City Council Takes First Steps on Sidewalk Ordinance

by Jack White

Repaired_SidewalkAs many people know, VHCA and Virginia-Highland property owners made a tremendous investment in sidewalks over the last 2.5 years. This was possible because neighbors and VHCA stepped up financially, and because VHCA was able to bundle over 200 improvements to move the repairs through the city. To this day it is very difficult for individual citizens to repair sidewalks cost-effectively.  A daunting wall of permitting red tape is only the first challenge.

The project benefited from a city program that provided sidewalk repairs for about a third of the city’s actual cost, making it a good value for property owners. That program is no longer available, but the process of funding and delivering the repairs focused City Hall’s attention on sidewalk repairs in a new way. While Virginia-Highland still needs more sidewalk work, the improvement is noticeable.

Along the way, VHCA, including Peggy Berg, the Board member who chairs the Safety Committee, got deeply involved in the nuts and bolts in the political challenges involved in improving our sidewalk system citywide. While the neighborhood repair program has ended, the advocacy campaign continues.

In mid-July our City Council unanimously revised the applicable ordinance in several important ways. For the first time, the city has appropriated funds directly for sidewalk repairs, and the Public Works Department is now required to ‘prioritize’ where the greatest needs are. Peggy’s op-ed on the topic in last week’s AJC is linked here.

The initial levels of funding are modest, but there’s now a better chance that monies will be spent on making our sidewalks safe and usable. Over time, this should reduce sidewalk injuries that lead people to sue the city.  Settlements of such suits have cost the city several million dollars in the last decade, a fact that was not lost on anyone.  An ounce of prevention can save a lot of money.

An immediate task for Public Works under the revised Ordinance is the creation of a prioritization policy, which (in our view) has to be based on a formal sidewalk inventory if repairs are to be planned objectively.  Some readers may recall the work of Georgia Tech Civil Engineering professor (and VaHi resident) Randy Guensler and his (then) graduate students Alice Grossman and Zan Frackelton. In 2013 they developed an innovative wheelchair-mounted camera with vibration sensors that videoed and measured the roughness of sidewalks.  Whether those results – they have examined about half the city – and that system (or others) are used, a formal inventory and approach to sidewalk management will be critical to thoughtful and effective spending by the city.

The revised law also did not delete the section that formally makes individual owners responsible for their abutting sidewalks.  This archaic, unenforced, (and unenforceable) provision remains at odds with existing city practice and the direction of this new ordinance. It needs to be removed, if only for clarity.

These limitations notwithstanding, it’s worth noting that even this first step took a huge effort from Councilman Mary Norwood and faced resistance from the administration.  (Please note that Alex Wan’s initial hesitation on this issue concerned the city’s ability to fund the commitments made in the legislation. He  supported the final draft as a financially responsible start.)

The director of the pedestrian advocacy group PEDS (an organization to which VHCA has donated for many years, and still does) was disappointed in the final version, calling it insufficient.  (Sally Flocks’ op-ed may be read here.)  Peggy agrees that much more is needed, but she argued very effectively at Council that passing this bill at least (and at last) put the camel’s nose in the tent. The creation of a framework for future funding and moving toward formal policies were good first steps.

Now we – this ‘we’ is neighborhoods, NPUs, and citizens – need to keep pushing on funding and implementation.  It’s particularly important that this program remain a viable and visible item in next year’s municipal budget. On that, almost everyone will agree.

Finally, that VaHi got so many sidewalks repaired was a result of Peggy’s doggedness, the willingness of several successive VHCA Boards to spend (a lot of) money on the matter, support from Councilmember Wan, and deep enthusiasm and financial support for the outcomes from local citizens.  The enthusiasm of our own residents to get things done now showed that such repairs were quite practical, especially if approached in an organized manner, and made it a lot harder for City Hall to keep burying the issue.

From a poly sci perspective, our sidewalks are a good example of how effective fundraising, planning, and a targeted public effort can make a real difference.  From a practical perspective, it immediately made our neighborhood more walkable for us and our visitors. In even the most optimistic estimate, it will take the City a very long time to start making repairs on their own initiatives in our community.

In the larger context, it is fundamentally unfair that even the partial successes VaHi has enjoyed required a funded civic association, enthusiastic citizens, and the unusual focus and determination that Peggy displayed. Safe, walkable sidewalks are not just for kids and seniors and those who can afford to pay more – every community in Atlanta needs and deserves them. Let’s make it happen.

Jack White is a member of the VHCA Planning Committee and Board.


Voice – August 2012 – City Installs New Signage Along North Highland Avenue

By: John Becker

Thanks to the efforts of VHCA Graffiti Task Force chair Laura Voisinet, city workers recently installed ten shiny new traffic signs along North Highland Avenue. A new speed limit sign and new fluorescent signs warning motorists to look for pedestrians in the crosswalk replace ones that were damaged and plastered with stickers and graffiti. Several mid-crosswalk pedestrian warning signs were also replaced or repaired, and signage was added alerting motorists to the possible presence of senior pedestrians.

“The new signage is the result of a fruitful exchange between our task force, the city of Atlanta’s graffiti task force, and the city’s public works department,” says Voisinet.

“We want to especially thank Officer Brad Etterle, the Atlanta Police Department’s designated graffiti abatement officer, and Keith Fleming, chair of the city’s graffiti task force, for helping get these signs installed and for their ongoing help fighting graffiti in our neighborhood,” Voisinet adds.

Voisinet encourages all residents to help keep the new signs looking good by removing any stickers that are applied, and contacting the task force at to report any tagging that needs to be removed.

Way to go Laura and task force!

City of Atlanta workers recently replaced damaged and tagged street signs like the two above on North Highland Avenue…

…with brand new fluorescent signs like the ones in the photos below.


Voice – August 2012 – The VH/Morningside Parent Association: A Valuable Community Resource

The Virginia-Highland Morningside Parent Association (VHMPA) provides a link between the parents of these respective neighborhoods for the sharing of parental interests and concerns and to provide information, activities and support that enhance the members’ child-rearing efforts. The VHMPA communicates to its membership by publishing a monthly newsletter and operates an email network to facilitate information sharing among members. Currently, the VHMPA has more than 900  members.

Among the many VHMPA services are:

  • supports local events with volunteers;
  • provides a sales platform for household goods and other items;
  • facilitates the exchange of information on community services and resources;
  • organizes social events;
  • partners with local businesses (restaurants, etc.);
  • financially supports local schools;
  • organizes playgroups;
  • serves as a neighborhood security exchange.

Participation in the VHMPA requires residence in the Virginia-Highland or Morningside/Lenox Park neighborhoods. Dues for participation are $20 annually. For further information go to


Voice – August 2012 – A New Garbage Can Today; A More Beautiful Neighborhood Tomorrow

New Volunteer Group To Focus on Upkeep of VaHi’s Commercial Areas

By: John Becker
A shiny new garbage can made its debut last week on the southwest corner of North Highland and St. Charles avenues. The new receptacle – provided by Keep Atlanta Beautiful and paid for by Atlanta-based UPS – is the first tangible byproduct of the efforts of a new neighborhood group that seeks to spruce up VaHi’s commercial nodes.

