Robert Green’s political awakening started last year, when he spotted a notice that city officials were contemplating building a roundabout in his Dunwoody neighborhood.
Green lives on Vermack Drive, just eight or nine houses down the street from the intersection where the roundabout might go. He thought the proposal was a terrible idea. “My girls are grown,” he said. “It’s not a walking issue for me. But it is for a lot of other children.”
Green started distributing fliers to alert his neighbors about public meetings on the roundabout. He went door-to-door to alert people about the plan. He started attending city government meetings himself. “Bottom line, I got involved,” he said.
He soon realized others were getting involved, too. Some regularly attended public meetings or spoke out during public comment periods at Dunwoody City Council meetings. Others wrote letters of complaint to local newspapers.
Different groups of people focused on different local issues. One group protested the removal of trees at Brook Run Park to build a multi-use trail. Another argued against a plan to reconfigure Dunwoody Village Parkway to reduce the number of lanes and add sidewalks and bike lanes. Others, like Green, objected to the roundabout.
Soon, they were talking to each other. In October, 25 to 30 people met at a local restaurant and decided to organize themselves into a group called Save Dunwoody. Save Dunwoody set up a website – SaveDunwoody.com – and started distributing yard signs calling for the city government to stop the trail, the parkway and the roundabout.
Since those early meetings, Save Dunwoody has grown, members say.
The group posted a poll on its website that drew 1,300 responses. The poll was set up so no computer could be used more than once to answer questions. At last count, responses were running 78 percent against the projects, said Jim Dickson, a long-time Dunwoody resident who says he hadn’t really been active in local politics since the 1970s until the Dunwoody Village Parkway plans came along.
Norb Leahy, a Dunwoody Tea Party activist who helped Save Dunwoody organize, says the group counts more than 700 members on its mailing list.
Although the original members were interested in different issues, they agreed that they felt shut out by the city government. “The common denominator was we had a City Council that wasn’t willing to listen,” Dickson said.
City officials dispute that. “We do as a council very much listen to everyone,” City Councilman Terry Nall said. “I wouldn’t say any group of citizens has influence any more than another. … As a group of seven [council members, we listen] to the community, to all the groups, … and we come up with what four of the seven think is best for the city for the next 25 years.”
City officials have said publicly they believe the city’s policy debates are the product of Dunwoody’s natural evolution as a young municipality. City leaders organized city-wide planning sessions during the first several years of the city’s existence, and drew up plans based on what residents said they wanted.
Now, they say, the city is moving into an implementation phase with projects such as the Brook Run trail and the public-private Project Renaissance redevelopment in the Georgetown area of the city. Suddenly, residents are seeing change. “Moving to implementation makes the projects more real,” Nall said.
Save Dunwoody members question the city’s plans, saying advocacy groups controlled the planning meetings. “They went through a planning process that was illegitimate,” Leahy said.
Some outsiders say they can’t tell what Save Dunwoody’s members really want for the city. “I’ve looked at their website and I don’t quite understand, other than they’re opposing those three things, what their mission is,” said Dunwoody Homeowners Association president Stacey Harris.
Others bluntly oppose the new group. One Dunwoody blogger posted an item titled “Save Dunwoody from Save Dunwoody.”
Dickson argues that opposition to the city’s present direction runs deep. “If you get out into the neighborhoods and talk to the people who actually vote, you hear it,” he said.
Dickson looks to the fall elections to bring change. “My guess is there’s going to be people running for office that have positions that are contrary to the agenda of the past year,” he said.