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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Plan for apartments, parking deck on Ponce has residents worried

Plan for apartments, parking deck on Ponce has residents worried

By DONNA WILLIAMS LEWIS

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Decatur has applied an unusual touch to a public meeting scheduled next week at City Hall — something like a marriage counselor.

City officials say the meeting on a redevelopment proposal on the city’s main drag will be “facilitated” by Otis White, president of Civic Strategies Inc.
Company literature describes the Atlanta-based public policy consulting firm as one that “helps communities make important decisions.”

In this case, White may need all of his skills.

Last month, residents packed a tense, nearly six-hour zoning meeting to oppose JLB Partners’ plan to build a parking deck and apartments on the parking lot of an office tower at 315 W. Ponce de Leon Ave.

The meeting ran past 2 a.m. An exhausted Zoning Board of Appeals put off making a decision until more information could be gathered. And now, if nothing else, everyone seems to agree that nobody wants to live through a repeat performance.

Carl Black, who lives near the site, said he thinks White’s wade into the fray might produce more meaningful dialogue in an area where a downtown building boom directly abuts single-family neighborhoods.

“I think that what we need,” Black said, “is some sort of a healing.”

The proposed project calls for a parking deck that would be shared by office tenants and apartment residents. Among other concerns, neighbors fear parking would spill over into their narrow streets.

White has designed leadership summits and planning retreats for governments and nonprofits and has helped companies handle community relations issues.

But he hasn’t been hired to intervene in a community conflict before, and he’s still developing a format for the meeting, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15.

“This is not the way things normally happen, and I think it’s exciting,” White said.

White said he hopes the effort, for which he’s being paid $4,500, will articulate residents’ feelings about the project which might help the developer work with them to attain consensus.

One thing already sounds good to some of them. White said he’s been told to limit the session to a much more palatable two hours.

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