Atlanta’s Dickens Administration Seeks to Dissolve NPU-R
With additional reporting by Matthew Charles, News Editor.
(APN) ATLANTA – The City of Atlanta’s Executive Branch, under the Administration of Mayor Andre Dickens, has taken the unprecedented step of seeking to redraw southwest neighborhood planning unit (NPU) boundaries and dissolve an entire NPU without City Council approval.
Some have criticized the proposal as a pretext to allow development to proceed unmitigated by community opposition in southwest Atlanta.
The proposed changes were first reported by the Peach Pundit blog.
In response, Councilwoman Marci Overstreet (District 11) has introduced two pieces of legislation to halt the proposed changes and to explicitly require Council approval for NPU boundary changes going forward.
PLANS BY THE DICKENS ADMINISTRATION
Leah LaRue, Assistant Director of Neighborhood Planning, for the Department of City Planning, gave a presentation on “NPU Reapportionment” during Atlanta Planning Advisory Board’s general body meeting on September 17, 2022.
APAB was the latest stop on an eighteen-day roadshow that LaRue began on August 30, 2022 to pitch the reassignment of southwest Atlanta NPUs, dubbed the “Neighborhood Strong” project; and to garner neighborhood buy-in.
The Department’s proposal would reduce the number of southwest Atlanta NPUs from four to three, redraw southwest Atlanta NPU boundary lines, reassign neighborhoods in southwest NPUs to different NPUs, and dissolve NPU-R.
LaRue is not a city planner. She joined Atlanta’s Department of Planning in 2019; and her job duties are to “coordinate support to the NPUs, produce meeting agendas, distribute meeting notices electronically, and administer the Community Impact Grant program.”
The City of Atlanta has 25 defined and Council approved neighborhood planning units as described in Plan A 2021 Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP).
A comparison of CDP and Neighborhood Strong maps shows the Neighborhood Strong project significantly alters the boundaries of southwest NPUs to connect non-contiguous neighborhoods across I-285 to in-town neighborhoods surrounding Campbellton Road.
The City of Atlanta’s Code of Ordinances, Part III (Land Development Code), Part 3 (Planning), Article B, Section 6-3012 defines Neighborhood Planning Units as follows:
(1) a geographic area composed of one or more contiguous neighborhoods, which have been defined by the department of planning, and development and neighborhood conservation based on criteria previously established by the department and approved by the council for the purpose of developing neighborhood plans and (2) a body of residents of such geographic area organized for the purpose of engaging in comprehensive planning matters affecting the livability of neighborhoods.
Atlanta’s Department of Planning published and distributed a proposed map significantly altering established boundaries of southwest Atlanta NPUs (P, Q, R, S).
DCP’s reimagined map of southwest NPUs fails the most fundamental requirement for NPU boundaries: contiguous neighborhoods.
LaRue told the 19 APAB delegates in attendance, “Instead of having four NPUs (P, Q, R, and S) in the southwest, two of which are really, really strong, solid NPUs; two of which have some opportunities to strengthen, this plan positions us to have three very, very strong, solid NPUs (P, Q, S) all along the Campbellton Road corridor.”
It is not immediately clear what is meant by “strong, solid” NPU’s versus those that have “opportunities to strengthen”, although one difference seems to be the median income and the socioeconomic status of the NPU’s being targeted.
“It’s about positioning folks to be able to pull from resources scattered about and to unite them along one particular road corridor, that’s Campbellton Road, so that’s what we’ve done. With this plan now close to 40,000 residents of the southwest will have the ability to make recommendations on what happens on Campbellton Road,” LaRue said.
Campbellton Road neither intersects nor passes through NPU-Q. The Campbellton Road Tax Allocation District (TAD) has representation from NPUs P, R, and S.
“By reimagining how these NPUs make recommendations, we will add value and volume to the voices of the residents in the southwest,” DCP wrote in a fact sheet distributed to APAB.
Another way of looking at it, the City would eliminate the voice of NPU-R and dilute the voices of its residents especially with regard to controversial development proposals on and around Campbellton Road.
WHY NPU-R? WHY NOW?
Campbellton Road and the surrounding communities surrounding Campbellton have struggled through decades of redlining, housing foreclosures, neglect, and disinvestment.
But, in recent years, Atlanta’s southwest neighborhoods have become a political and economic focal point with announcements of new development including MARTA’s Campbellton Road transit project, Fort McPherson, and Greenbriar redevelopment.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, leadership and governance disputes among NPU-R members have resulted, among other things, in NPU-R previously banishing senior advocate Ben Howard, now 89; and advocate Ron Shakir, from its meetings.
“Many in NPU-R feel disenfranchised and disrespected by the process of [neighborhood] realignment,” Ray Jones, who lives in the Adams Park neighborhood and serves as NPU-R’s Sergeant-At-Arms, said in public comments during APAB’s September 2022 general body meeting.
