The mayor addressed the Marietta Division of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce July 26… here are the details…
Mayor William Dunaway addressed the Marietta division of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce July 26 and discussed housing, redevelopment around the city, rental properties, proposals for the Powder Springs Road Connector and planning for transportation improvements along Interstate Highway 75 through Marietta.
TEXT OF SPEECH PDF of speech slides
1. – In one of my first talks, over 4 years ago, I said, “It takes a long time to turn a ship around.” Well, the city-ship is turned around and we’re picking up steam.
I know this was supposed to be a “State of City” talk, so in a few words: The state of the city is great, and it’s going to get better.”
To quote an old TV character, “It’s not a brag, when it’s a fact.”
Well, I do have a brag. After about 60 to 80 hours of work by the city council, the city now has a new Ethics Code. I consider it to be the best, most far-reaching Ethics Code in Georgia
Having taken care of that, I really want to talk about “What’s Next,” but first a few brief, hurried remarks about where we have been.
2. The All-America City Award is a wonderful recognition of the hard work and accomplishments of many, many people. Marietta is the first city in Georgia to receive this award in 30 years and we intend to capitalize on this award for even more progress.
This community award was based on three programs, the M-Star program, which is our very successful community police program, aided by unique computer applications; the Marietta Reads program, which was instituted by the Marietta School System and our wonderful Redevelopment results, or as it should properly be called: revitalization.
The August 4 All America City award celebration in the square on Friday night.
OK, so what is going on now?
Well, it feels pretty good. Currently, we have over 79 million dollars of new construction NOW, just for the first 6 months of 2006. Not projected, not hoped for, this is reality.
3., 4, 5., 6., 7. – In addition to the over 1,200 new housing units built in the past 4 years, we have another 1,500 to 1,600 units that will be under construction with an estimated $367 million value at build-out. New commercial construction of about $49 million has been completed or is underway. We should have an estimated $200 million in new residential and mixed-use projects to break ground by the end of the year. These numbers do include 450 detached, single-family homes that should be completed in the next 3 to 6 years citywide.
Unfortunately, these figures do not include the Wynhaven project that would replace 296 rental units with 235 owner-occupied homes; that would be a good decrease in the current density. We now have a self-serving lawsuit, together with some false statements, that could destroy this much-needed $80 million redevelopment.
I know that we have all read about the cooling down of the housing market in many areas of Georgia. Just the opposite is true in Marietta; our housing market is great. In fact, our single unit housing starts are up almost 68% compared to this time last year.
The amount of housing construction Citywide has increased steadily since 2002. 2005 saw the most units we’ve permitted in a decade and we’re ahead of that pace so far this year. While some will tell you that we’re not building enough single-family houses in Marietta, we’ve issued permits for nearly 650 DETACHED homes since 2002. While some raise fears that our new housing stock is cheap and will deteriorate in the future, the opposite is true.
The fact is the average construction cost of new housing being built in Marietta today is HIGHER than in the County. This pricing has been rising FASTER than the County average since 2000 and is about 50% higher than the Metro Atlanta average.
8. – We are not complacent; we must keep the ball rolling. The Marietta Redevelopment Corporation and the city are establishing a unique multi-faceted program of information, statistics, and other factors to help our developers market their properties.
No, the city can’t take credit for all of these projects, but we can take credit for establishing the new atmosphere that has encouraged and convinced people that Marietta is a great place to grow. Hey, come on in, the water is fine.
I know many people have wondered about the number of town homes and condos coming available. Well, last year, 40% of all new housing sold in Cobb County were town homes and condos; that’s over 2,000 units sold. Obviously, many people want this style of living.
All of these new town home and condo projects in Marietta can NEVER be converted to rental units or apartments. All of the zoning the city council has done in the past four years has a legally enforceable prohibition against this.
Not only has the council prohibited the conversion of this new housing into apartments, we have protected the future of Marietta with one of the most, if not the most, restrictive tree ordinances in this area.
I know Marietta has planted, re-planted, and caused to be planted more trees than any other city around. We have special gratitude to Holly Walquist and the Marietta Tree Keepers. She has personally planted more trees than anyone else in this room. My wife, Dot, on the Tree Keepers Board has planted more trees than any other Mayor’s wife that I know. I’ve even planted a few.
We are also protecting the future with a new model town home ordinance that is the most demanding and protective I have seen. Marietta now requires such things as 2 car garages, 4-sided architecture, green space, amenities, access, etc. This requirement is the most demanding ordinance in this county, if not in the state. It’s so good that I know some developers don’t like it and that’s OK by the city and by me.
