I am interrupting the history series on Peachtree City to issue a wake-up call.
We know an elected official’s success is contingent upon his/her ability to comprehend and influence the issues of the constituents. Politicians must recognize the everyday concerns of those who elect them to office and act accordingly.
Many times, the local voters must realize a personal consequence of a governmental action before they are compelled to act. Unfortunately, by the time we feel the sting, it’s too late.
We are about to get stung.
Our city council is taking us headlong into what could be as much as a $12 – 14 million boondoggle.
The intersection of neglect and bad decisions
It is with great sorrow that I disclose that a majority of the city council of Peachtree City is in favor of going ahead with an atrocious Highway 74/54 intersection project introduced by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).
It is vital to note that GDOT devised the intersection mitigation project and not the city government. The city has done next to nothing for the past 20 years.
Several years ago, GDOT introduced the project at the county government’s transportation committee meeting. I was present at the meeting and challenged the effectiveness of the proposal. It was immediately clear that the low-budget project proposal did zilch to resolve the core congestion issue with east-west traffic.
It was revealed in the committee meeting by a GDOT engineer that the project was “budget constrained,” meaning they had some funds remaining in an account and it was designed to the budget, not toward a long-term solution. GDOT is going to require the city to spend millions of our city tax dollars on the boondoggle as well.
GDOT’s own material says, “Traffic patterns for those coming from Hwy. 54 will not change.” We are smart enough in Peachtree City to comprehend what “will not change” means.
Mayor Kim Leonard is advertising to the public via video on Facebook that the city is looking forward to proceeding with the substandard displaced left turn project at highways 74 and 54.
Why on Earth would we proceed with that project? GDOT is going to tie up our roads for approximately two years, causing even more frustration, and we will still have traffic congestion when they are done.
Even worse, GDOT will say don’t come back to them anytime soon because they already gave us millions of dollars.
This would be a great opportunity for the mayor to show some leadership and work for a serious, viable, long-term solution for the intersection. She is blaming her predecessor’s prior approval of GDOT’s poor excuse for a project as though there is nothing she can do about it. There is plenty she can do about it!
Learnard could start by questioning the viability of the low-budget GDOT proposal that only addresses the lesser north-south flow. Next, she can work on behalf of the citizens to secure the meager funds allotted from GDOT and use them for design and right-of-way for a genuine solution.
It’s lamentable, and we will be forced to watch this local government trainwreck because the city government lacks leadership and makes excuses. The Highway 54-West corridor has been a series of errant government decisions over decades, exacerbating the misery each time, and now the Learnard Administration piles on.
Instead of being assertive and not tolerating such ridiculous proposals that are wasteful and jeopardize solving our most significant issue, our city council is debating how big the Peachtree City logo should be on the GDOT traffic signs for the Band-Aid transportation fix. It’s pathetic.
This will be a permanent marker in the city’s history as one of the most irresponsible and foolhardy non-accomplishments ever attempted. From experience, Learnard will undoubtedly claim it’s her predecessor’s (Vanessa Fleisch) fault as though she is powerless to do the right thing.
Do the newest councilmen Frank Destadio and Clint Holland have an opinion on the fiasco? There are no statements on the record at council meetings from either thus far.
Erosion of standards and false assertions
A large portion of Peachtree City’s success is based upon being unique, creating strict development standards, and enforcing those standards.
Several council meetings ago, I was glad to see a return to enforcing the city’s zoning ordinances. The addition of Councilmen Frank Destadio and Clint Holland is bearing some fruit in that regard.
Over the last decade or so, the zoning ordinances were simply considered rules that could be broken. Variances were granted over and over again. Granting a variance should be the extreme exception.
The problem with constantly approving variances is the ordinances are eventually rendered no longer enforceable, causing a losing battle in the courts. The previous council, including carryover Councilmen Mike King and Phil Prebor on the current council, granted nearly every variance requested.
While King and Prebor voted in favor of the variance on the recent meeting agenda, Destadio cited the rationale for protecting the sanctity of our zoning ordinances. We have the ordinances for a reason. Holland and Learnard joined Destadio, and our ordinances were defended, finally! Hopefully, this is the new trend.
On several occasions, I have heard King and the city’s planning director Robin Cailloux promote the false claim that property owners are entitled to the highest, most-profitable use of their land. This is the classic excuse used to give real estate developers anything they desire at the expense of the citizens and the community.
Do your job, no excuses!
The United States Supreme Court has been consistently clear that landowners are not guaranteed whatever they believe to be the most profitable use of their property in opposition to municipal zoning regulations.
Likewise, land use controls that do not approximate the extreme situation of an outright appropriation, i.e., that do not substantially destroy the value and use of the property, should be viewed as outside the scope of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. We are paying Cailloux a handsome salary to defend our ordinances, and I wish she would act accordingly.
Many of us are tired of the phony excuses used to justify subverting our city zoning ordinances. The constant push for more multi-family complexes is equally irritating. The mayor’s willingness to approve a multi-family complex for a campaign fundraising contributor, citing in the vote to approve changes to the comprehensive plan that had neither been made public nor officially approved does not bode well for the city either. It’s rotten politics.
In their last special called meeting, they discussed annexing a Tyrone property which they will most likely propose to build another multi-family housing complex on in direct conflict with decades of city land planning calling for the lowest density housing on our outer borders. At least three of the rapscallions just do not care about our standards.
If a majority of the city council settles for an underfunded intersection project that provides little to no congestion relief to just kick the can annoyingly and thoughtlessly down the road with the claim that “it’s not my project,” the citizens get to choose which label is suitable: negligence or incompetence.
Similarly, asking our elected officials to obey and enforce our local ordinances is not an extreme request, and their oath of office mandates it. If lame-duck Councilmen King and Prebor cannot summon the willpower to defend the ordinances they swore an oath to uphold, please do us a favor, resign, and end your last term in office 11 months early.
The one thing I have always loved the most about Peachtree City is the high expectations from the citizens. We should not have to beg our city council members to adequately represent us and act in the best interest of the citizens.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]