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Druid Hills Civic Association Hires Lawyer to Fight Development

Board concerned with surprise tactics on cul-de-sac proposal near Emory Village

The saga over several undeveloped lots on Clifton Road near Oxford Road in Druid Hills continued Wednesday night during the Druid Hills Civic Association monthly meeting.

Stunned by the DeKalb County Planning Department’s unexpected vote on April 13 in favor of the subdivision of the “Nunan property” (1142, 1150 and 1158 Clifton Road on the hilltop), the DHCA board voted to retain – and pay — specialty litigation counsel as the fight continues to preserve the Druid Hills Historic District.

After eight years of six lawsuits and three appellate decisions over the proposed seven-home subdivision with cul-de-sac and retention pond, the DHCA fretted that, “the Barbarians are at the gate,” and that, this time, the pro bono neighborhood legal team and backing of statewide historic preservation groups may not be enough to save the Frederick Law Olmstead designed Druid Hills neighborhood of curvilinear, interconnected streets — the famous landscape architect’s only such community in the Southeast.

Attorney Rob Benfield spent more than an hour briefing the board on the situation and requesting action.

“The upside is that [DHCA] can be a party plaintiff in a lawsuit and be informed of all matters affecting the property," Benfield said. "And, it is my understanding that the Druid Hills Historic Preservation Commission, backed by the DeKalb County Law Department, will sue the DeKalb County Planning Commission.”

Even a “poison pill amendment” was placed on HB 129, which died in a Senate filibuster during the recently completed General Assembly, to answer the question: Who hears subdivision requests, the historic district commission or the planning commission?

State law is silent on the matter, Benfield said.

Additionally, the DHCA will seek a decision on whether the Planning Commission overstepped its authority by ruling in a way that is so inconsistent with the landscape features.

“If the owners of the property win this case, then all properties over half-acre in size will face this threat,” said former DeKalb planning board member and County Commissioner Judy Yates.

DHCA members were encouraged to write “a raised right, bread-and-butter note” to DeKalb Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader.

“It makes a difference.” Yates said. “They will remember, and they will know you care and that this is an important issue.”

In other business, the board heard the district’s first SLUP (Special Land Use Permit) and voted for no opposition to allow counselor Virginia DuPre to cousel her psychotherapy clients from her home on Dyson Drive, rather than a separate office. Conditions were added, that the business be conducted only during designate hours, involves no more than eight people, has no signage and will be dissolved if DuPre moves, discontinues the business or violates the SLUP.

“It seems to me that the way the U.S. society is moving, then this is a logical step. But traffic, lighting, noise, parking will continue to be issues. We probably need a committee and policy, because there may be things we need that are above the code,” said DHCA President Bruce MacGregor.

In transportation and infrastructure updates, several "Emory Edge" issues came up. The Catholic Center at the corner of North Decatur Road and Emory Drive is interested in building an auditorium and more facilities on the property next door on North Decatur, and the institutional vs. residential noise ordinance and how concerts and parties affect homeowners on Emory Road were discussed.

MacGregor also reported on the status of Georgia Power Co.’s new substation, which they have slated to build near Burlington Road in order to serve the campus’ increased demand. He said DHCA is pushing for unsightly electric poles to be minimized and carefully placed so as not to detract from the beauty of the neighborhood.

Also, a four to 4.5 million gallon sewage holding plant, to be built by the city of Atlanta, has been proposed for the southwest quadrant of Briarcliff Road at Peachtree Creek. An initial community meeting was held by city of Atlanta officials last week to talk with residents about the plans, and more meetings will be held in the coming months.

Cary Aiken April 22, 2011 at 12:50 PM
The Druid Hills Civic Association is an important protector of the Olmstead legacy. Their efforts are appreciated.

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