The Atlanta City Council's Transportation Committee is expected to hear from some Lake Claire residents today regarding traffic and safety concerns they have with MARTA mini-buses that transport special needs adults to the in neighboring Druid Hills.
The residents are pushing for legislation that would limit the maximum weight of vehicles that use two Lake Claire streets to transport those adults to the Frazer Center, which says if enacted, would force the organization to nix the program.
The issue stems from the Frazer Center's use of its rear entrance off Ridgeview Road NE to bring in developmentally challenged and special needs adults to its day program.
The Frazer Center, located at 1815 So. Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, is a not-for-profit organization that provides services to infants, preschoolers and adults with physical and developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down's syndrome and autism.
Three years ago, the Frazer Center rerouted the mini-buses — MARTA Mobility — from the So. Ponce de Leon Ave. entrance to the Ridgewood Road entrance at the back of the property because the narrow bridge they must cross to get to its facilities from the front entrance is not graded to support the buses' weight.
The bridge, which dates back to the 1920s, is strong enough to bear vehicles weighing up to four tons. The MARTA vehicles weigh 5 tons by themselves and can weigh up to one additional ton when full of passengers.
But the decision to reroute the buses to the Frazer Center's southern entrance is not sitting well with Lake Claire residents who live on Ridgewood Road and Marlbrook Drive.
Many of those residents who formed a group and created a website, Lake Claire Info, to explain their position, say their residential streets can't handle all the bus traffic.
What's more, they say the MARTA drivers will idle the buses on those streets and speed and fail to follow traffic laws. They say it makes it more dangerous for residents as they push strollers, walk their dogs or go out for a jog because those streets have no sidewalks and pedestrians have to use the road.
"While Lake Claire residents support the mission and programs of the Frazer Center, many are extremely concerned about issues detrimental to the neighborhood that have arisen as a direct result of the Frazer Center’s expansion," the Lake Claire Info website reads. "Neighbors have repeatedly attempted to address these primary concerns over the past several years, to no avail."
The residents are in support of the proposed ordinance that would bar any vehicles that exceed four tons from using Ridgewood Road and Marlbrook Drive.
The proposal is sponsored by Atlanta City Councilwoman Natalyn M. Archibong, whose District 5 includes the Lake Claire community.
Frazer Center officials say they want to be a good neighbor and have worked to address concerns beyond traffic issues such as noise.
Trace Haythorn, the Frazer Center's executive director, said the organization has already cut the number of daily bus trips from 40 to 9.
"With 40 buses, we felt it was excessive as well," Haythorn told East Atlanta Patch, explaining the decision to rezone client pick-up maps to reduce the overall traffic coming in from Ridgewood Road.
Frazer Center officials say the ultimate goal is to change the bridge so that it can accommodate heavier vehicles.
Even then, Haythorn said the facility would still need to use both entrances because the bridge is too narrow for two-way traffic.
The aim would to have the buses enter from the Ridgewood Road entrance and leave via So. Ponce de Leon.
"The reason we think its good to come in the back and go out the front — if you are over on the west side of the road, if you get too close to that edge, it's easy for a bus, if they go off the side, they can roll," Haythorn said. "On the other side of the road it's pretty much a berm all the way and where there isn't a berm, it's pretty flat so you don't have the same issue."
Complicating the bridge repair work is the designation of the Frazer Center itself.
The property is split into five parcels: two, the ones which have the facilities, are in unincorporated DeKalb and the other three are in the city limits of Atlanta.
The facilities are zoned residential or R-85, by DeKalb code but that designation doesn't exactly cover what the Frazer Center does. That's why county officials are reviewing it to develop a new designation or amend existing zoning codes to include organizations like the Frazer Center.
But until that's settled, the facility cannot get the permit needed to repair the bridge.
The repairs are going to be an expensive undertaking. The lowest bid gave a range of $85,000 to $100,000. Another bid had a $4,500 price tag just for design plans for a new bridge alone, Haythorn said.
Archibong, who has heard from number of her Lake Claire constituents, said they are not opposed to the Frazer Center's mission.
"They support and respect and appreciate the programs they offer," Archibong told Patch. But with so much vehicular traffic on those two residential streets that don't have sidewalks, "it's just not the best situation," she said.
She added she likely will seek to have the proposal pushed back to the transportation committee's May meeting to see if the all sides work toward an acceptable solution to everyone.
"There is no way I want to see services end or compromised as a result of wanting to make the streets safer," she said.