September 28, 2010
Planning the Future of Your Farm
Last Thursday I attended a workshop on "Farm and Estate Transition and Conservation Easements,"sponsored by the Madison-Morgan Conservancy at the Burge Plantation outside Madison, Georgia. The audience was a mix of landowners and lawyers interested in helping farm owners conserve their land and pass their farms onto future generations. This is a very interesting twist on estate planning, and I learned the value of having a qualified lawyer as an adviser on farmland transition. For example, according to Allen H. Olsen, a agriculture law specialist, traditional estate planning can sometimes create governance structures that make the farmer ineligible for farm subsidy programs, thus undermining the farm's ability to survive.
The Rolling Hills Resource Conservation and Development Council has published "Planning the Future of Your Farm: A Workbook Supporting Farm Transfer Decisions." I've only had a chance to scan through the Table of Contents, but the book seems to be chock full of tools for planning family meetings, evaluating farm resources, and drafting farm transfer tools. It looks like a great resource for anyone working with farmers interested in effectively planning for the future.
Jamie Baker Roskie
September 01, 2010
Georgia Farms "Crop Mobbed"
What is a crop mob? Well, we found out yesterday that it’s a group of self-proclaimed “landless farmer wannabes” who help local farmers farm – from planting to harvesting to building greenhouses, and everything in between. They get their farming “fix” so to speak by helping other farmers, since they can’t farm for themselves.
Yesterday, the Crop Mob came from Atlanta to Tate Tewksbury’s farm to help build two hoop houses (greenhouse-like structures used for growing crops). To celebrate a fruitful morning of hard work, Mark Tewksbury (Tate’s father) was kind enough to host the Crop Mob at his farm just up the road. Plow Point Farms (Walton County) brought freshly processed chicken for lunch and Suzie Cooker Catering complemented the chicken with delicious fresh butterbeans and pimento cheese sandwiches. We were thrilled to be joined by our favorite local band, The Barefoot Hookers for a little music and dancing by the barn. Mark Tewksbury led the kids (and CNN) in milking the cows, petting the horses, and showing us the rest of the farm. All in all a really fun, productive, educational day, and one that has helped Tate prepare for the next growing season.
Two weekends ago Burge Organics was Crop Mobbed, too - there the Crop Mob helped farm manager Cory Musser harvest hundreds of pounds of squash and other veges. Check out Crop Mob Atlanta.
"A University of Georgia study says Georgia's economy could be boosted if more people bought more food locally. The study, conducted by the May Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, reports that if every Georgia household spent an additional $10 on locally-grown food, another $1.9 billion would be pumped into the state's coffers. Agriculture in Georgia is a $11.6 billion industry with a $58 billion total economic impact, according to the study.” reprinted from the Associated Press.
I've heard of the slightly-less-hiply named "Farmer for a Day." It's all part of a movement to help us city dwellers get closer to, and learn more about, the source of our food.
Jamie Baker Roskie
August 19, 2010
Environmental Law Position at Georgia State Law School
Another announcement from Prof. Juergensmeyer:
As many of you know, Colin Crawford has left us and is now Professor and Executive Director of the Payson Center for International Development and Knowledge Management at Tulane University Law School. We are now conducting a search to “replace” him. Details of the search may be found here. Interested persons should submit their resume and cover letter to LawRecruitment@gsu.edu.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Slide Show of Georgia Theater Rebuild
Previously I blogged about the historic Georgia Theater, almost destroyed by fire a year ago. The Athens Banner-Herald now has a slide show showing reconstruction in the interior. It's a pretty interesting pictorial history of the restoration of the building, which dates to the late 1800s. The owner has struggled with financing and rebuilding, but there's so much sentiment to save the building that I think he'll ultimately be successful. He's also got a great sense of humor - the marquee on the building currently reads "Men At Work."
Jamie Baker Roskie
August 17, 2010
Abandoned Farmland Slated for Solar Project
According to a recent story on NPR's Morning Edition, California has recently declared one of the most ambitious targets for renewable energy in the world - 1/3rd of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. (Sadly, Georgia has no currently goal. No Southeastern state has, except North Carolina.) However, like Cape Wind, struggles continue over siting renewable energy projects - like this solar project proposed in Central California.
