City Commission approves lowering speed limits in Decatur Heights neighborhood
By Mariann Martin, contributor
Despite a request by a local neighborhood association to wait to approve new speed limits without additional changes, city commissioners unanimously approved lowering the speed on three streets in the Decatur Heights Neighborhood.
Commissioners also voted during a meeting Tuesday evening to approve changes in two school construction plans and gave the city permission to clean up a property that has been deemed a safety hazard.
Decatur city officials recently received the go-ahead from the Georgia Department of Transportation to lower speed limits on Lockwood Terrace from Grove Street to the end, Ridgeland Avenue from Sycamore Drive to the end and Sycamore Drive from East Ponce de Leon to the city limits north of Forkner Drive.
Deanne Thomas, with the Decatur Heights Neighborhood Association, told commissioners the association had several concerns with the changes, and asked commissioners to delay their approval. The three sections recently approved can be enforced with radar and other speed detection devices, and police can ticket someone driving more than 1 mile per hour above the speed limit. However, Thomas noted the speed zone signs on those city streets look identical to signs on streets that cannot be patrolled with radar or laser. Under GDOT guidelines, residential streets must meet certain requirements before speed zones can be enforced using radar or laser.
“This causes an unfair community relations burden for Decatur police,” Thomas said, noting that residents would expect police to enforce the speed limit on all streets when they cannot legally do so. Not using different speed zone signs would also cause confusion for residents, she said.
Decatur Assistant City Manager David Junger noted that several other neighborhoods in Decatur have the two types of enforcement even though the signs are the same. Close to 50 percent of the streets in Decatur have speed limits that are not radar and laser enforceable, he noted.
“We use the same signage on all of them,” he said.
The Decatur Heights Neighborhood Association plans to meet with city commissioners next week, Thomas said after the meeting. The issue would likely be a topic of further discussion, she said.
City commissioners also voted to allow the city to clean up the property at 123 West Benson Street due to safety and health concerns. The property has had two fires recently, and the Decatur Municipal Court has issued a demolition order for the property, but the owner has appealed the ruling.
Mayor Pro Tem Fred Boykin and Commissioner Scott Drake both expressed frustration that the city could not do more to demolish the building and clean up the property since this site has been an issue for several years. In their vote, commissioners gave the city approval to address the immediate safety hazards and to clean up the debris on the property.
In other business:
– After a brief discussion, commissioners voted to allow the city to continue buying small tools and other items at Intown Ace Hardware, which is partially owned by Commissioner Tony Powers, who was recently elected to the commission. Powers recused himself from the room while the vote took place.
It is against city practices to utilize a business owned by city commissioners, but city officials noted it would cost the city more money and time to buy from other businesses. The amount purchased from the store is usually a small amount, with the city buying about $17,000 in merchandise in 2015. Commissioner Brian Smith said he agreed with the principle of not utilizing businesses owned by commissioners, but said he felt the city had valid reasons to continue using Intown Ace Hardware.
– During the meeting, commissioners viewed and voted to approve new construction phases at Renfroe Middle School and Decatur High School. Both schools are completing the first phase of their construction projects. The second phase for both schools with include changes to parking lots and unloading zones that will provide more room for busses to pull off city streets during loading and unloading times.
– In final business of the night, city officials presented a draft resolution outlining the city’s plans to support improvements on Scott Boulevard. The resolution, which is jointly supported by City Schools of Decatur, lists issues to address including reducing the speed limit, adding radar signs, improving signals and crosswalks, and lengthening the school zone. Scott Boulevard has the highest speed limit in Decatur and has long been an issue of concern for city residents. A change.org petition to address the street’s safety issues has more than 1,200 signatures. The resolution presented to city commissioners notes that the city will work with the Georgia Department of Transportation to make improvements to the street.