Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Summit Avenue Wonk-O-Rama

My neighborhood has been working to improve and beautify the main thoroughfare that rips right through it -- Summit Avenue -- for about 20 years. Until recently, we've had little success.

But things have started looking up. We hosted a design charrette in 2002 which included a conceptual plan for improvements to Summit, and in 2003 we persuaded City Council to adopt our Strategic Plan, which also had some important proposals regarding Summit. In 2004, City Council agreed to fund a corridor study of Summit.

TODAY, a group of us working on this project study chose two consulting firms as finalists to perform that corridor study. We'll be interviewing them in the middle of February to pick the best one. And then, they'll do the study sometime in 2005.

(Here follows the really wonky stuff, for those of you who want to know what REALLY happens in city hall.)

What's a corridor study? In our case, it will begin with a very detailed study of transportation patterns & needs (cars, pedestrians, public transportation), of the current market conditions, and of current land use and zoning on Summit. It will involve asking residents, business owners, and potential investors what they like and don't like. Using all this information, the consultants will produce a set of very concrete proposals for improving Summit, such as new traffic patterns, new zoning, and design guidelines for new development that can be used by the city and private investors.

Who gets to decide on hiring the consultants? This part of the process was organized by city staff in the Department of Housing and Community Development. The working group included representatives from HCD, the Planning and Zoning Department, GDOT, Parks and Recreation, and the Aycock neighborhood (me, with the help of Mindy McReynolds and Aycock President Betsey Baun). City Manager Ed Kitchen appointed the group at the direction of City Council.

How were the decisions made? By group discussion and voting. We received preliminary portfolios from 10 firms, and, after some discussion, invited 6 of them to submit proposals. One of these dropped out, and at today's meeting we reached a quick consensus on the top 3. One of the three, however, was priced about 3 times higher than the city could afford (and, oddly, 3 times higher than all the other proposals), so we ended up with two to interview.

Why are you telling us all this? I threatened earlier to blog the city-hall activities of TREBIC, so I thought it only fair to shine the light of truth and openness on my own behind-closed-doors lobbying in the MMOB (Melvin Municipal Office Building). And I wanted to show that most of what happens there is not sinister, but . . . dull. Actually, it's not dull to me, and if you've read this far, it's probably not dull to you, either. But I think you'd agree that most people would find it dull. But in city politics, slow, steady, and dull often wins the race. I'm hoping Summit will be much improved by 2013.

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