Interpreting Unpredictable Revisions to Main Street

For years, the City of Avondale Estates conducted studies, made plans, and drew up proposals to reconfigure the scar known as U.S. 278. This highway also serves as Avondale’s Main Street, bisecting its commercial core from the residential areas of the city. U.S 278 begins in western Arkansas and terminates somewhere on Hilton Head Island, but it’s used primarily as a local commuter route from the eastern parts of Metro Atlanta to job centers in Decatur and Atlanta; backups are a predictable way of life during the morning and afternoon rush.

The scapegoat for why these ambitious plans to turn U.S. 287 (a.k.a. E. College Ave) into a smaller Main Street languished has long been the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). Avondale’s vision is to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly by redesigning how the shops, parking, sidewalks, etc. interact with the heavily-trafficked highway, primarily by reducing the number of lanes. Avondale’s foil, GDOT, (sometimes referred to as the Georgia Department of Roads due to their lack of attention to multi-modal forms of transportation), expressed little interest in proposed “road diets.”

“The Georgia Department of Transportation has long been reluctant toward any scheme slowing traffic along state roads.” AJC – 9/27/16

However, in a surprising turn of events, GDOT recently reconsidered and the city announced they will move forward with plans to reduce U.S. 278 from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction, as well as fewer turn lanes. This announcement also predicts wider sidewalks, fewer curb cuts, and improved pedestrian access in general.

The announcement does not include detailed plans, maps, or renderings, so I’ve yet to see if the road diet only applies to the downtown district, or if the changes will affect the road through the entire span of Avondale to Sams Crossing.  If it does, presumably the City of Decatur will try to get in on the action and continue the road diet on their stretch. A portion of the highway through Decatur is already reduced to two lanes in front of Agnes Scott College.

US287

The effect of a 287 road diet on Lanier Gardens remains to be seen. But this development, along with the under-construction-as-of-this-writing South City Partners development across the street will likely turn more eyes to the park. To wit, I’ve seen a huge uptick in traffic on this blog in recent weeks.

I’d love to know what brought you here! Please leave a comment to say how you came upon this blog and any thoughts you have on Lanier Gardens Park. Thanks!

 

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Formulating Metafiction: Nature Preserves, County Government, and the Doldrums of Public Administration

Apparently DeKalb County considers Lanier Gardens a “Nature Preserve.” According to their most recent Parks and Recreation System Facilities Inventory Matrix from 2013, Lanier Gardens shows exactly this singular feature. Suspiciously, the 2006 version does not list Lanier Gardens as containing a nature preserve. [UPDATE: 7/12/17 All links to Parks and Rec Inventory Matrices are now dead. For some reason, these useful documents are no longer available to the public. I speculate this is due to leadership changes within DeKalb County’s Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs along with county website improvements and rebranding.]

DeKalb County is certainly playing fast and loose with the term “nature preserve” seeing how there is very little “nature” in this park. Google defines a nature preserve as: a tract of land managed so as to preserve its flora, fauna, and physical features.

Nature Preserve
Lanier Gardens: A not-so-bucolic DeKalb County Park alleged to contain a nature preserve, in context with surroundings

The majority of Lanier Gardens faces Arcadia Avenue. The name “Arcadia” refers to an ancient civilization of pastoralism and harmony with nature. Furthermore, “Arcadia” has developed into a poetic byword for a noble and peaceful wilderness.¹ Almost comically, Arcadia Avenue is literally .2 miles long (POINT 2!) not including N Arcadia Ave separated by Sams Crossing; Lanier Gardens is the only designated green space along this strip of road (four lanes + a divider).

I’m a strong believer in the power of language; but calling Lanier Gardens a Nature Preserve is inaccurate when it can barely be called a park.

There are several other falsehoods contained in the documents mentioned above. The address listed for Lanier Gardens is 22 ARCADIA AVE, AVONDALE ESTATES 30002. The house across the street is 733 Arcadia Ave so “22” doesn’t sound right. Also, Lanier Gardens’ existence in Avondale Estates’ boundaries is questionable. (Some maps include both the north and south parcels as all part of Lanier Gardens; some don’t. Most maps loop in the just the north parcel of Lanier Gardens as part of Avondale’s 2012 annexation push; however, my research shows park maintenance is handled by Unincorporated DeKalb County and is discussed on this blog previously). Finally, the documents state the park as 1 acre. Lanier Gardens is technically two parcels totaling .68 acres on a good day, if you include the parcel directly south, down to Craigie Ave (which has an underground gas line buried beneath). Some maps show only the north parcel (.22 acres); some show both.

Another document recently uncovered is the DeKalb County Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs Inventory from December 2015. This document correctly lists the address as 2699 East College Avenue, Decatur (postal, not city). No mention of a Nature Preserve contained therein.