“We feel disrespected because NPU-R didn’t know about this plan until Labor Day, and the fact that we’re the only NPU being dissolved. There are many inside NPU-R that oppose the plan and want NPU-R to remain intact,” Jones said.
Jones acknowledged that NPU-R has had internal conflicts and challenges with ineffective leadership, in an interview with APN.
But “that shouldn’t be reason enough to dissolve an NPU. If you’re objective, you’ll know NPU-R isn’t the only Atlanta NPU facing challenges.”
The City of Atlanta has consistently taken the position that they cannot interfere in internal NPU disputes because they are completely independent organizations and are not part of the City.
However, the City’s insertion of itself into NPU boundaries, and even into their very existence, undermines such a position.
Moreover, APN’s review of recent NPU votes in Southwest Atlanta reveals that NPU-R has taken different positions on the matters that have come before it, than its surrounding NPU’s.
Southwest Atlanta’s neighborhoods within NPUs P, Q, R, and S do not share a common identity, architecture, history, or commonality of perceived interests as reflected in legislative votes on DCP’s NPU dashboard.
In three out of four votes, NPU Q voted opposite of NPU R. NPU-Q voted opposite NPU-P, two out of four votes, and in three out of four votes NPU-P voted differently than NPU-S.
Jones first learned about LaRue’s plans to dissolve NPU-R in a Labor Day meeting of NPU-R’s Executive Committee requested by LaRue, he said.
Committee members were not given advance notice as to the reason for the meeting and did not understand why LaRue would request a meeting on a holiday.
LaRue told committee members “NPU-R has the most vacant land in the City”, as a justification for her proposed changes, he recalled.
“This is a land grab disguised as realignment of NPUs,” he said, summarizing his reaction.
Jones said he’s hopeful for the future of NPU-R: “In the past year, NPU-R has negotiated two community benefits agreements with developers and we’ve focused efforts on community engagement supported by a grant from the Department of City Planning”.
The receipt of a grant from the City of Atlanta, and implied recognition by the City, suggests the City finds NPU-R and its by-laws to meet the minimum requirements for NPU’s.
“We’re not giving up on NPU-R and we’re asking that the City not give up on us.”
During public comments at Atlanta City Council’s September 19, 2022 meeting, former State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta); and former NPU-R Chair and former APAB Chair, Edith Ladipo, addressed the proposed changes to southwest Atlanta NPUs.
“I’m here to comment on what I believe to be the most brutal attack on the NPU system in a very long time by the proposal to destroy NPU-R,” former Sen. Fort said.
“The proposal, as it’s been described, is to destroy NPU-R by breaking it up and putting it in other NPUs. This is an obvious attempt. and it’s a feeble attempt, to suppress those in that NPU that have spoken up, and spoken out against neglect,” Fort said.
“Please don’t send folk out to give presentations to the NPUs like the one given by Leah LaRue the other night. First, she said it was based on population. And then she said it really wasn’t based on population. Then she said it was a part of a city-wide review of the NPUs and moving them around. After she got caught in that, she said, `No, that’s not really true.’”
“Don’t try to trick the people, tell them what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.” Fort said.
“We’re not going to tolerate gerrymandering from the governor and we’re not going to accept it from you. We know our rights. We know how to read the policy and we know the law,” Ladipo said.
“You want us to think that all of the NPUs are at odds, but you’d be surprised how many NPUs have contacted me about you. They are angry about it,” Ladipo said.
In response to public comments, Councilmember Overstreet said, “I’d like to let everyone know that we are adamantly opposed to the redrawing of the lines of the NPU system without there being a process, a transparent process in place.”
“I will be putting in legislation today to address this issue. I do have a problem with the way this whole thing is being rolled out. I’ve made it clear to City Planning that I’m not in favor of any of this that’s going on right now, the redrawing of the lines, the redistricting,” Overstreet said.
“There is a process for redistricting, just like we’re doing right now because of the Census. And we will do it that same way citywide, one day, but not right now.”
At the end of the Full Council Meeting, Overstreet introduced two legislative items as personal papers, co-sponsored by Andrea Boone (District 10), Antonio Lewis (District 12), Howard Shook (District 7), Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large), and Keisha Sean Waites (Post 3-at-large).
One proposed resolution, assigned Electronic Legislative Management System number ELMS 30909, would “Request the proposed reconfiguration of NPU boundaries in SW Atlanta submitted by the Department of City Planning be reevaluated” and “request the Chief Operating Officer bring any proposed reconfiguration to an immediate halt.”
The other, assigned ELMS 31000, would explicitly require City Council approval of any boundary changes to the neighborhood planning units.
The papers were both referred by Council President Doug Shipman to the Community Development/Human Services Committee, where they will be heard next week.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2022)