According to its mission statement, Keep Virginia-Highland Beautiful is an informal group of volunteers committed to keeping VaHi an inviting and well-maintained neighborhood that residents, business associates and visitors enjoy – and criminals avoid. Specifically, the group plans to make sustainable improvements to litter control and weed removal around the neighborhood’s commercial districts.

Peggy Denby, Executive Director of Keep Atlanta Beautiful, (l) and John Wolfinger, Keep Virginia-Highland Beautiful member, apply a decal to the new garbage can at N. Highland and St. Charles avenues.

While it’s working loosely with the VHCA’s Public Safety Committee chaired by John Wolfinger, the group currently has no formal ties to the civic association. Wolfinger explains why the group formed.

“Many of the businesses and property owners in the commercial areas along North Highland do an excellent job of maintaining their property – not just the storefront, but all the way to the street. They keep litter picked up, sweep their sidewalks and curbs, maintain plantings, remove illegal handbills from poles, and more. Sadly, some owners do not share this focus.”

Wolfinger says the inconsistency creates a poor public image and contributes to the “broken window” theory that says poorly maintained properties send an inviting message to criminals. Wolfinger points out that, while a few dedicated residents have taken it upon themselves to periodically clean up problem areas to supplement the efforts of many business owners, a more sustainable solution is needed.

“Our goal is to expand the regularly scheduled clean-up services that occur in certain commercial areas to include all commercial properties in the neighborhood, including those where upkeep is lacking,” says committee member Kay Stephenson. “We plan to hold special resident and merchant cleanup days and will be contacting property owners – including owners of a few foreclosed storefronts that have become unsightly – to request help. We also hope to develop a kit of resources so that each property or business owner can easily maintain their part of the streetscape.”

Stephenson points out that the group is just getting started and cautions not to expect dramatic change overnight.

“Informally we’re looking first at the St. Charles node,” Stephenson says, “but over time we intend to address all the commercial areas throughout the neighborhood.”

Anyone who shares the committee’s vision of creating a more sustainably beautiful Virginia-Highland is encouraged to get involved. Send an email to Stephenson at or committee member Tim Langan at and you’ll be kept up to date on group activities. If you have thoughts about how the committee can accomplish its goals, Stephenson says, include them in your email.

VOICE tips its hat to the committee for checking the first item off its to-do list with placement of the new garbage can at N. Highland and St. Charles. We look forward to seeing more improvements in the weeks and months ahead.


Focus on John Howell Park

Comments Solicited for Proposed Improvements

It has been a busy and productive year on the Virginia-Highland Civic Association Parks Committee.  Forming a new committee, coordinating with the City Parks Department, addressing challenges at the corner of Virginia and N. Highland, and doing a long-overdue comprehensive analysis of what was working and not working at John Howell Park have made for a very active spring and summer.  In each of these efforts, we’ve had tremendous support from a variety of volunteers – experienced and new – and professionals. We’re excited to report on what’s been done thus far and what lies in front of us, and we need your ideas, thoughts, and support, particularly at John Howell Park.

The year began in winter with the establishment of a new committee – John Becker, Lauren Wilkes Fralick, Laura Voisinet, and Jack White – and the repair of a half-dozen damaged benches in the Streetscape near our namesake intersection.  Several benches there had lost a significant number of slats from their back frames, and several more were about to do the same.  One of the causes was a mortise and tendon joint that could have been stronger.  The bench manufacturer shared our disappointment that the benches’ strength was less than expected and provided new backs at cost and additional metal braces for free.  Those were installed, but as an extra measure of support, the craftsman making the repairs – Gary Jones, recommended to us by the woodworking crew at Highland Hardware – added new reinforcement strips along the backs of all the benches and the fronts of several others in high-use locations.  The results have been excellent so far; the new backs will soon age to grey to match the original parts, this design is significantly stronger than the original, and the cost of bringing every bench up to this standard was less than the price of even three new benches.  The visual and functional improvements were obvious, and feedback and results thus far has been excellent.

Of course, no design will withstand deliberate abuse, so if you see any such behaviors, please call the police and let us know.

An even more dramatic change at this same corner was VaHi resident Nonie Daniel’s design and supervised volunteer installation of a planting in the Triangle in front of Taco Mac’s, in and around the Virginia-Highland sign.  Nonie is a longtime resident of the neighborhood; her professional landscaping skills have been on display for many years at the corner of Hudson and Lanier.  At the Triangle she created a lovely mix of perennials and annuals, with a lot of different colors and textures and led an enthusiastically-supported planting effort and a carefully-monitored ongoing watering plan.  This formerly drab space is now lovely and peaceful-looking.  There will be additional work there this fall; like all successful planting sites – especially public ones – ongoing maintenance is part of the project.

It would be easy to underplay the importance of Nonie’s establishing a support team of volunteers who are invested in the work at the Triangle and provide a host of eyes upon the results.  This model has been wildly successful over the last decade at Orme Park, where a vigilant and enduring band of neighbors and enthusiasts have been instrumental in the redesign and remaking of that park.  That sort of organized support is critical to the success of neighborhood parks; helping that happen in all our public spaces is a major goal of the new Parks Committee.

With Orme functioning well and the Triangle humming along under Nonie’s direction, the preponderance of our effort has been directed to John Howell – which is appropriate, because (as several citizens have pointed out, in thoughtful detail), it needed it.  This park holds a special place in this neighborhood’s heart and history.  It sits upon land redeemed from the successful early 70’s highway fight that saved and defined this community.  (The VHCA was created specifically 40 years ago to fight the road.)   It is named for and is a tribute to the vision and courage of neighborhood resident (and VHCA President) John Howell, whose early work in leading and establishing the fight against AIDS made him a revered figure far beyond the boundaries of this city.   And it’s the site of the Cunard Playground, which memorializes the three members of that Virginia-Highland family who were killed in a tragic accident nearly a decade ago.

Constructed on two levels, it is our largest and most-visited park; its lower half contains two separate playgrounds, two volleyball courts (that also serve as the city’s largest children’s sandboxes when not used for sport), two small grassy areas, and winding walkways.  The upper half (the part nearer Barnett) was designed with lawns and larger open areas to allow assemblies and quieter sitting and strolling spaces away from the oft-busier and noisier lower one.

The neighborhood and civic association put a huge amount of effort and money into establishing the park, but very little has been spent there for the last half-decade, with obvious and painful results.  The Parks Committee began by repeatedly walking through and talking to users about what they liked and didn’t, what they’d change, and – curiously – where they were from.  All the responses were informative and interesting; we met tons of neighbors and folks we knew, but we were also surprised by the number of people that travel from distant neighborhoods to play there and the variety of distinct groups that use the area at different times and days.  The enthusiasm for the park displayed by lots of people and ages was fortifying and great to hear.

And we needed to hear it, because the more time we spent with citizens, potential contractors and landscape professionals, the longer the list of challenges became.  It included – take a deep breath – the need for long overdue pruning of the original plantings, the removal of numerous invasives and volunteer-installed plants (some in odd and inappropriate locations), the need to stabilize and replace several sections of fence, address broken light globes, replace missing bricks, clean and sand benches covered with mold, repurpose a granite box that once served as a sandbox but had become a litter box, fix eroding and unplanted banks along Virginia, re-establish grassy areas that had not been fertilized or aerated for years and were filled with a variety of weeds, mulch trees and plantings, and address the highly-visible challenge of either re-planting –  or changing to a path – an eroding gully functioning as a dry-weather connection between the two levels.

