The Fulton County Library System has proposed changes to the branch located at 980 Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta. While internal improvements to address changing uses of modern libraries are very desirable and have our support, external changes would result in the destruction of substantial healthy tree canopy and unsafe conditions for patrons of the library. The stated goals of these external changes include adding more parking and installing a drive-thru book drop. We, the undersigned, demand that the Fulton County Board of Commissioners call an immediate halt to this plan so additional community input can be sought, and a plan can be developed which meets the real needs of the community making the best use of precious tax dollars.
Unnecessary Loss of Tree Canopy
The county presented their plans for renovation of the library at a meeting on January 20, 2019. That presentation did not inform attendees about the planned destruction of 17 trees including very large Oaks, Hackberries and Crepe Myrtles, nor is this information available for review online. After obtaining the plan from the city of Atlanta in June, community members asked the county to revise their plan. Unfortunately, the revised plan still includes the removal of four large Oaks to make room for a completely new driveway entering from Ponce De Leon Avenue, solely for the purpose of a drive-through book drop serving cars only. In addition, the county has proposed that two fully mature Crepe Myrtle trees will be transplanted to make room for four additional parking spaces. According to Trees Atlanta and an independent arborist, these transplants will not be successful, and will likely so damage the root system of adjacent trees that all may die. The four Oaks designated for removal have been certified by the City of Atlanta arborist to be healthy.
In order to create a drive-thru book drop, a one-way alley is proposed on the east side of the library with access off Ponce de Leon Avenue exiting into the parking lot and onto Frederica Street. This proposal presents many safety concerns:
- The alley has no provision for a sidewalk to separate pedestrians from cars
- The alley is out of sight from the library entrance and from the parking lot and the street. Such blind spots welcome undesirable behavior and are inherently unsafe. Even with adequate lighting it would be unwise to enter this blind alley – especially after dark.
- The alley is one way with access from Ponce de Leon only. A patron arriving on a bicycle would have to ride on Ponce de Leon Avenue (a high volume and high speed four lane state road) to access the book drop.
- In the new plan there is no provision for a pedestrian book drop. Pedestrians or cyclists who enter the property from Frederica would need to walk all the way around the library to deposit books and compete with cars in the alley.
- This book drop clearly does not meet ADA accessibility requirements.
- Drivers on Ponce De Leon Avenue will be tempted to skip the stop light at Frederica and use this as a cut through to access Frederica and the neighborhood.
Inadequate Community Engagement or Data Collection
Only two public meetings were held by the county (October 20, 2018 and February 20, 2019) and due to conflicts with other regularly scheduled community meetings, neither was well attended. Offers for assistance with participation in a neighborhood planning unit meeting or to conduct a survey were not accepted.
When asked about the need for additional parking, the county admitted to having no supporting data. Anecdotal observation suggests that the existing lot is rarely full – only when used as a polling location for presidential elections (every four years) and during story hour (one morning per week).
Likewise, no data is available to support the need for a drive-thru book drop.
Plan Ignores Principles of Good Urban Design
This library serves surrounding neighborhoods of Druid Hills, Old Fourth Ward, Poncey-Highland, Midtown, Morningside and Virginia-Highland. All of these neighborhoods are rapidly increasing in density and seeking good urban design that prioritizes people over automobiles. The library is only a few blocks from both the BeltLine and Freedom Park Trail. A large portion of the patrons of this library do not arrive in cars, but rather on foot, bicycle, ridesharing, scooters and bus. This plan clearly did not take these changing demographics into consideration.
Poor Use of Tax Dollars
In conclusion, we believe this plan results in a poor use of tax dollars which will deprive the community of much needed and valued tree canopy and make the library less safe for its patrons. The convenience of a drive-thru book drop or a few additional parking spaces should not take priority over preserving our tree canopy and public safety.
Time is short! We urge our Fulton County Commission Chairman Rob Pitts, and the full Fulton County Commission to delay this process. Allow time and resources so that planners can reimagine the renovation plan to address all of the safety, environmental and cost/benefit concerns raised by users of this branch.