However, according to a recent story in The New York Times, there are places where the siting of solar projects is popular with pretty much everybody - on abandoned agricultural land.
Thousands of acres of farmland here in the San Joaquin Valley have been removed from agricultural production, largely because the once fertile land is contaminated by salt buildup from years of irrigation.
But large swaths of those dry fields could have a valuable new use in their future — making electricity.
Farmers and officials at Westlands Water District, a public agency that supplies water to farms in the valley, have agreed to provide land for what would be one of the world’s largest solar energy complexes, to be built on 30,000 acres. At peak output, the proposed Westlands Solar Park would generate as much electricity as several big nuclear power plants.
It's interesting that one environmental problem - saltwater intrusion from overpumping of the coastal aquafers - might contribute to another environmental solution - reduction of dependence on coal-fired power plants. Anyway, it's nice to see a non-controversial renewable energy project, for a change.
Jamie Baker Roskie
The Life of Soccer Stadiums Post World Cup
My first day of class is Friday, so I thought I'd sneak in one last summer-break-inspired post before getting down to business. On a flight to California last month my husband, Neal Anderson (Rolfer and architect-extraordinaire) sat next to ESPN soccer (er, football) writer Jeff Carlisle. Jeff had recently returned from covering the World Cup in South Africa and, among other topics, they discussed the possible post World Cup uses of all the soccer stadiums built around SA.
"It's not about whether they'll be used, it's whether they will be financially viable in terms of maintenance costs," said Phillip Harrison, a member of the South African government's National Planning Commission. "I think there is a legitimate concern about whether they'll bring in sufficient income given the fact that these areas are already financially stretched."
Officials in South Africa understand the potential risks they've brought upon themselves. They've seen abandoned Olympic venues blight Athens. They know that even Beijing has had trouble luring events to its infamous Bird's Nest stadium. But South Africa remains hopeful. For the host cities, these stadia are seen as springboards for development. But there's also the distinct danger that they could become unsustainable money pits. It's too soon to say which is the case today. But it will probably take only a few years to see if the cities are able to jump on those opportunities, or if they'll fall victim to their grandiose but potentially short-sighted World Cup investments.
Stadium projects are almost always controversial. Closer to home there's been a lot of media attention on the new stadium for an Atlanta Braves farm team in nearby Gwinnett County. It's interesting how the dynamic around stadiums seems so consistent from project to project. In a place like South Africa, with such historic inequity, it seems like a potentially more loaded problem, but the issues aren't so different in more affluent communities.
Jamie Baker Roskie
May 19, 2010
Shared Parking as a Solution for Mixed-Use Neighborhoods
This blog post is by guest blogger and UGA 3L (and recent Land Use Clinic alumna) Catherine Mattingly.
The Five Points area in Athens, Georgia is a small-scale mixed-use area in this historic college town. Restaurants, clothing stores, coffee shops, even a grocery store, are located along South Lumpkin, which is the main street of this historic area that takes its name from the five-way intersection at the corner of Lumpkin and Milledge. Next to this cluster of shops lie residential neighborhoods. The district is in theory the perfect place to park one’s car and spend the rest of the day running errands, meeting with friends, attending yoga class, etc. Because these stores are within walking distance of one another, there is really no reason to drive from place to place.
However, you may have noticed that I said “in theory.” Currently, parking in one place and spending the day shopping throughout Five Points isn’t possible. With the exception of a few informal parking agreements between neighboring store owners and a few spots lining Lumpkin Street (which only permit limited time parking), the general rule in the area is that a store patron must be parked in the lot of the respective business he or she is visiting. A frequent visitor to Five Points, I have been burdened by this rule many times. When my Land Use Professor Christian Turner spoke of this problem as a potential paper topic I jumped on board, wanting to learn more about a problem that has hindered the overall appeal of the area. While the solution of shared parking is simple, creating a successful strategy for an entire district that will be adaptable as businesses change over time can be extremely difficult. One must consider the current local ordinances and their restrictions on parking, the local Comprehensive Plan, the total number of spaces as well as potential for new spaces, peak hours for the varying businesses, and the general overall character of the area.