Around the volleyball courts, there are more challenges.   Sand spilling unchecked from the courts onto Arcadia makes planting on that side impossible; the same situation exists at the back of the first court, where sand migrates freely up to and through the fence.   Also problematic is the absence of good delineation between the volleyball courts and the adjacent playground; children not infrequently are on the volleyball side of the granite wall and bumpers during warm-up and play, a situation that makes no one happy.

We found good news, too – lots of supportive citizens willing to volunteer time and money, and knowledgeable contractors (even the ones we didn’t wind up using) who thought the park was fundamentally beautiful and offered useful suggestions.  The City of Atlanta Parks Department is and has been helpful and enthusiastic, even though we and they wish that their overall budget – particularly on infrastructure issues like leaky water lines and electrical work – was larger. Their maintenance crews have been thoughtful and communicated well with us.  Challenges abound and will continue, but their effort – particularly at carefully not cutting the grass so low – has been great.  The Parks Director, Doug Voss, and Design Director, Paul Taylor, could not have been more supportive.

Another key partner in this area has been Volleyball Atlanta, the group that built and has maintained the courts from day one.  Reconnecting with them was critical to make sure that any changes meet their needs and in having them as a partner in fundraising for work on that end of the park.   Lauren Wilkes Fralick has spent a huge amount of time on this, with excellent results.

Our contractor, Walter Bland of Rock Springs Farm, is a knowledgeable and experienced professional with particular expertise in native plants and horticulture.  His crews have done an excellent job reacting to unexpected challenges under variable conditions.

Quarterbacking all this has been the park’s original landscape architect, Peter Frawley, who lives nearby and is also the designer at New Highland Park.  Peter’s knowledge of the park’s original design goals has been a key in this, both in contemplating solutions and in evaluating and validating the priorities and perspectives offered by various contractors.

Here’s the way we approached it.  With Peter and Walter’s guidance, we divided the list into short-term and long-term projects.  We first addressed as many as possible of what we identified as park ‘quality of life’ issues: pruning, mulching (still underway, as fast as the city can get chips to the park), relocating maverick plantings, sanding, sealing, and cleaning benches (still underway, with some easily visible results), fixing broken bricks and undercut sidewalks and the worst sections of fence (nothing easy about it), removing invasive plants, and planting the littered and abandoned planter.  We also aerated, fertilized, and removed weeds from the grassy areas, to see and support what useable lawn was still there, and to set the stage and to define the scope of what we needed to do on the lawns this fall.

While these efforts to protect and enhance John Howell’s existing features (planted and built) have been underway, the Parks Committee has been working with Peter and Volleyball Atlanta on some potential solutions to the long-range challenges.  They do not represent any fundamental changes to the park’s original master plan, but some of them will be noticeable, particularly around the volleyball court.  The city is very much in the loop; all of the ideas – there are likely to be more as we hear from more users – have been vetted through the Parks Department.  We didn’t want to spend time discussing ideas in the neighborhood only to discover later that Parks had objections.  They had some useful comments, but are fine with the concepts.

A more detailed plan view of them is available on the web site here:

And here’s a brief summary of the more notable changes:

Around the volleyball courts and along Arcadia:

1.      Need:  Sand spilling off the court through the fence onto Arcadia, making planting impossible and smothering trees.

2.      Need: Sand spilling off the rear of the court onto the walkway, making planting impossible.

Response:  Move the court nearest Arcadia 10’ toward Virginia Avenue. Remove the existing fence and ugly sandbags and replace with a u-shaped granite sitting wall around 3 sides of the court nearest Arcadia, with a new fence atop it.  The granite wall will contain the sand; plantings can be installed behind them.  The new fence will be about 18’ from the curb on Arcadia; there should be room for plantings and a new sidewalk connecting to Virginia Avenue, if we want that.  The new fence atop the wall (with the same net currently in use) will contain more volleyballs.

3.      Need:  There is insufficient separation between the volleyball courts and playground.

Response:  Extend the existing granite wall on both ends; install appropriate plantings around the existing light pole, for shade and delineation purposes.  When the courts are empty, children can still walk around the extended wall to access the sand, but the break between the two areas will be clearer.  An additional new sandbox can be installed on the lightly-trafficked piece of the playground walkway on the end nearest Virginia, if desired.

4.      Need:  A second fence along Virginia to catch errant volleyballs that clear the first fence and go into traffic.  There’s room for the fence, but the JHP sign would be behind it.

Response: Peter had suggested moving that sign in any case, and Parks Department concurs. Install a new wrought iron fence to match the once across the street at Inman between the easing columns.  Raise those columns slightly, if needed.  Move the sign toward the now more-spacious corner, where it will be more visible and can be part of a design that includes a formal planting of annuals and perennials to match a similar planned for the Barnett corner.

5.      Need: The upper-level banks above the sidewalk along Virginia Ave. are barely planted and often used as a pedestrian shortcut.  It’s hard to keep mulch or pine straw there; when events are held, those doing set-up and teardown often use the hillsides instead of the walkways.

Response: Install low granite curbs along the sidewalks to hold the soil, and plant appropriately.  Monitor access during growth and events until the plantings are established.  A wrought iron fence would work too, even a low one.

6.      Need:  The upper level walkway is partly bricked and partly not.

Response: Sell and install inscribed bricks there, bringing closure to a project initiated a decade ago and giving another generation of citizens a chance to be memorialized in the park.

7.      Need:  There’s an eroding gully between the upper and lower level that conveys water and silt in rainstorms and is frequently used as a shortcut, though it can be slippery and tough to walk on.

Response: Citizens appear to be voting with their feet for a pedestrian connection here, and many interviewed users were supportive of the option.  Install granite steps; connect them to the existing upper walkway via stepping stones amidst low plantings that will absorb flows.  Plant the areas along the sidewalk to absorb water there too.

There are other contemplated changes; these are the major ones, at least in our view.  The VHCA web site will have detailed pdfs; links will be readily visible on our home page.  There are many ways you can provide input.  Landscape architect Peter Frawley will conduct walking tours at 7 PM on Wednesday, July 18th, and Monday, July 23rd.  Parks Co-Chairs Lauren Wilkes Fralick and Jack White will conduct tours at 7:30 AM on Tuesday, July 31st and 9 AM on Saturday, August 4th..  Please come to those if you are interested.  You may also write us at  If none of those times work for you, let us know.  We’re there a lot, and we’ll find a time to meet you.

Your thoughts and concerns are welcome.  These ideas are a synthesis of many different observations and ideas, but they are very much notset in stone.   Please let us hear from you – what you like and what you don’t, and your new ideas.

“What might all this cost, who will pay for it, when might it happen?”

Good questions, every one.  Obviously final costs will depend on whatever plan is adopted.  Costs vary with fits and finishes; there are some variables there, but the broad conceptual criteria were that the proposed changes address the known problems, were practical, needs as little maintenance as possible, and were consistent with the park’s overall standards.  We went through a similar process at Orme and approved a plan with much broader changes than those currently on the table here without a specific notions of how we’d pay for it; then we costed it (with some options) and went out in search of grants to support it, did fundraising internally, and asked for help from other groups.  Some of these solutions stand alone and can be sequentially; some are closely-related and need to be done together.

