Dear Decaturish – A brief latter-day history of DecaturFile Photo: Jonathan Phillips Diogo Richards hangs out on the barrel of the cannon outside of the historic courthouse during the AJC Decatur Book Festival on Saturday, August 30, 2014. The ninth annual event saw tens of thousands of people come out to the downtown Decatur area to meet with world-class authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, booksellers, and artists for a weekend filled with literature, music, food, art, and fun. /File Photo
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In less than half a decade, Decatur’s character has dramatically changed and one can argue, not necessarily for the better – its distinction as the densest city in Georgia is a dubious one at best. The Club for Growth mentality has prevailed without serious consideration of the unintended consequences of unfettered development and its effect on the quality of life of its citizens. In my fixed opinion, the city fathers have been remiss in their duty to deal with the concerns of a substantial portion of the citizenry and have pursued an ideology of growth and development sans limitation with rabid zeal.
I cannot speak to all of the multi-residential dwelling construction recently and ongoing in Decatur, but with respect to the monstrous tenement nearing completion on Ponce de Leon Place, local neighbors formed a homeowners group during the city approval process to attempt to mitigate the perceived impact on their neighborhood specifically and the city generally. The objections mainly dealt with scale and aesthetics of the project; Decatur school overcrowding and the projected increase in city traffic were serious concerns.
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The city’s bureaucrats ingenious plan to deal with expected traffic increase was to construct traffic calming devices – roundabouts and pork chops. Then, at one public meeting, the Planning Commission (a misnomer?) essentially nodded in agreement with a collective “sounds good to us” look as the developer’s representative told them – with a straight face – that the impact on schools would be negligible because they anticipated their renters would be young professionals without children – a statement that carries with it the absurdity of ignoring the magnet effect of Decatur’s excellent school system. At the close of the get together it was difficult to tell if the tears in the homeowners eyes were the result of the hilarity of the developer’s remarks or a foreboding sense of failed representative government.
In the end, it was obvious that the developer had his way with the Decatur City and Planning Commissions, and the small town genie cannot be put back in the bottle. The deciders had decided. A final indignity was the approval for the destruction of the pocket park at 315 W Ponce in order to get some tax revenue-producing retail space. So much for progressive governing.
It’s time now to speculate as to what can be done to complete the transition from “Quaint Village” to “Tenement Row.” A major influx of young professionals implies an expanded need for entertainment. Perhaps a theme amusement park – a Six Flags over Decatur sort of thing somewhere along West Ponce de Leon Avenue would fit the bill. The city commissions and bureaucrats would love it.
– Terry Donovan