After researching shared parking generally, I emailed most of the store owners in Five Points asking for their thoughts on the matter. Overall, most of the owners and managers with whom I spoke supported shared parking, provided it supplied enough spots for their individual use. A few owners shared that they felt their business suffered at certain times of the day because there was simply no available parking. After interviewing these people, I looked for case studies of shared parking strategies that had already been implemented or studied throughout the country. I found that the primary consideration in the success of a shared parking strategy is whether there are different peak parking hours between stores. The significance behind this factor is that if businesses have varying busy hours, then there are likely spaces available at one nearby store when another is crowded. Therefore, by simply making agreements with other businesses to share spaces during certain times of the day, available spots can be increased without having to actually add any additional spaces. These private agreements can exist in the form of revocable licenses, or appurtenant easements or covenants could also be used.
While agreements such as those mentioned above can be achieved by simple agreements between business owners, a successful district-wide shared parking solution likely calls for control of all available parking by the city. To achieve this, I suggest creating an overlay district. This district would eliminate the need to follow any current parking restrictions in the Athens-Clarke County Code. In addition to adding additional limited-time parking in the area, a parking deck could also be constructed. Alternatively, a larger parking lot could be created by combining many of the smaller lots located behind the old homes that have been turned into local businesses. To give the city the right to control parking, each owner could deed his spaces to the city. Alternatively, a temporary lease agreement could be implemented, but this could hinder construction of permanent changes such as the large lot or deck. These parking options could be geared not just toward immediately neighboring business, but to patrons in the entire area.
In addition to providing additional available spaces to store patrons, shared parking has other benefits. Changing the character of parking in the area could help to change the nature of the district as a whole. For instance, the area would necessarily become more pedestrian-friendly, as visitors are expected to park their cars and walk throughout the district. The city could also take this opportunity to add more green space to the area. Thus, establishing shared parking would assist in making visiting the area not only more convenient, but also safer and more aesthetically pleasing. As space becomes an increasingly important commodity, older districts can retrofit their communities to increase the convenience and attractiveness of the area. Increased revenues will hopefully follow as patrons find these stores easier to visit.
Overall, in researching this issue, I have been reminded of how dynamic local land use issues such as parking truly are. Implementing shared parking will certainly be difficult, but the ability of the area to adapt to change could be crucial for its success, especially in its competition with downtown Athens.
First, I'd like to give props to my UGA colleague Christian Turner for having his Land Use Planning students work on practical projects in the doctrinal class. Second, having read and considered Catherine's paper I congratulate her on excellent work on applying land use concepts to a real, local problem. I shop at the stores and practice at the yoga studio she mentions, so I also struggle with the parking issues. However, I hadn't considered the lots behind the old houses retrofit as shops as a good joint parking lot, but it really is. I hope to promote Catherine's solution locally as a way to create a better pedestrian environment in what should be one of Athens' truly walkable neighborhoods.
Jamie Baker Roskie
May 18, 2010
Congress for the New Urbanism 18: Atlanta
Last week Jamie posted about the "Sprawlanta" video, part of the project American Makeover: An Online Film Series about New Urbanism. "Sprawlanta" won first prize at last year's Congress for the New Urbanism video competition.
Is New Urbanism the prescription for healthier communities? Increasing scientific evidence suggests that community design -- land use, design character, transportation systems, sustainability, and density -- can promote physical activity and lifelong communities; lower the risk of traffic injuries, obesity, heart disease, and hypertension; improve air quality, affordability, social equity, connectivity, mental health and long-term value; increase social connection, sense of community and healthy food access; and reduce crime, violence and contributions to climate change. Organized with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Congress for the New Urbanism 18, "New Urbanism: Rx for Healthy Places," will present new research and innovative techniques for assessing the health impact of land use, transportation planning, and community design decisions -- from fine grained to mega-regional scales. Share the opportunities and challenges of designing and retrofitting communities that make it easier for people to live healthy lives -- CNU's 18th annual Congress in Atlanta, May 19-22, 2010. Preceding the Congress will be certification training, the NextGen Congress and other partner events May 17-18, 2010. For further information, visit http://www.cnu.org/cnu18 .
Looks like the program has a very interesting lineup of speakers and events, as usual. If you can make it to CNU 18, send us a report!