Searching for specific support requires an approved plan; until you have one, we’re still talking.  We think it’s all doable, as it proved to be at Orme.  For openers, we’ll look to our colleagues at Park Pride for grant opportunities, possibly as early as this fall if we’re ready; perhaps we can be.  Volleyball Atlanta will be going through similar processes to raise money for their part of the changes around the courts.

Many grants require matching funds; we’re hoping that twixt all these parties and citizen volunteers, we can bring some good grant applications with substantive support to the table.

Please write us:

For the Parks Committee,

Lauren Wilkes Fralick and Jack White


Voice — June 2012 — Summerfest Success!

It's just barely over, but it appears this year will be our most successful Summerfest ever.

(See the photo gallery)

A note from VHCA Board President Jack White:

I'd like to say a massive thank-you to our Co-Directors, Pamela Papner and Ann Guy, and all the Summerfest committee leads and board members who worked so hard on this. The parade (led by Kris Smith), dinner (led by David Wolfson) and movie on Friday were attended by 1200 residents, and fun was had by all.

We were fortunate to have Paige Hewell and former resident and board member Aly Higgins in charge of operations. The Kidsfest area (led by Arturo Cruz-Tucker) was the best ever and raised more than $5,000! The recycle shop and t-shirts (led by Ann Guy and Suzanne Scully) were outstanding. Our PR leads, Laura Joines and J.D. Kellum, got all the posters out, brochures delivered citywide, and managed as well to get Summerfest featured on "CBS Better Mornings Atlanta" on Friday – what great publicity! I'll mostly leave the acknowledgements of all the extraordinary volunteers and professionals to Pamela and Ann – they are almost too numerous to thank. I will add that if there is anyone in this community that John Becker (who led/managed all volunteers) doesn't know, it's not apparent to me.

By every measure – preparation (including the successful pleas to the weather gods), organization, enthusiasm, quality of artists, vendors, attendance – it was a fantastic weekend. And as for that other metric, income – well, that story too is properly left to Pamela, Ann and the committee after they sort things out. But they were smiling.


Voice — June 2012 — Join the new VHCA Education Committee

The VHCA Board is looking for nominations for the newly formed Education Committee. Members of this committee will be a voice for the neighborhood as they work to strengthen our community’s public schools and collaborate with other neighborhoods across the Grady cluster. The committee will consist of 7 voting members, one of which will be a current VHCA board member. The committee will meet on a monthly basis unless otherwise deemed necessary. All meetings will be open to the public. All recommendations from the committee must be approved by the board of directors. Committee members will be recommended to the board by a nominating committee. If you are interested in becoming a member, please send a letter by June 11th, explaining why you would like to be a member of the committee, to


Voice June 2012 — Extreme Makeover: VaHi Style!

Aurora Coffee owner and local designer collaborate to spruce things up a bit at the landmark Virginia-Highland shop

By: John Becker

Next time you’re enjoying a cup of your favorite java at Aurora Coffee, don’t blame shop owner Madonna Hill if she suddenly lets out with a loud “Move that bus!”

The reason: Hill just completed the first phase of a series of improvements planned for the popular bistro near the corner of North Highland and Virginia avenues, and even Ty Pennington couldn’t be more pleased with the progress.

“So far it’s just new paint and window treatments,” says Hill, “but if what we do next has as much impact as what we’ve done so far, I can’t wait for the next phase!”

Hill and husband Eric Levin have owned the shop for seven years (they also own the Aurora Coffee in Little Five Points, as well as the adjoining Criminal Records). Hill says she’d been thinking about sprucing the place up, but has virtually no budget for improvements and was concerned about cost.

Enter Angelika Taylor, owner of Natty Flats, a consulting, interior design and fabrication company. Taylor, her husband, and two daughters moved to VaHi a year ago from Roswell and immediately dove into a whole-house renovation of the Virginia Avenue property they’d bought.

At the same time, Taylor dove into the community of which she was so excited to be a part. She formed new friendships through her daughters attending Inman Middle School, became involved in community projects – including chairing the 2012 Virginia-Highland Tour of Homes – and started looking for other opportunities to “give back” to the neighborhood she knew her family would receive so much from.

To that end, she set her sights on Aurora Coffee.

A self-described “coffee snob” and Aurora regular, Taylor had an appreciation for what the shop offered, but knew the customer experience could be enhanced.

“The coffee and pastries are amazing and the staff is super-friendly,” Taylor explains. “It’s the quintessential small neighborhood hangout. Every morning there’s such a diverse mix of people: businessmen and women, moms and dads, teens and college kids. The location’s great and it’s definitely one of the anchors of Virginia-Highland.”

But while Taylor didn’t doubt the staff’s ability to brew a savory cup of joe or serve up a tasty blueberry scone, she felt the store was in desperate need of a facelift.

“It lacked comfort and coziness and needed something to make it hip and give it a fun, coffee shop vibe,” Taylor says.

The interior walls were white and the trim a nondescript beige, so Taylor knew fresh paint – in colors that would create the ambiance she was seeking – would help, and at a reasonable cost.

“Fresh paint provides the most ‘bang for the designing buck’ and the quickest noticeable difference,” Taylor says.

At the same time, there were features of the shop Taylor wanted to preserve.

“There’s a beautiful industrial steel bar/counter, lots of windows and plenty of light,” Taylor says, “and I knew these were features that would work well with the new colors.”

Taylor picked out a few fabrics and came up with a window treatment style she felt enhanced the exterior of the shop and also warmed up the interior. Along with the new paint, it was a simple scheme and could be done at relatively low cost.

Taylor’s next step was to pitch her ideas to Hill. After a quick phone call, Hill was intrigued so the two agreed to meet.

“I’d never dealt with a professional designer before,” Hill says, “and Angelika just made the whole process so easy. She came in with colors and fabric samples and ideas I’d never even thought of.”

Hill was anxious to proceed but still concerned about how much she’d have to spend. To keep costs to a minimum, Hill decided to use her staff to do the painting. Taylor provided consulting and fabrication services gratis and materials at cost.

“As an Aurora customer,” Taylor says, “and more importantly as a Virginia-Highland resident, I wanted this to be my ‘give back to the community’ project. At the same time, it meant a lot to me that Madonna would take money out of her own pocket for the paint and other materials and even have her own staff do the painting.”

There’s rumor of a coffee-for-design-services barter deal, but neither party would disclose the exact terms of the arrangement.

“On this basis, phase one was affordable,” Hill says, “so we dove in head-first!”

Over the next few weeks Hill’s staff used off-hours to do the painting. The molding and trim are now black and the walls an off-white. What used to be a loud orange wall behind the front counter is now a soothing ‘moody’ blue. The front door frame has also been painted the same soft blue color.

Taylor created the custom window treatments herself – fabric and hardware – and met Hill at the shop late one night to do the installation.

“Angelika’s pretty impressive with a drill and a hacksaw, let me tell you,” Hill says.

Aurora’s owner is thrilled with the outcome of the first round of improvements.

“As you can see, Angelika really understands our vibe and what we’re all about,” Hill says. “I think that’s why we work so well together.”

The improvements have gotten positive reviews from the shop’s staff and customers, too.