¹Directly quoted from Wikipedia but whatever.

Lanier Gardens: City vs County

DeKalb
New DeKalb County Georgia Logo

Back in 2012, Avondale Estates annexed a strip west of the city along E. College Avenue all the way to Sams Crossing, creating a clean border with the City of Decatur.

A small mention in a recently discovered article quotes then-Avondale Estates Mayor Ed Rieker as saying his city was interested in purchasing Lanier Gardens around this time.

However, Dekalb County refused to sell for reasons unknown (to Rieker). Based on the article, Rieker and other Dekalb mayors were frustrated with the lack of availability of county commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton.

Here’s his quote:

“It went through the staff and got to the commissioner. It just was delay, after delay,” Rieker said. “We’d go over there and sit for two hours and they’d say we’re going to send it to another committee. So finally, we just quit going. They just decided not to sell it to us. There wasn’t any real reason, like they needed it for anything, because it’s a little pocket park. I think they thought they were doing us a favor somehow by selling it to us. Really, we’re fine without it. It’s just extra work for us.” –Ed Rieker as quoted by Decaturish 1/22/14

A review of the DeKalb Board of Commissioners meeting minutes shows the sale of Lanier Gardens to Avondale Estates was punted several months until finally a discussion was held in the April 9, 2013 meeting. The resolution authorizing the sale of Lanier Gardens Park (listed as being valued at $22,500) was withdrawn at this meeting due to a “number of moving parts.” DeKalb Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton cited planned GDOT  improvements to the traffic light signalling and that the county should retain access to the signal as it relates to these plans. Furthermore, Commissioner Sutton referenced a PATH Foundation plan to link several trails in the area. This presumably refers to the proposed East Decatur Greenway which in no way runs through Lanier Gardens. I have also confirmed with East Decatur Greenway’s director that there have never been plans to connect the PATH with the Greenway through Lanier Gardens.

PATH

Mayor Rieker’s description of events seems a bit inflated. Yes, the commission punted for several months but eventually discussed their reasons for not selling. Their friction could’ve quickly been resolved if the City of Avondale and Commissioner Sutton simply consulted. Furthermore, if Avondale Estates really wanted the park, they could’ve easily refuted the claim that the East Decatur Greenway was going to run through the park.

However, the GDOT impediment might be accurate. Several utilities intersect under ground around this intersection, including a gas line directly underneath Lanier Gardens, water line, electrical lines, Google Fiber, etc. GDOT and the City of Avondale Estates have been working together for years to improve pedestrian and bicycle access, known as the “Western Gateway,” to and from the Tudor Village and Avondale MARTA station. So far, they’ve only made plans, and lots of them (exhibit A, B, and C, just to name a few). As of this writing, not a single tangible step has been made to make improvements to sidewalks, bike lanes, etc. nor has construction begun on proposed developments. But given the number of utilities and government entities that all border and intersect here, the lack of progress is understandable.

At this time, I am cautiously optimistic about seeing any of these plans come to fruition in my lifetime and will probably write another post about this topic soon. However, in my opinion, Avondale Estates could’ve made the case in ’13 that purchasing the park is part of their Western Gateway master plan and shown how they have already partnered with GDOT for this project. Therefore, the county wouldn’t need to retain the property for “paperwork” and access reasons, as Commissioner Sutton claimed.

To this day, Dekalb County handles the maintenance and upkeep (regular mowing, edging, and policing the occasional loiterer). However, Avondale Estates strongly desires to increase their greenspace as evidenced by the recent formation of an ad hoc greenspace committee.

The green-space committee mostly originates from a paucity of green space included in early plans [from proposed developments]. –AJC.com 9/3/15

While Mayor Rieker was a little dismissive of the “little pocket park,” the .68 acres of Lanier Gardens would’ve certainly bumped Avondale’s greenspace-to-area ratio.

I’m very curious how the park would’ve changed if placed in Avondale’s hands. I’m also curious if Lanier Gardens factors into the ongoing annexation battles from this contentious area. Decatur would also benefit from added greenspace; consider that in 2005, Decatur had approximately 3% land dedicated to open space (acres/1,000 residents). Decatur likely has even less today. The National Recreation and Park Association recommends 6.25% to 10.5%.NRPA

Greenspace is at an increasing premium in this area. Little ol’ Lanier Gardens just might be a nice prize to whoever gets it.

Found it! The origins of Lanier Gardens

MARTA planning documents have just been published online. These are a goldmine filled with interesting details and maps. Also, one can’t help but feel a sense of sadness from some of the optimistic plans that never came to fruition.