May 14, 2010
In a funny confluence of events my colleague, Pratt Cassity, sent me a blog by writer Brad Aaron (formerly of Athens, now of NYC) on Streetsblog. The blog is about an episode of the American Makeover webseries on Atlanta. The film includes notable Atlantans like Robert Bullard, known as the father of the environmental justice movement and the head of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, Howard Frumpkin of the CDC, and Charles Brewer, developer of one of Atlanta's rare truly New Urbanist developments, Glenwood Park. Although the film is ostensibly about Atlanta, it's really about Atlanta's status as the poster child of urban sprawl. It's funny, short, and pithy, and would be a great introductory piece for students about sprawl and its effects, for good and for ill.
Jamie Baker Roskie
May 10, 2010
Legal Challenges Filed to Stop Georgia’s Coal Rush
From my colleagues at GreenLaw
On May 10, 2010, attorneys from GreenLaw working with eight partner groups, filed petitions for hearings challenging permits for two major proposed coal-fired power plants in Georgia. In response to an unprecedented wave of permits issued by the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) in April, the groups are fighting back with important claims against the water and air pollution permits proposed for Plant Washington, to be built in Sandersville, and against the air pollution permit for Longleaf Energy Station, to be built in Early County.
Longleaf, which is being contested by Friends of the Chattahoochee and the Sierra Club of Georgia, with representation from GreenLaw, is a project of New Jersey-based LS Power, which anticipates selling power to the highest bidders it can find.
In the 1200 mega-watt Longleaf permit, EPD classifies Longleaf as a minor source of pollution, while the 850 mega-watt Plant Washington (in a permit issued the day before) is classified as a major source. Listing Longleaf as a minor source allows the power plant to avoid critical requirements that would ensure that the plant operated in compliance with the law. EPD also failed to allow the public to comment on this decision. Attorneys objected on both grounds. EPD also granted Longleaf an extension on when it must begin construction. This extension will allow the plant to be built with outdated technology. Challengers are asking that EPD ensure that the permit is up-to-date.
Plant Washington, which is being contested by the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE) and Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter, as well as Altamaha Riverkeeper (for the water permit only), and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Ogeechee Riverkeeper (both organizations for the air permit only), is a project of Power4Georgians, a company composed of Cobb EMC and four other EMCs. The Southern Environmental Law Center is co-counseling on the Plant Washington petitions.
The Plant Washington air permit fails to set safe limits on harmful air pollutants that would be emitted by Plant Washington, including sulfuric acid mist and particulate matter. Particulate matter is linked to respiratory illnesses, heart disease and even premature death.
The state water withdrawal permit fails to set necessary limits on the amount of water the plant can take from the Oconee River for use at the proposed plant located in the Ogeechee River watershed. Without adequate limits, communities such as Dublin, area farms and other downstream users along the Oconee River would be left without sufficient water resources.
The state water discharge permit fails to limit the temperature of heated wastewater discharged by the proposed plant into the Oconee River, changing the river’s ecology, depleting available oxygen in its waters, and harming fish and other wildlife that depend on the river system.
Georgia already has 10 coal-fired power plants, one of which, just north of Macon, is Plant Scherer, often cited as the most polluting coal-fired plant in the nation. The EPD has seven days to send the cases to the Office of State Administrative Hearings, where they will be assigned to administrative law judges. Court dates are expected later this summer. Links to the petitions are at www.green-law.org.
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 29, 2010
Furloughs, Budget Cuts, and Rural Georgia
Tomorrow is a furlough day for the University System in Georgia, which means I'm forbidden to work. Only faculty and staff who provide "essential services" are allowed to report on furlough days and, ironically enough, instruction is not considered an essential service.
These are lean budgetary times and we're all expected to share the burden. I have no problem with that. However, it's hard not to be concerned about what lies ahead. The legislature is in its final day and hopefully at the end of it we'll have a state budget for FY 2011.
"What does that have to do with land use," you might ask? That depends on how much of a cut the University system takes in the final budget. Last month the legislature asked the Chancellor to submit a budget that included $300 million in additional cuts, over the budget cuts they have already made and were making for 2011. The Chancellor's proposal would eliminate the 4-H program and cut the number of county extension agents in half. In a state where agriculture is a dominant economic force, those cuts are extremely significant. (UGA's Public Service and Outreach branch would also suffer layoffs of up to 47% of faculty and staff.)