“The new colors are very calming and create a more relaxed atmosphere for both the customers and us,” says barista Teresa. “It’s cozy and home-like.”

“I think they did a great job making the improvements around things that were already here like the metallic bar,” says barista Virginia. “It’s modern but, at the same time, classic – the colors aren’t masculine or feminine so everyone can enjoy them. I especially like the relaxing blue here behind the counter.”

Aurora regular Kris Coluro Smith’s impressed, too.

“The new and improved Aurora is amazing,” Smith says. “It’s a very relaxed, serene setting. Perfect for sipping my skinny, single shot, decaf latte and enjoying a quick break from my two little girls! It just looks fresh and new – a great improvement from the outdated drab orange paint that was there.”

Any future improvements in the works?

“We want to add a community bulletin board toward the rear of the store,” Taylor says, “and I’d also like to work on the big window on the left as you walk in where the bench is. It would be cool to throw some fabric at that for the visual effect. And we definitely plan to put some art on the walls, hopefully from local artists.”

Updated furniture, additional exterior painting and possibly some plants and landscaping could also be in the works, but nothing’s been decided upon yet.

“We don’t have a budget for this work right now, so we’ll definitely be taking it slow,” says Hill, “but, whatever it is, I can’t wait to start the next project.”


Summer Camp at the indie-pendent

The first session (June 4-8) began and they are offering two more sessions, June 25-29 and July 16-20. The kids (ages 4-11) will be dancing, singing, gardening, cooking, painting, constructing, collaging and creating all sorts of fun things. Info at VaHi's newest (and perhaps most unique?) space for events, workshops and unique artist-created gifts. In the alley behind Belly at 1052 St. Charles, more info at


Voice – May 2012 – Fundraising efforts and fun!

Dine-Out Saturday to Benefit New Highland Park: Be sure to stop Osteria 832 (832 N. Highland) this Tuesday May 8th from 5pm to 10pm for music, giveaways, $1.50 pizza slices and beer specials! Proceeds from their anniversary celebration will benefit New Highland Park and Fire Station 19. Be sure to bring the family!

Summerfest is June 2nd and 3rd with the neighborhood parade, dinner and movie on June 1st.

  • Win $250 in Art! – "Like" the Virginia-Highland Summerfest Facebook page, tag @Virginia-Highland Summerfest in a post and tag several friends and you'll be automatically registered to win a $250 coupon that you can spend on your choice of art available at the festival! See how to "tag" in the images below – in your post write @before the names and select them as they come up.
  • Don't forget to volunteer (get a free Summerfest t-shirt) – spots are filling up!
  • Print your Summerfest calendar of events!

How to tag Summerfest in Facebook?

Tag friends the same way – write @ before their names, then select them.

Don’t Miss Out on the Fun – Volunteer for Summerfest Now!
Please support our incredible community by donating a few hours of your time at this year's festival. Volunteer slots are generally 2-3 hours, with many areas from which to choose – parade, 5K, artist market, kidsfest, etc. Volunteering is lots of fun, and Summerfest just won't be the same without you.

Come join in the fun and go home with the coveted volunteer t-shirt! Click the Volunteerspot link below to learn more and sign up to help. If you have any questions, contact volunteer coordinator John Becker at


Voice – May 2012 – Meet our new volunteers

Welcome to a number of new volunteers who have joined committees and are helping get the work done that, directly and indirectly, raises funds for the benefit of the entire community. Interested in volunteering?

Ida CentnerIda Center ( is the webmaster of our new website that rolled out in February. She set up, and manages the “bones” and major features of the site as opposed to the article content. Ida runs her own digital media consulting firm.


 Sandra Givelber ( now runs sales of ads in our e-newsletters. Sandra worked for radio station 99X,  newspapers, and Atlanta magazine as an advertising account manager.


Mary Johnson ( has joined Brian Gross is producing and editing content for the VHCA website and e-newsletters. Mary manages web design, internet marketing and digital media for her clients.


J.D. Kellum ( is on board as PR and marketing volunteer for Summerfest. J.D. is a residential real estate agent specializing in intown Atlanta.


Angelika Taylor ( is the new chair of the Tour of Homes Committee. She is owner and designer at Natty Flats, which specializes in designing and fabricating custom window treatments, draperies, and bedding.


Voice – May 2012 – Fundraising Efforts and Fun!

Fundraising Efforts and Fun!

  • Dine-Out Saturday to Benefit New Highland Park: Be sure to stop Osteria 832 (832 N. Highland) this Saturday, May 5 from 5pm to 10pm for music, giveaways, $1.50 pizza slices and beer specials! Proceeds from their anniversary celebration will benefit New Highland Park and Fire Station 19. Be sure to bring the family!
  • Summerfest is June 2nd and 3rd  with the neighborhood parade, dinner and movie on June 1st.
    • Win $250 in Art! – “Like us” on the Summerfest Facebook page, and you’ll be automatically registered to win a $250 coupon that you can spend on your choice of art available at the festival!
    • Don’t forget to volunteer (get a free Summerfest t-shirt) – spots are filling up!
    • Print your Summerfest calendar of events!

Don’t Miss Out on the Fun – Volunteer for Summerfest Now!

Please support our incredible community by donating a few hours of your time at this year’s festival. Volunteer slots are generally 2-3 hours, with many areas from which to choose – parade, 5K, artist market, kidsfest, etc.

Volunteering is lots of fun, and Summerfest just won’t be the same without you. Come join in the fun and go home with the coveted volunteer t-shirt!

Click the Volunteerspot link below to learn more and sign up to help. If you have any questions, contact volunteer coordinator John Becker


Voice – May 2012 – Villains on Right Side of One-Run Game with Kirkwood

VaHi Softball Team All Alone in Second Place After Victory

By: John Becker

After two disappointing losses earlier in the month, our Virginia-Highland Villains secured a gratifying one-run victory over rival Kirkwood last Sunday at East Lake Park.

The Villains ran off a pair of wins over Reynoldstown and Lake Claire to start the spring season. The next three games, though, included a tough 16-7 loss to East Lake and a 10-7 defeat at the hands of league-leading Edgewood.

“East Lake and Edgewood are by far the dominant teams in the league this year,” says player/coach David Marder. “We were competitive in both losses, though, and we feel good about that.”

On Sunday against Kirkwood, the good guys came out on top as the Villains walked away with a close 9-8 decision. Marder says the team’s pitcher and offensive juggernaut Raj Patel almost single-handedly willed the team to victory.

“Raj hit a 3-run homer and a solo inside-the-park homer, too” Marder says, “accounting for nearly half the runs we scored.”

The win gives VaHi a 4-2 record and sole possession of second place in the league, trailing only undefeated Edgewood.

“Our team is among the league’s best at holding opponents to the fewest possible runs,” Marder says, “and that’s a direct reflection of the awesome defense we play. Now, if we can just get the bats going as we have in past years, I think we’ll be unstoppable.”

The Villains play again this Sunday against nemesis Ormewood Park and then close out the spring season on May 20 against East Atlanta (no game on Mother’s Day). Both games will be played at East Lake Park off Memorial Drive; first pitch at 3 PM.