Additionally, all of this type of re-zoning is SITE SPECIFIC, which means that the developer cannot change a building, a wall, a street, much less add condos and/or density. Any change would require new action by the city council.
The average reported sale price of these redevelopment units is $325,000. From one point of few, this is good. From another point of view, we must work harder to build affordable housing units. We need to attract more young people. Unfortunately, with our high land costs, density has to increase in many instances. Density is not a four-letter word if it is done properly.
9. – Marietta has a nighttime population of some 61,000 people and a daytime population of almost 96,000, which means almost 37,000 people commute INTO our city every weekday. We are glad they are here, but that’s a lot of cars on the road. So remember, for everyone who buys and lives in a home in Marietta that could be one or more fewer cars on Whitlock, Powder Springs Rd., or Roswell Rd.
OK, most of this is yesterday’s news; what have you done lately, and what’s next?
10. – In spite of the disaster of the Slumlord bill that has hurt Marietta and many other cities. We have managed to increase homeownership from 36% to 41% in the past few years. We have demolished or converted over 400 rental units.
We should demolish another 430 sub-standard rental units when Lyman Homes and Wynhaven (hopefully) are redeveloped.
11. – By the end of this decade we will still have a way too high rental rate of 56%. That is down from a 65% rental rate, with over 16,000 rental units, a few years ago.
I have been told that I don’t have many talents—but I do know that I have persistence. Both the city council and I are determined to lower this rental rate and to provide safe, affordable and un-crowded housing for ALL of our citizens. Obviously, in many, many instances, private enterprise is not doing its job for our tenants.
12. – OK, plan A, our rental inspection ordinance, was knocked down by the Slumlord Bill, so since January, we have been working on Plans B, C, D, E, and so on.
We have many good, caring landlords in Marietta. For these landlords, we have a great deal of gratitude. In spite of an approximate 16% vacancy rate, these good landlords are maintaining their properties and they care about who and how many tenants they have. I admire them. I want the city to be their best friend and I want Marietta to reward and to help them.
13. – I am going to ask the council to set up a program to help our good landlords. For those who will voluntarily prove that their properties have been checked and the properties have passed an inspection on safety and that they will enforce our occupancy ordinance, we want to establish a program that will give their properties the “Marietta Seal of Good Housing” and provide a link on our new city website that will list each property and contact information.
14. – During our recent court fights, I kept hearing about the “right of privacy” and “property rights.” To some of these landlords, it’s their privacy rights, not their tenants’ privacy rights they talked about. To some, it is their right to collect cash rents, and maybe not report all of it, and it’s their right to operate their rental properties in private without caring about others.
What about the property rights of our citizens who own homes next to or in the neighborhood of these dilapidated, run-down, sometimes vacant and sometimes over-crowded houses? They are seeing their property values decreased and their quality of life threatened.
Yes, I am very concerned about property rights, but I am equally concerned about our rental residents’ individual rights of safe and affordable housing, especially housing that is not over-crowded.
You know, many of these Marietta residents don’t ever vote, don’t have a voice, and they certainly don’t have rich lobbyists down at the state capital. We have an obligation to them. Most of these tenants are US citizens, but even if they are not, as long as they are here in Marietta, we have the humane obligation to insure that they are treated with respect.
For those landlords who don’t care and who are here just to milk their properties; who don’t care about their housing conditions; who don’t care about who and how many tenants they have; we want to send them a message: “Marietta is going to be too good of a town for you and your rental properties. Please fix it up or sell it to someone who will.” The “unwelcome” mat is out for you.
Now for these landlords who have repeated violations I want to work on other plans.
I want this to be a city version of “Tough Love.”
15. – Residential rental housing is the largest un-regulated industry in Marietta, estimated at 100 to 120 million dollars a year. We require businesses and occupations such as lawyers to pay an occupational tax; we should require people who rent residential properties to pay an occupational tax, not as a revenue producer, but as a needed form of regulation and control.
The city of Roswell does have such an ordinance that is being enforced. I want Marietta to adopt this. If it’s great and legal in Roswell, it should be great and legal in Marietta.
Another idea I want us to examine is Smyrna’s use of an Environmental Court to speed up the process of Code compliance. This could encourage the learning process for some people.
I hate to copy Mayors Max Bacon and Jere Wood, but plagiarism can be good.
The city is looking for ways to comply with state laws concerning due process and that will still give us a probable cause to enter some rental properties.