It doesn't look as if such extreme cuts will come, but the cut will probably be about $150 million, which is still pretty significant. In state like Georgia, rural communities depend on UGA to fulfill its land grant mission of service. Extension agents are vital sources of knowledge on land use practices, soil and water conservation, and a host of other subjects. As federal stimulus dollars dry up, it becomes increasingly difficult for the University to fulfill those functions. We'll see what lies ahead.
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 26, 2010
Controlled Experiments in Land Use - A Response
Our guest editor Ken Stahl wrote a really interesting post yesterday entitled "Are there 'controlled experiments' in land use? Does it matter?" I was so intrigued by his thought-provoking words that I felt compelled to blog my response, rather than just comment.
Of course land use, like all politics, is local. Ken makes a valid point that few people outside of California give much credence to the choices of California's local governments. Certainly, here in Georgia - a much different, more conservative milieu - California examples are widely disregarded.
However, here at the Land Use Clinic we make our living helping local governments and citizens create land use policy. We have to start somewhere, and usually that somewhere is a survey of what other localities have done on a particular issue. If you review the documents on the LUC webpage, you will find many case studies and model ordinances that pull together examples from multiple places both in and outside of Georgia.
On the other hand, often the examples of jurisdictions in other states quickly become irrelevant due to differences in state law or powers granted by a particular state to local governments. For example, California has regional air quality districts hat help localities coordinate local air pollution regulation and give teeth to regional efforts to improve air quality. Georgia has no such structure, and probably never will. I also often warn my students away from Florida examples. One of my students just wrote a memo on school concurrency programs in Florida, and ultimately came to the conclusion that no such local policy is possible in Georgia without a change in state law. Given how distracted the Georgia legislature is right now by other matters, that change isn't likely to come soon.
So how do we, and our clients, reconcile these conflicts? Certainly no one can simply cut and paste together an ordinance from other jurisdictions, but learning how policy choices have played out in other places provides key information for us to create a unique, yet workable arrangement for each of our clients. We're helping folks make law, and even new law must be based on precedent, both legal and practical. It's a delicate operation, and sometimes it works better than others.
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 14, 2010
Keep Houston Ugly
So last night after yoga class I'm standing in the check out line at our local Earth Fare and I spot the latest issue of Good. This issue's theme is "Here Comes the Neighborhood." Given all the work I've done with neighborhoods (including my own) over the years, I purchased this as a must-read.
I've just started digging in, but I came across something immediately blog-worthy - a quiz about local slogans. It turns out that "Keep Houston Ugly" is one of the several "Keep America Beautiful" riffs around the country. For whatever reason, Texas has several, including "Keep San Antonio Lame" (care to explain that one, Matt?), "Keep Austin Weird" (heard that one before), and "Keep Waco Wacko" (fair enough).
Athens needs a better slogan than "The Classic City" (besides "Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful" which is a great organization but not a great slogan). Maybe I'll start a "Keep Athens..." contest .
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 13, 2010
Krugman on Georgia Bank Failures
Illustrious economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has directed his learned attention toward the failure of small banks in Georgia. Why? Embarrassingly enough, it's because Georgia leads the nation in bank failures, and the majority of those banks are small.
Georgia is part of what Krugman charmingly labels "Flatland" - where "permissive zoning and abundant land make it easy to increase the housing supply, a situation that prevented big price increases and therefore prevented a serious bubble." In most of Flatland, by Krugman's reckoning, no housing bubble means fewer bad mortgages means fewer bank failures. No so in Georgia.
Georgia’s debacle is that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the issues that have dominated debates about banking reform. For example, many observers have blamed complex financial derivatives for the crisis. But Georgia banks blew themselves up with old-fashioned loans gone bad.
And for all the concern about banks that are too big to fail, Georgia suffered, if anything, from a proliferation of small banks. Actually, the worst offenders in the lending spree tended to be relatively small start-ups that attracted customers by playing to a specific community. Thus Georgian Bank, founded in 2001, catered to the state’s elite, some of whom were entertained on the C.E.O.’s yacht and private jet. Meanwhile, Integrity Bank, founded in 2000, played up its “faith based” business model — it was featured in a 2005 Time magazine article titled “Praying for Profits.” Both banks have now gone bust.
So what’s the moral of this story? As I see it, it’s a caution against silver-bullet views of reform, the idea that cracking down on just one thing — in particular, breaking up big banks — will solve our problems. The case of Georgia shows that bad behavior by many small banks can do as much damage as misbehavior by a few financial giants.
