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Commissioner Steve Bradshaw pushing parts of Kensington-Memorial Drive Overlay District

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Commissioner Steve Bradshaw pushing parts of Kensington-Memorial Drive Overlay District

Steve Bradshaw. Photo by Rebecca Breyer
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Steve Bradshaw. Photo by
Rebecca Breyer

DeKalb County Commissioner Steve Bradshaw says he is moving forward with parts of the Kensington-Memorial Drive Overlay District, an attempt to use zoning to spur development along the corridor.

The corridor runs on Memorial Drive from Hambrick Road to Covington Highway and along Covington Highway from Memorial Drive to I-285.

Bradshaw said he is also asking for a delay of implementing other parts of the project to allow for more time to discuss the project with the community.

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In a letter to constituents, Bradshaw wrote, “In the zoning meeting scheduled for Sept. 26, 2017 I intend to offer a substitute amendment to the proposed Kensington-Memorial Drive Overlay District. The substitute will allow us to pass Tiers I and III with minor modifications, and then delay action on Tiers 2, 4, 5 and 6 while we take the time to further engage the community, planning staff and fellow BOC members to make improvements. The substitute is being offered in response to some concerns that have been raised by the community.”

According to a presentation about the overlay, Tier I would create a “Covington Gateway” described as a, “A recognizable entrance into the three communities where physical activity and other healthy behaviors are integrated into the daily routines of residents.” Tier III would promote an “Indian Creek Wellness Community” at the Indian Creek MARTA station.

The other tiers include a “DeKalb Business and Lifestyle Center,” a “Memorial Drive Gateway,” and an “Education and Cultural Center.”

Here is a presentation that provides a more detailed description of the overlay:

N2 DeKalb BOC Kensington-MemDr Overlay TA 17 21605

Here is Bradshaw’s letter to his constituents:

The success of the Memorial Drive corridor is something that is close to my heart. I have lived near the corridor for over 24 years. The barber shop that I go to is on Memorial Drive. The dry cleaner that I use is on Memorial Drive. That being stated, I also remember how it was 24 years ago. Anyone who has lived near the area for at least that amount of time knows full well what I am referring to. We cannot go back to where we were. But, we can move forward, hopefully to a better place. We need to make a start.

Simply stated, the objective of the overlay district is to provide a potential catalyst for economic development in this very critical corridor. I think most people would agree that such development is needed. Over the years studies have been done. Meetings have been held. And there has been plenty of talk around inducing a jump start to the Memorial Drive corridor. Historically, that talk has seemingly peaked during an election year and dissipated afterwards. Studies are fine. Talking is fine. But, the time has come for action. I am not motivated by an election because I don’t have to run for office again until 2020. I am motivated by the need to focus on economic development in this critical area sooner rather than later.

Looking at the proposed overlay’s component parts and taking some time to make improvements strikes me as a reasonable approach moving forward. Stopping the overlay in its tracks or blowing the process up and starting all over again while we wait for a myriad of other factors to fall into place strikes me as totally unreasonable.

I was not in office when this process started. Therefore, I take no ownership for that. We are here now. Continuing to lament about the shortfalls of this process and its origins is the road to nowhere. I will not be travelling on that road.

Therefore, in the zoning meeting scheduled for September 26, 2017 I intend to offer a substitute amendment to the proposed Kensington Memorial Drive Overlay District. The substitute will allow us to pass Tiers 1 and 3 with minor modifications, and then delay action on Tiers 2,4,5 and 6 while we take the time to further engage the community, planning staff and fellow BOC members to make improvements. The substitute is being offered in response to some concerns that have been raised by the community.

Additionally, the objection that was raised in the August 22, 2017 Board of Commissioners meeting regarding a perceived restriction on churches has also been removed. Again, this action has been taken in response to community concerns.

Unfortunately, there are those who simply will not be satisfied by any attempt at a reasonable compromise and choose to characterize the proposed overlay district as some sinister plot concocted by our Planning and Sustainability Department to do harm to the community. Simply stated, I do not believe that.