We are looking for ways to encourage tenants to “invite us in.”
We are looking for ways for neighbors to report code violations, especially occupancy violations on the number of occupants.
You know, maybe we should examine the new ordinance in Hazelton PA. It has the process of fining landlords who rent to illegal aliens. I wonder if this is legal and how it could be enforced. I don’t know if we should go that far. However, this does sound intriguing.
Now I believe in Freedom of Information and I want to ask the MDJ and the AJC to help us on this next item. The papers do a good service by publishing restaurant health inspection scores and by printing DUI arrest records. I would like for the papers to publish our public records of landlords who have repeated serious code violations. This would be a great public service. Let some sunshine in.
After all, I want us to advertise the landlords that have the “Seal of Good Housing,” so in fairness; we should advertise our worst violators. Additionally, these code violators’ names and addresses should be made available on Marietta’s new website.
Last year, Thunder Tumlin tried to help our citizens. He introduced a bill to repeal the “Slumlord Bill” and not a single legislator, much less any of our local legislators, would co-sponsor his bill. To his credit, Thunder is going to introduce that bill again.
I want to ask and say to all of our legislators: “If you are truly interested in the safety and well-being of everyone; if you are interested in the property and individual rights of everyone, including rental residents in all of our municipalities, please sign and pass this bill.” I particularly want to ask Senator Steve Thompson, the sponsor of the original Slumlord Bill, to help Marietta, to help other cities, to help our citizens, and to repair the damage that has been done.
Additionally, the city is increasing its code enforcement staff by 30% and we are streamlining operations to put more inspectors out into the city. We aren’t just going to wait for violations to be reported, we want to find them.
Enough of this Happy Talk.
Marietta has many other things that we have in the process and/or areas of concentration we are working on.
How many of you drive on Powder Springs St. and/or the Loop?
For the rest of you, the next part of this little dissertation could bore you, that is, if you’re not bored already.
Question: What Street in Marietta has a higher traffic count than Cobb Parkway at Windy Hill? Answer: The stretch of Powder Springs St. in front of the Conference Center. That street is way over capacity, over 50,000 cars per day. No wonder redeveloping the Powder Springs corridor is so difficult; no wonder some of the commercial areas around Sandtown look so terrible.
Most of these drivers don’t want to be there; it’s their only way to and from I-75, and they are clogging up our streets, especially the Loop intersection at the city cemetery. The Powder Springs Connector will divert this through traffic out of Marietta and to an expanded 6-lane South Cobb Parkway. This desperately needed road was included in the city and county’s SPLOST projects.
16. – Building the Powder Springs Connector is the single most important traffic improvement we can have in Marietta in the immediate future. This will divert much, much, through traffic out of Marietta, off of Powder Springs St. and off the Loop.
The city council, GDOT, and the county commissioners must agree on this route. In fact, most of this road will be in the county.
17. – Now, which one of the currently proposed four routes or alternatives should it take? I characterize these as good, better, better, and best.
To encourage the redevelopment of the Sandtown and Powder Springs St. area, we should have the connector as far southwest as possible to relieve the traffic backup and congestion that this area is suffering with.
We should have the alternative that will not have the possibility of increasing cut-through traffic in Whitlock Heights. Hey, I have a mean daughter who lives in Whitlock Heights and I’m not going fight with her or with the many of my friends who live there.
Using these criteria, the “good” alternative would be the one at Sandtown Rd. This alternative may be very costly in “taking out” the Westside Shopping Center and federal and state road funds are not supposed to be used for urban renewal.
If you will talk to the traffic engineers, the Sandtown alternative may actually INCREASE the cut-through traffic in Whitlock Heights. I know this is hard to realize, but it is a fact and I would be glad to go into details with any doubters.
Of equal importance, the Sandtown Rd alternative would keep the terrible congestion where it is now and would lessen possibilities of the redevelopment of the Junkyard, the Big Lots Center, and the other assorted run-down commercial buildings.
The congestion of this alternative at Sandtown Rd. would make it more difficult for our Dunleith, Charlton Forge, Laurel Springs, Whitlock Heights residents to get to downtown and points north.
I can support the Chestnut DEAD-END alternative if it can be engineered correctly. This alternative would have the connector dead-end into Powder Springs Rd. in front of Chestnut Hill Rd. In my judgment, this is one of the “better” alternatives.