Krugman's formula for reform in Georgia is better protections against predatory lending. Former Democratic Governor (and predatory lending lawyer) Roy Barnes tried hard for those protections when he was in office, only to have them later rolled back. Will this latest crisis change that calculation? Probably depends on the next governor, who might be - Roy Barnes. Predictions about how that race might come out are probably beyond even Krugman's prognosticating skills.
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 09, 2010
Local Newspaper Editor Learns to Love New Urbanism
Matt Festa alerted me to this piece; apparently he loved his time visiting at UGA so much that he still reads the local paper. One of the editors of the Athens Banner-Herald recently visited Seaside and decided maybe New Urbanism isn't so bad after all. The examples we've had of mixed-use development here in Athens have not been very successful - the usual opposition to density and trouble getting appropriate commercial have been bugaboos here. If Athens were ever to get a development that had the quality of Seaside (although how could you ever replicate the sea views?) folks here might better be able to get behind the concept.
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 02, 2010
Exciting New Initiative from Frank Alexander
Heidi Murphy in our PR department here at UGA law just directed my attention to a very interesting story in The National Law Journal. Emory Law Professor Frank Alexander has just launched a new center to help cities revitalize abandoned and blighted properties.
Prof. Alexander has been a leading light on land use issues in Georgia and nationally for many years. I'll be excited to see what comes of this latest effort.
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 01, 2010
Red Clay Conference
Last Friday was UGA's annual Red Clay Conference. This student-organized conference is always a blast, and I often have the honor of moderating a panel. The conference gets its name from the red Georgia clay, and the theme is always environmental. This year's theme was "Three States, One River: Exploring the Tri-State Water Dispute." The three states are Alabama, Florida and Georgia, and the river is actually a river system, the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint.
I wasn't able to stay for the whole day, but in the morning I sat in on a fascinating presentation by participants in a stakeholder negotiation process that is happening alongside the (inevitable, it seems, for these types of water resource disputes) litigation.
Then I moderated a panel called "Is Atlanta Really the 800 Pound Gorilla?" As you might imagine, this is a loaded question. There is much controversy in the region about how to allocate water resources to provide drinking water for Atlanta, water for power generation for Alabama, and sufficient water supply to protect the ecosystem (and fishing industry) in Florida. Our distinguished panelists included the lawyers who represent Atlanta and the State of Georgia in current litigation over Lake Lanier (which until a recent court decision was a primary water source for several counties and municipalities in North Georgia.) Needless to say, it was a lively discussion. My friend and colleague Gil Rogers from Southern Environmental Law Center was an audience favorite, and not just because he does comedy improv in his off hours. SELC has done some great work on the tri-state dispute over the years. At any rate, all the panelists were incredibly articulate, passionate, and interesting.
The keynote speaker was Joseph Dellapenna of Villanova University School of Law who spoke about potential ways forward in the dispute. The most interesting, and least practical, option he discussion was that the US Supreme Court could settle the dispute if it was asked to exercise original jurisdiction over a dispute between states. (Blast to Civil Procedure past, anyone?) However, since they've been litigating that case since the 1920s, that's probably not the most expedient solution.
Jamie Baker Roskie
March 31, 2010
More on Dirt Piles
Okay, I know we joke around that land use lawyers are "dirt" lawyers, but that's becoming literal for me. As you may recall, I blogged recently about a giant dirt pile in our neighborhood. Although everyone here in Athens agrees they've never seen anything like it, apparently rogue dirt piles are not a totally uncommon phenomenon. One of my students, Chad Hayes, has been doing some research, and he ran across this article in The Roanoke Times.
My favorite quote from the article:
Some of the residents of the neighborhood, where hundreds of town houses and single-family homes have been built in recent years, have expressed concern, dismay and even a bit of merry mockery.
"Mount Sinai?" Orange Leaf Court resident Judith Liberman joked when asked what she thinks about the mound, visible from her town house.
"I keep waiting for Moses to come down."
We've dubbed our own dirt pile "Mt. Price" (after the name of the street) but it's also been called "Price Hill." I've even considered having t-shirts made. Our dirt pile is less than a month old, so I dearly hope we dont' find ourselves Roanoke's situation three years later.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Of course, there are people who love dirt piles.
