FOCUS DeKalb’s Town Hall meeting tonight (Wed. Nov. 5th) is in a vacant commercial space at 1790 Sycamore Road (directly behind Dairy Queen). The meeting starts at 6pm and the public is invited and encouraged to attend. The meeting location was chosen to accentuate the need to refocus DeKalb’s efforts toward filling a growing number of vacancies in the city rather than creating unnecessary ordinances and regulations that chase business away.
This is the second Town Hall meeting conducted by FOCUS DeKalb, a growing consortium of local businesses and commercial property owners concerned with the City’s lack of regard for due process and the lack of due diligence put forth in an effort to rewrite property inspection policies. The new policies were “asked for” by the city council during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Aug. 25 and was “recommended for approval” by the senior staff as an action item at the Sept. 8, 2014 city council meeting.
While the city manager’s narrative supporting the proposal indicated a number of interested parties had provided preliminary comments those parties were not shown the actual language until staff prepared and uploaded the Sept. 8 city council meeting agenda.
Staff wanted the proposal approved and then at a future date the city council would review responses to an RFP for inspection services and then add staff costs and then pass all of those costs to the property owner while calling the financial impact “revenue neutral” for the city. The motivation was to get compliance and the proposal included clauses that empowered the City to turn off water services to a building if non-water service fees, fines, obligations weren’t met.
FOCUS DeKalb began to form quickly from that meeting and due to thepunitive language proposed. The catalyst used for justifying the measures were three commercial buildings; one that housed Otto’s Nightclub and Ducky’s Formal Wear, the Travel Lodge on West Lincoln Hwy and the old Wurlitzer factory in the Pleasant Street area. Years of neglect combined with decades of deterioration resulted in unsafe and unkempt conditions. Using existing code with an aggressive city attorney the City of DeKalb condemned the properties and evicted the tenants without a court hearing.
But as a result of the actual enforcement of existing code city staff felt compelled to write new ordinances and amendments to ordinances designed to gain compliance through registrations, annual and random inspections, fees, fines and water shut-off. Commercial property owners wonder if homeowners would accept registration fees, intrusive inspections with the threat of water service shut-off and fines for non-compliance at their home because three residential properties were poorly maintained in another part of town.
Fortunately those interested parties dropped what they were doing and got enough people to attend the city council meeting to express their concerns. A good many more sent emails to their mayor and aldermen. Third ward alderman Kristen Lash motioned to postpone action on the agenda item until the Nov. 10, 2014 meeting. Staff was instructed to meet with and get input from the community organizations and interested parties.
City Manager Anne Marie Gaura has scheduled and attended several such meetings. But she at first rejected FOCUS DeKalb’s request for a formal hearing. After a second request was denied FOCUS DeKalb began conducting Town Hall meetings to get public awareness and participation in the matter. A key concern of FOCUS is their perception that staff has placed themselves between publicly elected officials and their constituents.
As a result of feedback from FOCUS and other community organizations such as the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC), the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, the DeKalb County Building and Development Association (DCBDA) and the DeKalb Area Rental Association (DARA), city staff appears to be modifying the concept of the proposal and has announced two informal public hearings in the future. Staff is recommending that on Nov. 10, the city council postpone action on the motion to approve the ordinance and amendments proposed at the Sept 8 meeting.
FOCUS DeKalb has authored a proposed ordinance as a remedy to the conceptual concerns expressed by senior staff to the condition and regulation of commercial property in DeKalb. They are seeking more public input and are encouraging the mayor and city council to read their proposal with equal consideration as given to staff.
Tonight’s meeting will present updates since the last Town Hall meeting and discuss challenges and solutions to making DeKalb a business friendly community again.
From Sept 8, 2014 City Council Agenda…