This route that would definitely stop any increased cut-through traffic through Whitlock Heights because it would DEAD-END at Chestnut Hill. Let me repeat; a car would not be able to go straight through from Chestnut Hill Rd. to the connector and vice versa. Driving straight through from Chestnut Hill Rd. to the connector would be impossible because of installed traffic barriers, islands, and/or medians that would prevent this. We would still have the ‘right in, right out” movement at Chestnut Hill as we have now.
This Dead-end proposal? Voila! Impossible to have cut-through traffic because of the barriers.
This Dead-End alternative would have another bonus of freeing up Powder Spring St. toward downtown and that would encourage the redevelopment of the Junkyard, the Big Lots Center, Westside Shopping Center and other assorted junk. It would also make it easier for our residents to go downtown.
Having said all of this, I am now told that this Dead-End proposal may not be acceptable to GDOT because of their requirements and because of the fire station that is located there.
Another “better” alternative is to still have the connector at Chestnut Hill Rd. and totally control any straight through connector traffic with strict city control of traffic light timing. OK, I see some eyebrows being raised on this and that is the problem with this alternative…it’s hard to sell and make people realize that this can be done effectively.
This alternative would have extreme traffic light control that would allow very few cars to go straight ahead between the connector and Chestnut Hill. This type of traffic light control is very effective and is used in various places by Marietta and in other locales.
This traffic-controlled alternative would have the same traffic congestion relief and redevelopment encouragement of the other “better” alternative.
We now are studying the possibility of Alternative #4, which would begin and end further southwest on Powder Springs Rd. This entrance/exit would be on the Marietta side of the Brown Stone subdivision; this would be in a section that is not developed.
This would be a true parkway with very limited access and it would free up the rest of Powder Springs to local traffic, encourage revitalization of that area, and make it easier for people to go “downtown.”
If the engineering proves to be good, if the costs are not prohibitive, and if environmental questions are answered, this would be the “best” route for all of us. However, we must answer many feasibility questions about this Alternative #4.
To repeat: this not a decision for Marietta alone. The County Commissioners and GDOT must also agree on the route.
Personally, I can accept any one of these alternatives just as long as we get the connector. I just think there are good, better, better, and best alternatives.
18. – We now have the coming widening of I-75 with the inclusion of Bus Rapid Transit and HOV lanes.
I don’t doubt that, in the long haul, 10 to 20 years from now, this progress will benefit Marietta in many ways, particularly the Franklin Rd area. The city is cooperating with the Georgia DOT, GRETA. ARC, and the county with this massive project. Unless you have one of the businesses that will be affected, I think we all want this project to happen.
However, I am greatly concerned about the near-term effects on Marietta with the coming widening of I-75. We should all be concerned with the price the city may pay in the next 5 or so years in the name of “Progress.”
You can see on the screen the immediate bad effects of this project.
We know we will have traffic disruptions during this construction, especially since every overpass and underpass will have to be torn out and replaced with completely new bridges and interchanges.
Yes, the BRT will be good for us and the eventual improved traffic flow will be wonderful. I just want the powers-that-be to recognize and to help mitigate the disruption and costs to Marietta.
We will have to work to make sure that this will help, not hurt, Marietta.
19. – The city is not just concentrating on revitalization, we have many things to come and many other initiatives.
Still to come and areas of concentration lists
20. – How many of you remember CowParade, the wonderful painted cows we had in Marietta and Atlanta a few years ago. That was a very successful community and fund-raising event. I’m now very excited to tell you that we will soon have our own Chicken Strut called the “Lil Chickens of Marietta.” The Junior League of Cobb/Marietta, together with other organizations, including the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art will be spearheading this great community project. I hope that many of you will sign on to help with this.
21., 22., 23., 24. 25., 26., 27., 28. – (Initiative list)
Of great importance is the investment our Board of Lights and Water is making for our future.
29., 30. – Yes, increased investment in Marietta is wonderful, but that’s not what excites me. Thanks to the BLW and other factors, only 15% of our city budget comes from taxes. In fact, city taxes are only 3.5 mills, lower than any other city in the metro area.
31. – What I’m happy about is that all these initiatives will definitely improve our Quality of Life. I know that’s an over-worked phrase, but it’s so important.
We’ve come a long way and we will always have a long way to go. I hope that you have the same belief that I have: Marietta is now a better place to live and the best is coming on strong.
32. – Web site
I’ll be glad to take your questions now. And by the way, we have a great new website where you can look up just about anything you want to know about the city. It’s at www.mariettaga.gov.
O.K., anybody got a question they want answered in person?