Marder encourages fans to come out and cheer the team on to victory! You can track the team’s progress and see a schedule of games on the SEALS website at


Voice — April 2012 — Dr. Leila Denmark — 114 years of memories

Pediatrician to Virginia-Highland’s “Little Angels”
by Lola Carlisle, Vice-President

Dr. Leila Denmark passed away on Sunday, April 1st. Born in Portal, Georgia in 1898, she was 114 years old and believed to be the world’s fourth oldest person at her death. And what a person!

The Atlanta Journal Constitution obituary recounted a remarkable life in medicine: the third woman to graduate from the Medical College of Georgia (1928), the first intern at Henrietta Egleston Hospital on the Emory campus and the first to admit a sick baby there, the state’s first female pediatrician, and a significant role in the research that led to the development of the pertussis vaccine and the modern day DPT vaccine.

Dr. Denmark was married to John Eustace Denmark for more than 60 years, until his death in 1991. In 1931, the Denmarks had a daughter, Mary Denmark Hutcherson; Dr. Denmark then started her own practice at home so she could raise Mary. Her first home office was in the breakfast room of their home on Kentucky Avenue; the family later moved to 1051 Hudson Drive, where the living room served as a waiting room and a bedroom as the exam room. Dr. Denmark practiced medicine in Virginia-Highland until 1949. When Karri Hobson-Pape and I researched our book about the neighborhood (Images of America: Virginia-Highland), we spoke to a number of long-term residents who remembered residents and neighbors taking their kids to Dr. Denmark.

1051 Hudson Drive – c. 1940 Mary Denmark. c. 1940. Ann Tinkler, Mary Denmark, Bootsie Holzman – 1051 Hudson backyard, 1936 Mary Denmark in the waiting room at 1051 Hudson Drive
Photos courtesy of Mary Denmark Hutcherson

Dr. Denmark’s daughter, Mary Denmark Hutcherson, had fond and vivid memories of growing up in the area. She played in the waiting room of her mother’s office and recalls her mother peeking out of the exam room to call in her “next little angel.” And she remembers a charming and happy childhood in Virginia-Highland.

Virginia-Highland was Mary’s playground. She had a great group of friends who biked and roller-skated all over the area, often chasing – or trying to chase – the fire trucks going on calls from Station # 19. Mary and her friend Ann Tinkler (whose father was the minister of the Associate Reform Presbyterian Church, now the YWCA) frequently played at Orme Park, which they called “The Little Park.” They recall the old Highland Bakery horse and buggy coming through and the strong sweet smell of the fresh bread. Mary thought the horse was very pretty – she remembers that he was white and had a big blocky head. (Some of the old Highland Bakery delivery routes are on display in the building behind the current Highland Bakery at 655 Highland Ave.) Mary described many stores at the corner of Highland and Virginia; Mrs. Georgia’s Dairy was a favorite – who can resist a milkshake!

When it came to schooling, Mary remembers every detail and there were many. Redistricting and changes in school routes and destinations are not a new concept here. Mary can tell you every bus, trolley, and transfer she made on her path to acquiring an excellent education – an education she took seriously in spite of the constant temptation to dawdle at Rich’s downtown on her route home. She attended Inman (from K–6), O’Keefe Jr. High (now part of the Georgia Tech campus), Atlanta Girls High in Grant Park (two years), and graduated from Grady as a member of that school’s first co-ed class in 1948. She found herself well-prepared when she got to UGA; she recalls her freshman year there to be largely a review of material she already knew.

These great stories about the Denmark family, including these wonderful tales of the daily life of a child in Virginia-Highland in the 30’s and 40’s, make me feel grounded. This neighborhood has a rich and vibrant history; it citizens and its buildings are full of varied and rich stories. We Virginia-Highlanders are fortunate people.

Karri Hobson-Pape, Judy Potter and Jack White also contributed to this article


Voice — April 2012 — To Bee or Not to Bee

or: An Un-bee-lievable Rescue Story

By: John Becker
Photos courtesy of Polly Price, all rights reserved

When VaHi residents living near the intersection of North Virginia Avenue and Stillwood Drive gathered a few weeks ago to cheer on runners in the Publix Marathon, little did they know there were a few thousand fuzzy little spectators assembling nearby with an agenda of their own.

It was around 6 PM that Sunday, in fact, when residents first noticed a large number of honeybees buzzing along the sidewalk. A little investigation revealed a large swarm of bees in the branches of a crape myrtle in front of one of the homes on North Virginia.

Fortunately, Lenox Park resident and beekeeper John Lee was just a few doors away visiting his mother-in-law at the time. He noticed the commotion on North Virginia, scrambled home to get his supplies, and the swarm rescue process was underway.

“We thought the bees had found a new place to live and that there was no urgency in moving them,” resident Polly Price says, “but when John arrived he said the bees were only resting and would most likely leave soon to find a permanent home.”

Lee’s goal was to capture the swarm, put it in a box and then find a beekeeper who could provide a long-term home for the bees. After donning his protective gear, Lee first sprayed the inside of the temporary storage box and the swarm itself with sugar water.

“Sugar water provides the bees with temporary energy,” Lee says, “and incents them to begin building the foundation for their new home. They become less concerned with anything going on outside the swarm and their main focus becomes establishing the new hive.”

Wearing protective gloves, Lee scooped up handfuls of bees and placed them gently into the box. Price says the bees were generally willing participants in the process and that it took twenty or more handfuls to get most of the bees into the box. Toward the end of the process, Lee used a brush to capture the bees and coax them into the box. By the time darkness fell, Lee had captured most of the bees. He left the secured box by the base of the tree overnight and, as he expected, most of the remaining bees had crawled inside in search of the queen when he returned the next day.

“It was a fairly large swarm – probably 10-15,000 bees – and I wanted to make sure we captured as many as possible,” Lee says.

Having watched a similar process take place across the street from my own home recently, I wanted to find out what this bee-swarming thing was all about. My across-the-street neighbor – also a beekeeper – put me in touch with Linda Tillman with the Metro Atlanta Beekeeper’s Association (MABA). Tillman says swarming is one of two ways bees reproduce.

“Within the hive, reproduction takes place individually as the queen is constantly laying eggs and producing new bees,” Tillman says. “The second form of reproduction is swarming, which is essentially the entire ‘bee community’ splitting itself in half.”

According to Tillman, the hive prepares for swarming by creating queen cells so as not to leave the original hive queen-less. While half the bee population stays in the old hive, a new queen takes the other half – mostly younger bees – with her to find a new home. Before leaving the hive, Tillman says, the bees “pack their bags for the trip” by filling their stomachs with honey. The bees use the stored honey to create wax to build their new hive.

“Then one day – typically between 10 AM and 2 PM – the queen leaves the hive,” Tillman says. “She doesn’t go far and the rest of her crew joins her in a mass of bees which hang together in a clump while they seek out a new home, a process that could take several days. Scout bees are sent out from the swarm and eventually a collective decision is made as to where the new hive will be established.”

Tillman says if a beekeeper learns of a swarm’s existence before the bees make their relocation decision, he or she can collect the swarm and store it in a box – ala John Lee. In this win-win scenario, the bees get a new home and the beekeeper avoids the cost of purchasing a new hive – which can be $80 or more.
“If someone encounters a swarm, DO NOT spray poison on it,” Tillman asks. “Call a beekeeper if you can.”Swarms are fascinating and generally not dangerous, Tillman says. She says the bees are loaded with honey and not likely to sting because they’re focused on finding a new hive, not defending their old one.

