By Tova Fruchtman
A developer once told Sally Silver that she should be sent to negotiate peace in the Middle East.
While that is quite a testament to her negotiating skills, Silver is quite content to continue to navigate compromises between developers and neighborhoods in her own backyard in North Buckhead. And that’s no easy feat either.
Silver is the chair of the transportation and development committee for Neighborhood Planning Unit – B, this city of Atlanta’s volunteer government body that represents Brookhaven, Buckhead Forest, Buckhead Village, East Chastain Park, Garden Hills, Lenox Superblock, Lindbergh/Morosgo, North Buckhead, Peachtree Heights East, Peachtree Heights West, Peachtree Hills, Peachtree Park, Pine Hills, Piney Grove, Ridgedale Park and South Tuxedo Park.
In her role she’s helped pave the way for the Buckhead Plaza, where the St. Regis Hotel is going in; CityPlace Buckhead, where 3,800 condominiums will be placed in eight high rise buildings between Lenox Square and Roxboro Road; and seen plans for a redevelopment of Buckhead Village, a dream she never imagined would come true.
For Silver, the greatest compliment she’s heard from both Buckhead residents and developers is that she is “the voice of reason.”
It isn’t just through intuitive insight that she becomes the voice of reason. It’s through dedication and hard work.
Silver works as much as any full time employee in her volunteer position — attending city of Atlanta zoning meetings, attending meetings of the zoning and public safety committees of NPU-B (not to mention her own transportation and development meetings), meeting with developers and talking with neighborhoods.
“We know the development is going to happen and by working out a partnership between the developers and the community everybody ends up in a much better place than where they started,” Silver said.
So, she delves into both the developers and the residents thought processes. She listens carefully to their concerns and takes into consideration every solution.
“I try to understand where the developer is coming from, but I also know where the community is coming from, and I look for some common ground, so that maybe not everybody gets exactly what they want but everybody is comfortable with what goes forward and they can support it.”
Then she brings everyone to the same table.
“It is to the surprise of a lot of neighborhood people as well as development people to find out they have more in common than they ever would have imagined and that in reality we’re all after basically the same thing: We want to help Atlanta. We want to enhance the quality of our lifestyle,” she said.
Some deals are harder than others to figure out, but Silver, who first joined NPU-B in 1998, and soon was elected chair of the transportation and development committee, has not seen one negotiation totally fall apart under her watch.
“I would like to think it’s because I work hard at everybody being treated fairly,” Silver said. “Nobody is getting more of an advantage than anybody else. It’s all about working together for the best end.”
All of this hard work has set an example for other areas on how to find a way to make development that makes everyone happy. In the coming months, as Atlanta continues to grow, Silver said NPU-B plans to work with other NPUs in Atlanta to help them learn from some of the early mistakes NPU-B has made (like making sure developers don’t amend plans after receiving a rezoning permit).
While Silver hopes this work can make a difference in the quality of life of Atlantans, she said she is not looking for any kind of recognition, and in fact is somewhat embarrassed by the attention.
She just hopes that what she does has a positive impact on the community.
“Perhaps something I’m doing is going to make a difference, and it will be better than it would have been,” she said.
While Silver’s sons Justin, 26, and Isaac, 24, have long been independent and have not missed her during all the time she’s spent working to make the community better, she looks forward to being able to spend more time with her husband Herb, a physical therapist.
“When I think about all the time that I spend on the things that I’ve done, probably the greatest sacrifice has been by my husband. He’s just a really good guy, and I couldn’t have done it without him. He’s been very supportive,” she said.
And having his support means the world to her.
“It makes me feel really good that he’s impressed because I think he’s incredible,” she said.
But eventually, Silver hopes to pass on her position on NPU-B to another community leader.
In she and her husband’s five-year plan, they will work toward being able to work less and spend more time together, “enjoying life.” And Silver said she wants to travel more.
But with all the time she puts in now, won’t Silver miss being involved in the negotiations between neighborhoods and developers in Buckhead as growth continues?
“I hope not,” she said. I hope that I’m a well enough person to let go and move on when it’s time.”
She said she will trust the future leaders to do a good job.
“I don’t think I know anymore than anybody else. I’m sure there are other people who know more and have better talents than I do. So I would like to think that I would just move on and applaud the efforts of others.”