To those who say that there has not been enough opportunity for community engagement the facts do not support that assertion. Dating back to last year the following public meetings regarding this initiative have been held:

June 30, 2016                      Core Team Meeting
July 12, 2016                       Public Meeting
July 25, 2016                       Core Team Meeting
August 11, 2016                  Community Workshop
August 23, 2016                  Core Team Meeting
October 26, 2016                Core Team Meeting
December 1, 2016               Public Meeting
December 1 – 9, 2016         Online Survey
June 12, 2017                      District 5 Community Council Meeting
June 14, 2017                      District 3 Community Council Meeting
June 20, 2017                      District 4 Community Council Meeting
July 27, 2017                      Board of Commissioners Meeting
August 9, 2017                   Core Team Meeting
August 14, 2017                 District 5 Community Council Meeting
August 16, 2017                 District 3 Community Council Meeting
August 22, 2017                 District 4 Community Council Meeting
September 7, 2017              Planning Commission Meeting
September 14, 2017            Public Meeting with Panel Discussion

Additionally, citizens have been able to communicate their thoughts to me directly by various means. By the way, the entire overlay proposal was passed unanimously by the Planning Commission, with one condition on September 7, 2017.

For those who choose hyperbolic rhetoric to describe the potential gloom and doom that would result from the approval of this proposal, the facts do not support that assertion either. Precedent for overlay districts already exist in DeKalb County, and the world has not come to an end as a result. Examples include:

The Candler Road Overlay was adopted on May 28, 2002.
The Emory Village Overlay was adopted on May 22, 2007.
The I-20 Overlay was adopted on January 20, 2008.
The Northlake Overlay was adopted on May 20, 2008.
The Scottdale Overlay was adopted on October 14, 2008.
The Greater Hidden Hills Overlay was adopted on November 15, 2011.
The Bouldercrest Overlay was adopted on March 26, 2013.

Regarding prior studies, The Kensington Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) Plan was done in 2002. The Covington Highway Corridor Study was done in 2013. Likewise, the Indian Creek Active Living Plan (MALP) was done in 2013. It is my understanding that elements of each of these prior plans have been included in the current proposal.

Last year, as this proposal was progressing I attended some of the meetings. One of the things that concerned me was that the overlay seemed to be being sold as some sort of panacea. The impression left with people seemed to be that if we just adopted the overlay, great things would automatically follow. Well, nothing is automatic. Successful economic development efforts are derivative of a number of elements. Zoning is just one of them. Citizens should clearly understand this. Likewise, we as leaders have a responsibility to set expectations properly.

The other thing that concerned me was the pace that this was moving last fall. It seemed like a “runaway freight train” to me. In the interest of full disclosure, I am happy to report that I had a hand in slowing it down. Otherwise, the entire overlay was on track to get jammed through last year. That did not happen. However, my intent was never to stop it completely.

As we consider adoption of the proposal that is before us now, potential development is not some abstract concept. There is a potential development in Tier 3 that the developer has communicated is contingent upon the passage of this overlay. The project, which has identified a location just south of the Indian Creek Marta Station has been vetted by Decide DeKalb, our development authority. This organization is charged with the mission of driving business development. The leadership of Decide DeKalb has publicly stated support for this project. I certainly will not stand in the way of this potential opportunity. In fact, I support it. Hopefully, this project will serve as the long awaited catalyst for follow on investment in the entire area.

Finally, for those who assert that this whole plan has been a “top down” operation, which somehow makes it inherently flawed, I simply say this: the notion that our Planning and Sustainability Department would show up in a community with a blank sheet of paper and say “ok you guys, design an economic development plan”, without offering any structure, any parameters, any prior preparation or any professional guidance strikes me as contrary to reason and contrary to common sense. In my experience (which includes military, private sector business development, academia and government service) most successful projects require subject matter experts, along with initial drive and a sustained commitment from the top. To me, this is the essence of leadership. And it is the one of the reasons why privates and corporals do not plan successful strategic campaigns. Generals do.

As a young Army officer I developed what I call “a bias for action.” Ready, aim, aim, aim… just does not work for me. At some point one has to act. As I write these words it is clear to me that decisive action needs to be taken to help jump start a revitalization of the Kensington Memorial Drive corridor, sooner rather than later.

I only want what is best for our community… my community. I just want to be a part of the solution. This is why we will be offering what I believe to be a reasonable, alternative approach. Just standing in opposition strikes me as wholly insufficient as a means for getting something positive accomplished.

Therefore, I ask for your support for this action. Thanks for your time and attention.

Sincerely,

Stephen R. Bradshaw
DeKalb County Commissioner

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