Tillman says both the Georgia Beekeepers Association ( and MABA ( maintain a list of keepers who will collect swarms. In fact, Tillman says there are quite a few beekeepers in VaHi – herself included – who will gladly come collect a swarm. You can check out Tillman’s blog at or email her at

Where did the North Virginia Avenue bees end up and how are they doing? Lee says he gave them to a fellow beekeeper in Tucker. They’re doing fine, he says, and have even found a new purpose in life.

“My friend’s daughter is ill and can’t go out much,” Lee says. “She gets a lot of pleasure from having the bees in their backyard and knowing they’re happy and safe.”

VOICE says bee-utiful!


Voice — April 2012 — Volunteer for Summerfest!

Summerfest 2012 is right around the corner – the dates are June 1-3 – and, as usual, the neighborhood needs your help!

If you’re receiving this email you’ve either helped us with Summerfest before or have expressed interest in helping this year.

Please support our incredible community by donating a few hours of your time at this year’s festival.

Volunteer slots are generally 2-3 hours and you can choose to help with:

You can even sign up for multiple slots if you like.

Volunteering is a great way to get involved and Summerfest won’t be the same without you. Come join in the fun and go home with the coveted volunteer t-shirt!

We’re using VolunteerSpot again this year to help us organize Summerfest volunteers — click the button below to sign up!

For more information, contact John Becker, volunteer coordinator at

Thanks in advance for your support, and we look forward to seeing you in June!


Voice — April 2012 — Update: Tour of Homes – December 8th and 9th, 2012

This year’s Tour of Homes Committee is off and running with over 15 individuals on the committee in various roles. Angelika Taylor is leading the charge as chair of the committee. Angelika is fairly new to Virginia-Highland but has a passion for the community and especially for the home styles and personality of the area. This group is beginning the process of selecting homes, pairing them with restaurants, and reaching out to companies to offer sponsorship opportunities. Later we’ll be asking for everyone’s help in a variery of volunteer roles.

The Tour is a great event that brings the community together during the holidays and is enjoyed by both visitors and volunteers. It raises funds that are used by the Virginia-Highland Civic Association throughout the year for park improvements, sidewalk projects, safety initiatives and more. Please mark December 8th and 9th on your calendar and come to the Home Tour.

You can reach the committee with suggestions about sponsorships and to volunteer at


Spring Season Begins for Virginia-Highland Softball Team

VaHi Villains Look to Stay Undefeated Sunday Against Lake Claire

By: John Becker

Bet you didn’t know your neighborhood has a coed softball team. Well, it does and the VaHi Villains are actually an in-town softball force to be reckoned with.

Residents David Marder and Duane Wandless founded the team in 2009. The Villains play in the South East Atlanta Softball League (SEALS) against teams from other in-town neighborhoods like Grant Park, Reynoldstown and Edgewood.

“We went 0-11 that first spring season,” says Marder, a compliance engineer at Georgia Tech, “but we had a lot of fun doing it so I knew we were onto something.”

In true Braves-like, worst-to-first fashion, though, the Villains turned it around in 2010, taking home the league championship trophy.

“It was a turn-around season for sure,” Marder says, “and a great feeling when we were able to beat undefeated Ormewood Park for the title.”

Last spring, the Villains finished second, winning their division but losing to pesky Ormewood Park in the championship game. The team also plays in fall leagues and even tried a Piedmont Park summer league last year.

Marder says the team took its name from the friendly but intense rivalries that have developed with Kirkwood and Ormewood Park.

“We pull out all the stops when it comes to beating those teams,” Marder says.

The Villains started the 2012 spring season in fine fashion last Sunday with a 15-4 victory over Reynoldstown. They’ll try to keep their undefeated streak going this Sunday at 6 PM against Lake Claire. All games are played at East Lake Park.

Is Marder looking for more Villains?

“We had trouble finding players that first year,” Marder says, “but all it took was a posting on VHLIST and I was overwhelmed with interest.” Marder has a full roster of seventeen players right now but says everyone is encouraged to come out and support the team.

And lest you think the Villains are all work and no play, the team has been seen at neighborhood pubs like Taco Mac, DBA Barbeque and Hand in Hand for post-game celebrations (or to drown their sorrows after a loss). Marder says all VaHi residents are welcome to join in the fun.

“We’re really excited about the upcoming season,” a confident Marder says. “Spring seems to be our time to shine and if we keep playing like we did in the first game, we’re sure to take home another championship.”

The Villains are sponsored by FIG Partners. You can track the team’s progress and see a schedule of games on the SEALS website at


Voice – March 2012 – See something, say something!

by John Wolfinger, Safety chair

I continually get questions relating to our 911 system is some form or fashion. I hope I can clear up some things you may have been wondering about.

The most important myth to dispel is that, since we do not have a 311 call system for non-emergency situations – our 911 call system is the only way to reach APD and AFR for assistance. You are not going to “bother” the operators with non-emergency situations. The first person to answer will ascertain whether you need AFR for a fire or medical reason and will transfer your call to the AFR operators in the 911 center if appropriate. A medical call goes to the nearest AFR station and to the Grady ambulance center. The reason both are notified is that an AFR station may be much closer to your call site than a Grady truck at that moment. Also, AFR trucks do not have drugs or medications that may be needed and they do not transport to hospitals. Thus the reasoning for both units being initially summoned.

All other calls then go to APD for resolution. After the operator gets all the pertinent info, it is passed on to the dispatcher fore the appropriate APD Zone. The dispatcher then rates the assistance call for timing of response. Naturally a crime in process or a life-threatening situation will take precedence over a car blocking your driveway. The dispatcher stays in contact with all field personnel in their Zone and knows the closest available person for a response.

Even though there now seems to be very few times when the 911 system rings busy (as compared to a few years ago) stay on the line for your call to be answered. Hanging up and redialing means that you go to the end of the queue. A rainy, stormy Friday afternoon at rush hour with lots of auto accidents is a time when you may get a busy signal. Even though I don’t think that the 911 call center is still fully staffed, there are now enough trained personnel to properly handle calls on a consistent basis.

The next issue is when to call. Whenever you find yourself wondering as to whether you should report a situation – the answer is yes. Your gut feeling has told you that something is not right, so go with a call. If you see someone acting suspiciously or that looks like they may need help, call and let APD handle it. The least that will happen is that an officer will have a conversation with that individual. This cannot hurt anyone and it helps the officer to get to know their assigned beat better. This is how crime prevention works and APD would always rather try to prevent a crime than try to catch a perp after the fact.

The amount of calls from an area also has a second purpose, in that they help the Zone Commander know where to concentrate personnel to combat problems. Unreported incidents not only allow the suspected person to get away – but also rob that area of added personnel.

If you sense that you are not getting across to the operator the seriousness of your call – do not hesitate to ask for a supervisor. You had a distinct reason for making a 911 call, so make sure it is followed up on.

For a complete listing of all APD phone numbers other than 911 –go to and also check out Take a look at these pages now, so that when you have a question you will know where to find the info you need.

If you have additional questions – please contact me at to give me material for additional articles about this general subject. I want our neighborhood to be well-informed for the safety of all of us.