As I pored through the 164 page Avondale: Transit Station Area Development Plan, I came across this interesting nugget regarding “Development Area 6” a.k.a. Decatur Terrace:

“This single-family residential neighborhood provides low to moderate income housing, a valuable and scarce resource in the County. Therefore, preservation of this area is recommended. The proposed North-South Connector [Katie Kerr] will require the removal of a number of homes: however the neighborhood as a whole will benefit from the linear park created as a buffer from the improved Arcadia Avenue.” (Emphasis added).

Linear Lanier MARTA

Awesome! This solves the mystery…somewhat. Two new questions emerged:

1. Why wasn’t the park extended the entire length down Katie Kerr ending a Craigie Street? The land is still there and has been dug up and replanted to repair old gas pipelines. However, the park abruptly ends after a mere 50 feet or so.

2. Could the reference to the “linear” park actually have contributed to the name “Lanier?” Is Lanier simply a bastardization of “Linear?”

NOPE! Just a coincidence.

Within the park rests a monument which recognizes both former residents and floral shop owners Larry and Stella Lanier.

IMG_8183

Fascinating.

This gets even more interesting as I searched for Larry and Stella Lanier. Here’s what I discovered:

The Laniers did indeed own and operate a flower shop at what is now Lanier Gardens. The shop was originally the Lanier’s residence from 1925-1946, which they converted to the floral shop in business from 1946-1973. The shop’s address was 2699 E. College Avenue according to a mention in a 1961 Agnes Scott College yearbook. Presumably the shop was closed when, as part of the Avondale MARTA station development, construction began on the “North-South Connector” and expansion of Arcadia Ave connecting E. College to S. Columbia Dr.

Agnes Scott Lanier Florist
Silhouette (1961), Agnes Scott College Yearbook, page 201

Interestingly, a woman names Rubye N. Lanier is listed as an assistant to the college’s dietitian in this yearbook, along with several years pre and post. I’m unable to determine if there is any relation.

Back to florists Larry and Stella Lanier, based on a 1940 census, they resided just down the street from their shop at 785 E. College Ave near what is now La Caverna Bakery. [3/29/18 Update: After randomly speaking with an old-timer in Avondale Estates, he informed me that Stella Lanier lived much of her golden years right around the corner in Avondale Estates at 19 Clarendon Dr. and was highly respected among neighbors.]

Also according to census data, there was a 15 year age difference between the couple (Larry was 46 in 1940, Stella only 31 years old.) Stella’s maiden name was Burns and she also had a sister, Velma A. Burns (25 in 1940).

Even more interesting is that less than 10 miles away from Lanier Gardens, a little neighborhood in Tucker, GA built in the early 70’s contains a street named Stella Burns Dr. which connects to Velma Burns Ct.! Furthermore, just up the road from Stella Burns Dr. about 1 mile northward lies Burns Lake within Heritage Golf Links.

Finally, there appears to be some interesting brickwork around the border of Lanier Gardens with a sidewalk leading to a cement pad. After poking around this pad I noticed what appears to be a hole filled in with cement. My best guess is this used to be a flag pole (or perhaps a sign post). I hope to find historical photos of the shop to get a better idea of the structure that used to be there.

Please leave comments if I got any of this wrong or you have more info.

What is Lanier Gardens?

IMG_8182

Think of a public park, any park. The park where you played right-field in little league or fell off a seesaw. Some were big, wide-open spaces. Some were glorified playgrounds. But they all usually had a few fundamental ingredients:

  • An element of nature, be it trees, rocks, a pond, or stalactites
  • Signs Posted (“Keep Pets Leashed,” “Watch out for Moose,” or “No Dumping”)
  • A trail of some kind, maybe a make-out bench
  • Varying states of upkeep

By definition, Lanier Gardens is a park. But if you’ve ever laid eyes on it, you might argue otherwise. Are there elements of nature? Yes! A few bushes and a couple of trees. Signs posted? Yes! The park displays three signs, the Lanier Gardens moniker, an Avondale Estates city limits sign, along with a “No Loitering” sign. (For some, loitering might be considered the exact purpose of visiting a park. However, this becomes an issue if you’re homeless.) Does Lanier Gardens have a trail or a make-out bench? Sort of! There’s 20 yards of concrete pavement lined with brick stripes, along with a circular brick planter. The cleanliness question gives me pause. While it’s not exactly a dump, it’s location near the intersection of Katie Kerr/Sams Crossing and E. College Avenue lends itself to collecting the occasional litter. So Yes! Lanier Gardens is an official park. A DeKalb County park. A community park.

This leads me to the purpose of this blog. I hope to discover this unique little park’s history and inform others who, like me, find a surprising lack of information about the park on the internet.