March 30, 2010
New Approaches to Urban Redevelopment
Saturday I attended a very interesting lecture by Ken Reardon, who is a planning professor at The University of Memphis and a founding member of the Memphis Regional Design Center (MRDC). The lecture was part of an event called "Look at That! Fresh Approaches for Urban Redevelopment in Athens." The economy being what it is, many of our clients are looking for help with redevelopment, rather than combating sprawl, so I took the opportunity to attend this event, sponsored by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.
Reardon's lecture was very interesting. First he had all the participants engage in a group dialogue about our vision for Athens' future. Ideas included more urban agriculture, better downtown development, preservation of our small town character, and more affordable housing.
Then Reardon discussed how the MRDC has helped some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Memphis, using team members from local design firms, University of Memphis, the Urban Land Institute, and other partners. He declared himself most proud of a project that turned the largest outdoor drug market in Memphis into a farmers' market, which is truly a noteworthy accomplishment. The center also played a key role in helping Memphis pass its new, form-based, Unified Development Code. All the time he was talking, I was thinking, "We need that here!" I'm planning to spend some time picking Reardon's brain over the next several months.
Jamie Baker Roskie
March 25, 2010
I Am the Crazy Neighbor
As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the latest dramas in my life is a ginormous pile of dirt that a developer recently dumped on three residential lots around the corner from my house. The dirt originally came from a massive, at least by Athens standards, excavation of about 75,000 cubic yards of dirt for the basement of the new Special Collections library here at UGA. Fill dirt was once quite a commodity when the housing market was hot, but now, according to a friend of mine who's a commercial contractor, you can't give the stuff away. Or, apparently, you can, to a developer who will then store it in some lots where he maybe has plans, sometime in the future, to build on the lots.
The problem is that he hasn't drawn up any plans, nor does he have any engineering drawings to show how to accommodate between 1,000 and 2,000 cubic yards (about 100-200 tandem dump truck loads) of dirt on the property. We got wise to the problem one morning earlier this month when we heard the sounds of diesel engines idling, and dump truck after dump truck banging as it emptied its load.
Now we get to the part where I'm the crazy neighbor lady. I went away for Spring Break, hoping that my neighbors would be able to stop this madness by calling in the county enforcement folks. However, apparently dumping continued unabated for at least 3 days. When I returned to town the pile had grown to its current size. I then read a column in our local weekly about the great Special Collections library project. While I agree about the coolness of the SC library, I felt like the folks at the magazine should know about its shadow side. So, I e-mailed the columnist and, while I was at it, the on campus newspaper and the local daily. The campus newspaper, the Red and Black, ran the story (see first link above). It turns out that the Atlanta TV stations read the R&B, and next thing I knew I was getting calls from television reporters. They were really interested in our giant dirt pile! I was surprised, but I agreed to give them interviews. While they were out, they got the developer on tape too and ran the story. (Visit this link on the law school's website to see most of the media coverage - thanks to the law school's public relations staff for pulling that together.)
The next day I was a local celebrity, and not in a totally good way. My favorite reaction was from a university staffer in my husband's building who, not realizing my husband was related to me, told him, "That land use lady needs to find something to do!" (When a co-worker of my husband brought our relationship to the staffer's attention, he was apologetic and chagrined. I just think it's funny!)
I've worked all sides of the development game in my career, including representing developers and neighbors. I figure it was inevitable I would turn out to be the cranky neighbor myself. I've started calling myself the queen of the dirt pile.
The local weekly, the Flagpole, has the most interesting take on the story. Their City Editor, Dave Marr, ran a good column that explains our confusion about how the developer seems to have threaded multiple loopholes in the code.
I've got some great folks in the neighborhood working with me, including a couple of experts on soil and erosion and a civil engineer. A local commissioner pulled together a good meeting with county staff yesterday and we're working toward a solution. In the meantime, I'm trying to catch up on my work and get ready for UGA's annual Red Clay conference on environmental issues. I'm moderating a panel on Georgia's water rights problems called "Is Atlanta Really the 800 Pound Gorilla?"
Jamie Baker Roskie
UPDATE: The latest from the UGA student newspaper on the controversy.
UPDATE TWO: The dirt pile now has its own website.