Residents of Buckhead’s Garden Hills neighborhood are concerned about an increase in criminal activity, mostly gang-related, that has taken place in the area over the past three years.
The worries came to a head after residents walking home from dinner at a nearby restaurant May 23 saw pools of blood on North Fulton Avenue near Atlanta International School.
“The entire sidewalk on the right side of North Fulton Avenue was covered in puddles and drops of fresh wet blood, someone had been stabbed or shot and ran down the road into Garden Hills,” a resident wrote in an email to District 7 Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook, who represents the neighborhood. “I do not know what happened to the injured person but they were clearly severely hurt. I immediately called 911, no action or arrests were made that evening. …
“Last evening at least 15 gun shots were made in this same area around 2:30 a.m. These crimes are occurring between Blue Hookah Lounge, Copper (Cove Bistro) restaurant and Black Ink Tattoo parlor. In addition, Blue Hookah was packed with at least 300 people not following any social distancing rules as other establishments in Buckhead do, to make it safe for patrons to have a nice dinner without the fear of COVID-19.”
According to Officer Steve Avery, an Atlanta Police Department spokesman, no victims or suspects were found, but “there were several calls that night about fights or shots fired but they occurred later in the evening.”
Those interviewed by the Neighbor said the crimes are mainly occurring in the block where Pharr Road, North Fulton Drive and Grandview Avenue intersect. In a May 26 email sent to Livable Buckhead Executive Director Denise Starling regarding the May 23 incident and other past ones, Maj. Andrew Senzer, commander of the Atlanta Police’s Zone 2 precinct, which covers Buckhead, said he’s aware of them.
“The incidents over the weekend and the incident at (the) Allure (apartments) are unrelated, but that doesn’t make the apparent pattern of gunplay less alarming,” Senzer said. “Consequently, the Pharr Road corridor has become a focal point of our enforcement efforts, and we are working with other department entities to identify any commonalities and individuals who may be responsible for these brazen acts.
“I have tasked my officers, especially those working between the hours of 8 p.m. and 3 a.m., to increase their proactive tactical traffic enforcement in this space when they are not handling other 911-related responsibilities. In this regard, we are taking a zero-tolerance approach to individuals violating laws enforceable by the Atlanta Police Department.”
Clay Dixon, president of the Garden Hills Civic Association, an organization that protects and preserves the neighborhood that dates back to 1925, said in the past three years the crimes have escalated to include “drive-by shootings, car chases, street racing and gun shots.”
“One of the hallmarks of Garden Hills is the residents love to walk everywhere,” she said. “When a neighbor walked home at 9 p.m. that evening from dinner at Buckhead Atlanta and came across pools of blood on the sidewalk, that exacerbated the frustration and anger the neighbors feel over crime in that area. Not to mention this was in close proximity to a school. It has got to stop and stop now.”
Dixon said the association is communicating with Senzer and he is “understanding and receptive of our concerns,” but the issue of violence goes beyond Buckhead.
“To solve the issues that come from that block though, we need more than just Zone 2 – this is a city- and state-wide issue, for it impacts the foreign direct investment of the state.”
Shook said he’s talked with Senzer and his predecessor, Maj. Barry Shaw, in the past three years about the problem and hopes the crime can be stopped soon.
“The whole general area has become more troublesome little by little, festering quality-of-life problems and harboring crime. (Senzer) has, riot-permitting, increased staffing there. Cameras are being scheduled to go up in the area that the (Atlanta) Police Foundation is managing,” he said, adding the police are ensuring all the businesses there are in compliance with city alcohol licenses, permits and zoning codes.
Alan Dobrin, who through two companies owns and/or manages all of the block’s properties except the Chevron gas station on one corner, said he’s doing all he can to stop crime there. When the leases for two crime-attracting businesses – Treble Clef Studios, a recording studio, and Black Ink Tattoo, a tattoo parlor – ended at the end of September and May, respectively, they were not renewed, even though both business owners wanted to re-sign, he said.
On Friday and Saturday nights, he’s hired an off-duty police officer to work as a security guard at Copper Cove Bistro, though lately it’s been closed for dine-in service due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are concerned as all the neighbors are, and I’ve done everything I possibly can because of the element they attract,” Dobrin said. “We’re having to pay $50 an hour (for) an off-duty cop to be there, (which) is a burden.”
Dixon said she’s met with him often about the issue and will continue to do so until the problem is solved.
In an emailed statement, Atlanta International Headmaster Kevin Glass said he’s “deeply concerned about the criminal activity around the Pharr Road corridor.”
“AIS joins with the Garden Hills Civic Association and our other Buckhead civic and community associations in seeking ways for our neighborhood to address and prevent this type of activity," he said. "Our school has an active security partnership with Atlanta Police Department, Zone 2, and we commend their increased patrols and ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to these activities.
“A safe, secure Buckhead is key to its role as an economic engine for business development, both foreign and domestic. We look forward to Buckhead being an important part of Atlanta’s economic recovery. My family lives, works and attends school in this neighborhood, as do many of our neighbors. We are all committed to keeping it a thriving, safe and walkable neighborhood.”
Arnaud Michel owns of Anis Café & Bistro, a restaurant nearby on Grandview that opened in 1994.
“Back then (on) Peachtree Avenue, people would get mugged,” he said. “Atlanta International bought all those properties and that has improved it a lot. (Before), someone would get knifed or shot in the leg or stabbed. … (Today), they come with machine guns.”
Michel owned another restaurant, Django Gypsy Kitchen and Saloon in downtown Atlanta, which closed in 2011, partly due to crime issues.
“I had one security guard shot in the neck and died,” he said. “I want to be somewhere I feel safe where my kids can come. I don’t want to go back to that. I want a safe place for my employees.”
Michel said he lives in Garden Hills and his children attend Atlanta International.
“My kids walk with their friends there,” he said. “I know the police are having a hard time (dealing with the issue). What’s going on, too, is they’re coming during the day and scaring people. It is an issue. People get killed.”