The Frazer Mess: When trying to be a good neighbor becomes impossible.
The Frazer center is a non-profit operating on the former estate of Equifax founder Cator Woolford. Frazer operates a school for adults with Cerebral Palsy, daycare for CP and “normal” infants and children, a low-cost hospitality house for area hospital patient relatives and an event garden. There’s a 20 acre old growth forest too; the Lungs of Lake Claire. Frazer is the big dog, the largest and wealthiest property in the neighborhood.
Consumer or Citizen?
The mess began in 2010 when the Frazer board started expanding operations.
They increased the size and scope of the childcare program, upgraded adult services, renovated and added hospitality housing and transformed the garden into a thing of beauty.
The expansion process led to some over-reaching on Frazer’s part. More events coupled with less noise enforcement got out of hand. Increased traffic turned a quiet street into a less-quiet one.
This led to a quite understandable push-back by the neighbors. The occasional wedding was one thing-a series of events broadcasting recorded music all weekend another. School traffic, especially the buses, were a hazard. An ad hoc group sprang up to oppose these disruptions.
Frazer’s board realized their failure to communicate with and to address neighborhood concerns. They met with the ad hoc group and took steps to address noise and traffic concerns. When these steps failed to satisfy the ad hoc group Frazer asked the Druid Hills Civic Association to mediate. Frazer continued make improvements: they installed sound boards and restricted amplified music. They reduced bus traffic and prohibited employee parking on neighborhood streets.
Critics were not satisfied. They wanted more concessions.
Frazer and its neighbors needed a clearly defined set of rules to manage the four distinct programs at the center.
Frazer‘s R85 residential zoning is out of date. That designation was fine for 45 years because everyone was cool with Frazer.
But now everyone was not cool, some are very hot. Frazer’s rezoning application (for a Special Land Use Permit or SLUP) is the issue at hand.
There have been two hearings so far.
The first appeared to resolve outstanding issues. The ad hoc group appeared to accept limiting the number of bus trips, garden events and other traffic and noise calming measures.
The second SLUP hearing ended differently. The ad hoc group “revised” their previous position and deemed Frazer guilty of operating a nightclub inferring late nights, loud music, and violence. Prior agreements on traffic mitigation were dismissed as insufficient. Frazer’s efforts at conciliation were characterized as bullying. DHCA, with the support of the ad hoc anti-Frazer group submitted a position paper outlining a new set of demands.
Go to the news section at Frazer’s site and scroll down to Zoning Overlay Update. Check out the FAQ and DHCA Position Statement.
1. They failed to share their expansion plans with the neighborhood.
2. They waited far too long to address the noise issue.
3. They tried to address individual concerns and were drawn into a continuous cycle of demands, resolutions and more demands.
4. They asked an organization outside the immediate neighborhood (Druid Hills Civic Association/DHCA) to mediate.
Frazer is guilty. They’re guilty of not soliciting input from their neighbors as they expanded. They’re guilty of not appreciating the noise problem and of not addressing it in a timely manner. They’re guilty of negotiating with individuals and an ad hoc group. They’re guilty of inviting an outside group to mediate.
Frazer is guilty of trying to make things right.
DHCA representatives wasted little time taking sides with the ad hoc neighborhood group opposing Frazer. DHCA’s size, resources and influence proved a potent weapon. Their position paper reads like a suburban HOA charter: it limits non-residential use, requires oversized buffers and restricts traffic and on-street parking. DHCA argues against changes to the status quo ante. Their insistence on strict controls and physical separation of residential from other use is antithetical to Lake Claire’s form, function and character. Land use standards in Druid Hills do not apply in Lake Claire.
Ad hoc group of “Anti-Frazer” neighbors:
Initial noise and traffic concerns were addressed. Why the continued opposition?
City growth before the suburban age was considered desirable; but not now. Poor urban planning and our auto-centric culture are the culprits here, not civic-service, non-profit institutions like Frazer. The acronyms NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) express this anti-growth sentiment.
The Frazer property and roads leading to it have been in place 45 years. Lake Claire’s street grid was designed to relieve pressure from busier roads. I’m not sympathetic to the traffic argument. Other streets in Lake Claire are much busier. Regular bus service, which would have reduced parking demand, was suspended partly because of neighborhood complaints. Frazier has done their best to accommodate increased traffic volume. Finally, some individuals have used the ad hoc group to advance personal and political agendas.
A Messy Situation
DHCA’s partisan involvement in the Frazer affair made the situation worse. It has divided us. Some neighbors have used the imprimatur of DHCA to promote their personal and political agendas. The Frazer board has tired of endless demands, additional costs and verbal abuse. Running a non-profit is difficult at the best of times-this Frazer Mess has caused them to question whether they want to stay here.
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They could always sell the property and move to the suburbs
I’m not a disinterested party. My house is closest to the garden. My daughter works there. My family knows Frazer staff and management. I mow their property, they loan me their mower when mine is broken. We talk. We’re neighbors.
Like most residents I use the Frazer property. I walk the garden, drive the street, cut through the forest.
“Cities can’t be managed, and that’s what keeps them so vibrant. They’re just these insane masses of people, bumping into each other and maybe sharing an idea or two. It’s the freedom of the city that keeps it alive.” Geoffrey West
The recommendations in DHCA’s position paper would diminish the vibrancy of Lake Claire, vibrancy noticeably absent from Druid Hills. Lake Claire is different than Druid Hills. It thrives on inclusiveness, not conformity, on mixed, not restricted use. Lake Claire and Candler Park operate on the principle that people bumping into each other is a good thing. Druid Hills (if one believes the position paper) is more concerned with historic preservation than liveliness. Frazer’s mission and plans outlined in their SLUP application are compatible with sustainable growth. They should not be punished for doing good works and serving several communities.
Frazer has been my good neighbor. I support the Frazer Center.
Final Thought: City or Suburb?
I may reside in Druid Hills but I live in Lake Claire. In my opinion DHCA has lost all creditability in this matter. It’s apparent to me that they do not share the interests of those whose homes are not defined in the Olmstead plan. I’d much rather live in a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood than a restrictive, architecturally significant one. I’d rather be a citizen than a consumer. I’d rather be a Lake Claire Neighbor.
Dan Curl 608 Lakeshore Drive
Upcoming Meetings at the Maloof Auditorium. 1300 Commerce Drive
Planning Commission: January 8, 2013 6:30 pm.
Board of Commissioners: January 22, 6:30 pm.