Continue reading — March 2012 Voice (online edition)


Voice – March 2012 – Sidewalks

by Peggy Berg, Traffic/Transportation & Sidewalks chair
In Virginia-Highland, many sidewalks are in need of repair. Damage from property trees is the property owner’s responsibility, and worn-out pavers and sewer issues, generally speaking, are the property owner’s responsibility, as well. Damage from right-of-way trees is a City responsibility.

The City has minimal budget and staffing, meaning that it cannot be proactive in response to these needs, but these factors mean their ability to be reactive is also limited.

The processes for the City to take care of sidewalk repair are as follows:

  • Report issues to DPW on line or through PEDS ( or
  • Possible involvement of Parks regarding trees
  • Receive inspection within 72 hours, unless there is tree involvement
  • Receive price quote thereafter (standard 50 foot sidewalk costs about $1000, which may be partially paid by the City, depending on tree damage)
  • Property owner contracts with the City and pays the City for repair
  • Wait

This approach is inefficient because repairs may be sporadic, and because of the wait.

An alternative to getting sidewalks repaired through the city is to privately contract sidewalk repair. However, the city requires contractor to:

  • Post a large bond
  • Provide architect- or engineer-stamped drawings
  • Complete building permit process (which costs hours in City Hall)

We contacted 11 contractors, and NONE were willing to undertake sidewalk repair for a homeowner unless part of a major construction project. They can’t cover the cost of taking the sidewalk through the City processes for the $1000 standard sidewalk price.

Historically, sidewalk repair programs in VaHi have been less than successful.

A few years back, VHCA had a 50% cost matching program of up to $500 for sidewalk replacement. There were few takers (less than 20 in 3 years), and some of those funded were doing sidewalks anyway. The worst sidewalks – those the VHCA would target – did not necessarily get repaired. Thus, the program was discontinued.

There must be a better way.

The Sidewalks Committee of the Virginia-Highlands Civic Association is currently developing a series of initiatives (already in progress) to address the continuing issue of sidewalks in disrepair:

Current Initiative I: Major Streets

On the major streets, bad spots on Virginia and North Highland were identified, via a committee evaluation. All in all, there were some good responses from the neighborhood. Some property owners have already been approached and informed of the processes involved with initiating repairs through the city. Once the Board receives funding requests to begin repairs, we can then track the city’s progress via the property owners to verify the sidewalks have been seen to.

Current Initiative II: Bundling Overcome barriers – Incent action

Currently in progress is an informational packet for property owners describing how to incent repairs. The process would involve identifying a few blocks to bundle, concentrating on major streets first (those which are traffic-light controlled), followed by through-streets. In both cases, those streets with a high proportion of broken sidewalks would take precedence.

As of 2/14, the sidewalks committee had set criteria on and identified potential bundles throughout the neighborhood. Thus far, about 100 sidewalk segments have been identified for repair, beginning with St. Charles and Barnett near St. Charles (hopefully with more sections to follow).

If you would like the list of bundles (with accompanying photos), send an e-mail to

Bundling next steps as of 2/14/12

What happens next depends on the City’s willingness to utilize our bundling plan. Alex Wan hosted a conference call with the Committee and agreed to talk to DPW about a bundled inspection with a committee member.

If accepted, we get pricing for each property in the bundle from the City and offer to work with each homeowner individually to get the bundle assembled.

If, however, the bundling plan does not go through, we can continue to pursue the idea by contacting each homeowner, asking them to start the process with the City, track the process with them, and encourage the City to notice the opportunity to save money by bundling construction

VHCA incentives

Since most of the sidewalks at issue have some right-of-way tree involvement, at least partial City funding is involved. As the bundles take shape, VHCA will be working on a program to pay a share of the property owner’s portion of the cost. Shared 3 ways (though not necessarily evenly), property owners potentially get a $1000 improvement for $500 or less if they participate in the bundle. To do this, property owners must propose funding incentives to the Board once the structure of the funding is defined. However, the Board is tracking the Committee’s progress, and a formal funding request to the Board will have to be approved prior to committing any funds.


The primary goal is to fix the worst primary artery sidewalks in Virginia-Highland, followed by those around the community, utilizing the bundling plan. The idea is to set a process in place that is streamlined, easily repeatable, and can get more sidewalks fixed for the funds available.

Continue reading — March 2012 Voice (online edition)


Voice – March 2012 – Officers’ Corner

by Lola Carlisle, Vice-President

I’m new to the Virginia-Highland Civic Association Board but not new to the concept of community service. I’ve volunteered on various committees in Virginia-Highland over the last 12 years. I have always had a great deal of respect for the Virginia-Highland Civic Association Board and committee members. And after co-authoring a book on the history of Virginia-Highland, I know that the type of volunteerism and service we find in this neighborhood has deep, deep roots! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many individuals who created, saved and shaped this great community. We are lucky.

This year’s board has a lot of talent and we really need it to accomplish our goals. We’re working hard to expand the membership and capacities of the committees, increase effectiveness, spread the workload, and bring in diverse skill sets. Please reach out to us at to get involved. We are working to have more transparency and access to information – particularly financial and committee goals, which we will be updating regularly – and more opportunities for you to be heard. Be sure to visit the new website and send us your thoughts on what you’d like to see there.

The APS redistricting presents a huge challenge for us and our sister neighborhoods. I hope that our whole community can achieve positive results equal to the those of our predecessors. I imagine that this issue has ignited a sense of a need for engagement in many – an urge to step forward and act as opposed to react. I encourage you all to get involved. Make a call, send an email and find a place for yourself within the Civic Association. It doesn’t have to be huge – starting small actually works best. You’ll be inspired by most of the folks you’ll work with and you’ll learn new things – new tactics, new people, new vocabulary, new places — you get the idea. We look forward to hearing from you.

Continue reading: March 2012 Voice (online edition)


Voice – March 2012 – New Voice, new website!

by Brian Gross, Communications chair

Welcome to the new monthly online edition of the Voice, which will bring you a tailored, relevant selection of articles each month direct to your inbox. The online Voice  complements our “regular” email updates, which are sent ad-hoc as needed, generally about twice a month in addition to the Voice.

If you wish to print a PDF version of this Voice, please click here. You can also comment on articles on the website and read others’ comments — see below. Brent Schnee ( is the content editor for the online Voice and Brian Gross (me, is production editor.

In addition to the online edition, the VHCA will be publishing a print version of the Voice twice this year, once in advance of Summerfest and once in advance of Tour of Homes. Later this year the association Board will assess how and if it will continue with printed editions.

Finally, we’re so excited to announce that the VHCA website, has a completely new look, vastly expanded content, and is much easier to navigate. New content includes expanded News and Events content, new sections for Safety, Sidewalks, and Traffic, an A-Z of government services, and a Photo Gallery. The history and preservation content is being pulled over from the site and will be vastly expanded, but you can already download the entire 11-part series on VaHi history by Linda Merrill. There are even specially tailored versions for smartphones (whether you use an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android) and even for iPad! new website — click to enlarge

VHCA site on iPhone and iPad — click to enlarge

Many thanks to Ida Centner of Centner Consulting for creating the “bones” of the site, and to Phuong Nguyen of Creative Crop for the design.

We hope that our new trio of electronic media will provide the information that you, our audience, truly are looking for, with the timeliness and ease of access that best serves you.

Continue reading — March 2012 Voice (online edition)