods in her district. The City has not explained  how zoning changes could impact the community. People are coming here and the density needs to be spread out evenly across the neighborhoods. We need to let people have input on neighborhood plans.

How do we get more transparency out of MARTA? Liliana: We don’t know. It is a public organization that operates in private. They are “flush with cash” but not good at returning phone calls or laying out their plans. It has been hard to work with them, with no open communication. We are planning a meeting with the neighborhood transportation chairs to ask their priorities. 

What can we do about Wall Street buying all the single family homes? Jason: Identify areas city can come in and purchase at market rate, put in Land Trust. Liliana: We can’t do much because of state policy and constitutional limits on private property rights. We need to find incentives to get developers to sign up for the AHA housing voucher program. The BeltLine organization should require all developers on its land to accept Section 8 vouchers. We are partnering with Land Trust and will operate  Navigation centers to help the homeless find resources.

Are there plans to provide composting? Liliana: We are working with the Atlanta Public Schools on a composting program. Most (50%) of what goes on the street could be composted. We may consider a private composting contractor. Establishing more community gardens could create a hub for composting. Jason: There are many things Public Works can do and will in the future. They have worked to improve the antiquated collection system.

Mayor’s Year of Youth – Is it more than a marketing campaign? Lilliana: Wants conflict resolution training in APS before the 6th grade. Wants to create opportunities for kids to make money they can take home to help their family. Salary-based housing would help. Jason: The Mayor has focused on Promise Centers where kids have a safe place to do school work and get counseling. City needs to work with non-profits that help kids get off the street. Discussion followed concerning the East Atlanta Kids Club and gaps in transportation.

What is the status of the Moreland Avenue bridge at the Intrenchment Creek bike trail? Both: We support the effort to get a bridge built so the bike trail can connect to trails in DeKalb. They will work with the Mayor and Congresswoman Nikema Williams on a federal funding request. Thr PATH Foundation has designs. We are looking at how we can fund the project.

How are Trestletree tenant issues being addressed? Jason:  Housing inspectors are getting a better response to the violations they found. Working with HUD to insure housing meets its standards. With a history of intimidation, it is hard to get the residents to speak out. Many kids could be participating in the East Atlanta Kids Club but transportation is a problem. Lilliana: Need to identify transportation gaps to get the kids to recreational activities after school. Bus driver’s union might help. Good idea from audience – City could help connect parents with resources.

What is the status of the city jail? Jason: A resolution has been introduced to do a municipal court audit. Liliana: The contract with the county is for four years.

Will the gravel roads in SAND be paved? Money is supposed to be there; the transportation department has been slow to complete the work.

Will money be granted to council districts? Both said there are funds available for small shovel-ready public improvement projects in their districts. They asked for suggestions as well as meeting with the chairs of community transportation and parks committies.

The meeting lasted about two hours and the members of council had time to respond to every question asked. About 50 people attended the in-person meeting, ending with donated cookies from yAAAs!

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