DUNWOODY, Ga. — If not much happened in 2020, the year 2021 more than made up for it.
As the world emerged, then retreated, as the fallout from the pandemic shifted, so did the city of Dunwoody. Major restrictions were lifted, then again reinstituted, but throughout the year, Dunwoody citizens, and its government, managed to keep moving forward with initiatives to improve life within the city’s borders.
COVID-19 and its impact
With virtually every city-sponsored event cancelled in 2020, the following year saw a cautious return to city traditions, as well as routine business. The city opened its parks in spring. City Council meetings allowed in-person attendance, while also continuing the option to follow the proceedings online.
The city’s major events — Dunwoody Nature Center’s Butterfly Festival, the Dunwoody Arts Festival, Fourth of July Parade, Lemonade Days and Light Up Dunwoody — all returned to the calendar, albeit with modified schedules and COVID protocols in place. The relocation of the arts festival to Brook Run Park, which will be a permanent move, was lauded by organizers and spectators alike as a better option than its previous site on Dunwoody Village Parkway.
Slowly but steadily, the Perimeter Center area saw a return of hotel visitors and shoppers, but officials cautioned that the recovery would not reach pre-pandemic numbers until 2023 or beyond. The slow trickle of workers returning to the office was filled with stops and starts, with some organizations moving to permanent work-from-home arrangements and others offering staggered in-office shifts to allow for social distancing.
Despite a murky economic outlook, plans for major projects moved toward realization. High Street, a 36-acre, mixed-use project that had been discussed for more than a decade, received funding in October, with construction expected to begin in earnest in 2022. The first phase of the project will include 150,000 square feet of entertainment-driven retail and restaurants, 600 luxury rental apartments, 90,000 square feet of loft office space and 222,000 square feet of existing office space.
By a narrow margin, the City Council approved a high-rise development at 84 Perimeter Center East to include retail development and 225 over-55 apartments. Council members Joe Seconder, Stacey Harris and Tom Lambert voted against the plan, while Mayor Lynn Deutsch, and council members John Heneghan, Jim Riticher and Pam Tallmadge supported the zoning that would allow for its construction.
In other development-related matters, the council passed in October the long-discussed Dunwoody Village Overlay District after a protracted battle involving the commercial property owners, the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, and the city.
Another long-discussed project, the Georgetown Gateway Project, got underway in mid-summer, much to the chagrin of citizens in the surrounding area, who protested the loss of many trees along Chamblee Dunwoody Road. However, city officials said plans had been in place to replace all the trees that were displaced by the construction.
The City Council, which had passed an austere 2021 budget, revised expenditures as income increased. It continued with a conservative approach to its 2022 forecast, introducing a $52.4 million budget that maintained a comfortable rainy-day fund and increased programs at a minimal level. The budget included a 5.8% pay increase for police personnel, an incentive designed to attract and retain quality employees.
In March, the council kept the city’s long-time millage rate at 2.74, but DeKalb County’s 2021 property tax reassessment will mean higher taxes for most residential and commercial property owners.
The council also passed a sweeping sign ordinance in late summer after long discussions and several deferrals after input from local businesses. The new code will affect new businesses, or those business owners who modify their existing signage.
DeKalb County Schools
After a year of virtual learning, the DeKalb County School System re-opened to in-person attendance in March, with pandemic protocols in place, including masking and social distancing. Because of the pandemic, a significant number of parents withdrew their children for private school or home school options, resulting in a disparity in student-teacher ratios. In the spring, district officials introduced a plan to relocate teachers to other schools and districts, but the move was postponed after parents protested. In a surprise move in October, the school system consolidated classes at several schools in the Dunwoody area and moved teachers to new assignments in order to comply with federal student-to-teacher ratio standards.
Parks purchases and controversies
In April, the city purchased two tracts of privately owned land on Vermack Road, totaling about 9 acres, for development into a park. In addition, the city assumed control of about 10 acres that it acquired in a land swap that saw the relocation of two baseball fields from the longtime Roberts Drive location to an area adjacent to Peachtree Middle School.
Plans were to develop both tracts into parks, but the specifics of the suggested uses were greeted with a variety of opinions. The Roberts Drive property was slated for installation of basketball courts, a softball field and other community amenities, but neighbors said they opposed several elements suggested by the city, especially the softball fields.
Neighbors say they are worried about lighting and additional traffic the softball fields would bring, and they want the park to reflect a more passive use, with open fields and playgrounds only. The issue has yet to be resolved as the city continues to solicit citizen feedback. The improvements may be financed by a parks bond referendum, which would have to be approved by voters.
City Council shake-up
The makeup of the City Council changed by the sudden resignation of District 1 Councilwoman Pam Tallmadge, who moved out of the city. Mayor Lynn Deutsch appointed Ardy Bastien to fill the seat until the November elections. Newcomer Catherine Lautenbacher defeated former Councilman Terry Nall for the seat.
In somewhat of an upset, newcomer Rob Price defeated two-time incumbent Jim Riticher for the District 2 seat. Councilman Tom Lambert cruised comfortably over Brian Sims in District 3.
Tommy Marshall, a longtime coach and athletic director at Maris School, retired. Duane Waugh, a 1989 Marist alumni, assumed his post.
Stage Door Players, which had seen its fair share of controversy after dismissing artistic director Robert Egizio in 2020, saw more changes as executive director Debbie Fuse retired. Justine Ball assumes her role in 2022. The organization also changed its name to Stage Door Theatre.
Revered baseball coach and Dunwoody High School stalwart Tom Bass took over as principal at the school in September.
Brooks Curry, a Dunwoody native and swimmer at Louisiana State University, won a position on the 2020 Olympic 4x100 freestyle swim team after a breakthrough performance at the U.S. Olympic trial in Nebraska in June. His team won the gold in Tokyo. Curry swam the second leg in the preliminaries at the competition, which secured his gold medal.
The owners of E. 48th Street Market on Jett Ferry Road, long a favorite of displaced Italian Americans, celebrated their 35th year of operation.
Fr. Frances Egan, a police chaplain for the Dunwoody Police Department, died in November at the age of 86.