The traffic light on Winters Chapel Road turned red, and City Councilmember Doug Thompson urged a group of about 20 officials and residents to dash across, despite the lack of a crosswalk or sidewalk.
“Here’s what we ask our citizens to do, and it’s wrong,” Thompson said of the less than pedestrian friendly crossing.
Experiencing that street-level detail was why Thompson convened the June 9 walking tour of Winters Chapel Road. The street runs along the roughly 1.5-mile border between Dunwoody and Peachtree Corners, and Thompson got many officials from both cities – including Dunwoody Councilmembers Lynn Deutsch, John Heneghan, Terry Nall and Jim Riticher — to walk it that Friday morning.
There was no particular agenda, beyond noting that Winters Chapel doesn’t get the sort of attention that Dunwoody Village or Perimeter Center do.
“We need to up our game here,” Thompson said.
One way the city is considering upping that game is with a “small area plan” that might be done in collaboration with the cities of Peachtree Corners and Doraville, according to Thompson and Dunwoody city spokesperson Bob Mullen.
The 2.5-hour walk on Winters Chapel between Dunwoody Club Crossing and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard highlighted many basic needs, from a lack of sidewalks to a fallen tree limb Dunwoody hadn’t cleaned up yet. (An official phone call got it chainsawed before the tour was over.)
There was some big-picture discussion as well, including revived talk of two of the city’s most controversial proposals: redeveloping some apartments into a sports complex, and building a trail along the Georgia Power Co.’s electric line right of way.
It’s common for border areas to fall between the cracks of different jurisdictions with different agendas and resources. Winters Chapel Road has an added challenge. The street doesn’t just straddle the Dunwoody-Peachtree Corners border; the city line zigzags across the street at three locations, and its northern end is split between Peachtree Corners and Sandy Springs. On the tour, officials sometimes examined maps on their cellphones to see if they were in their own city.
Winters Chapel also has a wide variety of property uses. The northern end is mostly single-family homes. The central section, at the Peeler Road intersection, has a commercial area anchored by a Walmart Neighborhood Market. The southern section has some apartments and a large DeKalb County reservoir.
Pedestrian safety and accessibility was a major theme of the tour. Both cities have already built some improvements, such as crosswalks at Peeler partly funded by Walmart and a sidewalk with artificial brick accents installed by Peachtree Corners on its side of the southern section.
More improvements are coming. Dunwoody now is accepting bids for a project to add a 12-foot-wide, multi-use path on its side of Winters Chapel between Dunwoody Club and Peeler. Thompson had the group walk that section, now a narrow stretch of overgrown grass and bumpy earth.
Heneghan said that, working alongside Peachtree Corners, “The hope is to put multi-use trails wherever is feasible.”
Nall noted that one 4-foot-wide section of existing sidewalk felt too narrow and that Dunwoody’s current policy is a minimum 5-foot width. Joe
Seconder, head of the advocacy group Bike Walk Dunwoody, noted that sidewalk’s lack of buffer from speeding cars alongside it, and one spot where a power pole was planted in the middle, a likely accessibility violation.
In 2011, Dunwoody proposed a multi-use trail on the power line right of way, but quickly killed the idea after community opposition. “We were first. We took a lot of arrows,” Thompson said.
Thompson noted the concept was recently revived by Sandy Springs park advocates. He said he believes the idea will return in Dunwoody, along with redevelopment of some older commercial properties along the right of way.
Street crossings are another challenge. Peachtree Corners City Councilmember Phil Sadd explained his city’s plan to install a signalized crosswalk near the Parkwood Village apartments and to reduce a lane to shrink the crossing distance. The location for that project — which went out to bid the day of the tour — was based on observing where pedestrians actually cross the most, Sadd said. As he explained the plan, a pedestrian dashed across that very spot.
Community appearance was another topic. Robert Wittenstein, president of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, said his group is contributing $6,000 for plants, going in this fall, to beautify the traffic island at the Peeler intersection.
Philomena Robertson, Peachtree Corners’ chief code enforcement officer, said that, of about 20 houses on the southern section, 12 have open code cases. But, she said, she works with landlords and tenants to resolve issues without fines or court when possible.
Outside the Peachtree Place North apartments, Thompson handed out a map showing the property and two complexes behind it, Dunwoody Glen and the Lacota, that face Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. In 2011, Dunwoody sought to buy those Peachtree Industrial apartments and replace them with a sports complex. Voters rejected a bond to fund the plan and the apartment owners hit the city with a federal housing discrimination lawsuit that was later withdrawn.
Thompson said that today, the apartments are getting closer to some type of development, and that “we need to continue to think big. … We need to define where we want this area to head.”
After the tour, Thompson said he was pleased with the attendance and the first-hand experiences officials had.
“It is time to get from knowing the area needs improvement to actually improving the area,” he said.