2017 GPA Fall Chapter Awards

Each year, GPA rewards local communities and regional commissions for their work to make Georgia a better place to live. At the GPA Fall Conference held in Downtown Columbus, GA, in September, the 2017 Chapter Awards were given to plans and projects that showed innovation, transferability, quality, effectiveness of implementation, comprehensiveness, public participation, technology, equity, sustainability and collaboration. Congratulations to all of this year’s award winners!

Award Category: Distinguished Planning Leader

Award Winners: Mike Williams


Summary of the Entry: Michael C. Williams was posthumously award the Distinguished Planning Leadership Award for his influence in shaping our built environment, his dedication to the profession, and his mentorship and skill in promoting planning principals. Michael was a native of Atlanta and graduate of Fulton High School. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography from West Georgia College and a Master’s Degree in City Planning from the University of Southern Mississippi. Michael began his career in city planning in St Tammany Parish, Louisiana. After returning to the Atlanta area in 1984, Michael worked for Fulton County briefly, before going to work for Gwinnett County for 20 years, retiring in 2006 from the position of Director of Planning & Development. He then became the first Director of Development for the City of Johns Creek, retiring from that position in 2014. Michael was the first Planning Commission Chairman for the new City of Tucker, where he continued to serve through July of this year, when he stepped down due to declining health. Michael passed away on September 13, 2017 of cancer.

Accepting the award: Mike’s family including his wife, Margaret, and his children, Scott and Susan.

Award Category: Outstanding Planning Process – Large Scale

Project Name: The Next Ten: Sandy Springs Comprehensive Plan and Small Area Plans
Award Winners: City of Sandy Springs; Rhodeside & Harwell, Nelson\Nygaard, Code Studio, Gensler, RCLCo, Lowe Engineers, and Ross & Associates


Summary of the Entry: The Next Ten Plan represents a celebration of the City of Sandy Spring’s second decade. The team prepared a Comprehensive Plan in conjunction with four small area plans for key locations within the city (the Roswell Road corridor, Perimeter Center, Powers Ferry, and existing and proposed MARTA station areas). This plan initiated a citywide dialogue that included a robust public engagement and communications strategy, utilizing a variety of digital tools and outreach methods to engage a broad cross-section of the community. The plan was innovative for many reasons — not only for the scope, scale, and impact of the effort– but also because the resulting plans and development tools provided a new paradigm for addressing core development challenges. The initiative also included the creation of a new development code for the City to implement the vision of the Comprehensive Plan and associated small area plans.

Accepting the award: Louisa Tovar (City of Sandy Springs)

Award Category: Outstanding Planning Process –  Small Scale

Project Name: City of Hapeville Comprehensive Plan/LCI Study Update
Award Winners: City of Hapeville, Sizemore Group, Nelson Nygaard, Noell Consulting


Summary of the Entry: The Hapeville Comprehensive Plan/LCI Study Update integrated an Atlanta Regional Commission Livable Center Initiative Study with the city’s comprehensive plan update, developing a plan ready for implementation.  This plan created an innovative public outreach strategy built from extensive stakeholder input.  Outreach strategies primarily focused on supporting downtown businesses by setting up public input boards in local stores, advertising on social media, coordinating a planners’ crawl input session that took participants to four main street shops, and planning a final community celebration at the local brewery. In working closely with the community, agencies, and stakeholders, the plan was able to prioritize implementation, update the 100-day action plan, and identify development nodes for future economic development strategies. 

Accepting the award: Deanna Murphy (Sizemore Group, LLC)

Award Category: Outstanding Planning Document

Project Name: BUCKHEAD REdeFINED Livable Centers Initiative 15-Year Plan Update 
Award Winners: Livable Buckhead; Kimley-Horn, TSW, Bleakly Advisory Group, Blue Zones


Summary of the Entry: Building upon the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) to re-envision the future of Atlanta communities as vibrant and walkable, this planning document REDEFINES what it means to create an easy to understand guidebook. BUCKHEAD REdeFINED provides implementable strategies to solving complex community issues through easy to follow and logical narratives paired with visually stunning and intuitive graphics. This plan uniquely captures the vision for the Buckhead CID by examining the needs and desires of the community across all aspects of its civic structure.  It is truly a comprehensive plan based firmly in public participation and stakeholder engagement, complete with a detailed implementation plan.  The plan seamlessly outlines a path forward by reexamining the past and documenting a well-defined benchmark of life in the Buckhead CID today. 

Accepting the award: Marsha Swider and Will Herbig (Kimley-Horn) and Sarah McColley (TSW)

Award Category: Outstanding Planning Document – Honorable Mention

Project Name: South Fulton Parkway Corridor Plan
Award Winners: Atlanta Regional Commission; Jacobs, NickelWorks


Summary of the Entry: The South Fulton Parkway Corridor Plan builds upon previous planning studies and strategizes on how to work with the community to determine a vision that benefits all stakeholders. The Parkway, located near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, represents one of the region’s most significant development opportunities. In the spirit of collaboration and partnership, the surrounding cities, Fulton County, area non-profits, and private land-owners, participated as stakeholders in the planning process. The plan takes transportation and land use topics and carefully and clearly communicates the issues, opportunities, and ultimate vision for South Fulton Parkway in a highly graphical and visually appealing document.

Accepting the award: Sidney Douse (ARC), Allison Stewart-Harris (Jacobs), Nicole McGhee-Hall (NickelWorks)

Award Category: Outstanding Plan Implementation

Project Name: River Valley Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan
Award Winners: River Valley Regional Commission


Summary of the Entry: The River Valley Regional Commission’s (RVRC) Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan represents the efforts of stakeholders in the River Valley region.  The Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan provides direction to the residents and local governments in the River Valley region in promoting non-motorized methods of transportation. Economic development initiatives drive this plan in efforts to stimulate bicycle tourism in the region. The aim was to create a region that serves as a premier bicycle destination with scenic rural routes and safe state highways. Appropriate infrastructure and engineering design was planned and created for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Through this plan, the rural communities in the RVRC region now have begun to think of walking and bicycling as means of transportation and recreation– embracing the concept of complete streets and alternative transportation.

Accepting the award: Julio Portillo and Patti Cullen (River Valley Regional Commission)

Award Category: Outstanding Initiative

Project Name: Valdosta and Lowndes County Complete Streets Suitability Report
Award Winners: Southern Georgia Regional Commission/Valdosta-Lowndes Metropolitan Planning Organization


Summary of the Entry: This report showed great initiative in creating a method to analyze corridors to report on the suitability of complete streets treatments. It determined which corridors are most suitable for bicycle lanes, additional sidewalks, and other Complete Streets attributes. A tool for the Valdosta-Lowndes Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (VLMPO) 2040 Transportation Vision Plan, the scoring matrix and criteria were extremely well thought out and transferable to other geographies and jurisdictions. The concept of “Complete Streets” is not new but the methods used for the approach, scoring and ranking of corridors, was exceptional and innovative. This practical approach to prioritization could be a model for other communities attempting to study similar initiatives. The report represents a successful collaboration from the region and its partners and a great use of previous planning efforts.

Accepting the award: Andrew Smith (former intern with Southern Georgia Regional Commission and author of the report)

Award Category: Outstanding Student Project

Project Name: Tybee Island Master Plan
Award Winners: College of Environment + Design, University of Georgia, Georgia Conservancy


Summary of the Entry: Students in the Fall 2016 LAND 4050 class (Region, Site, and Place Studio in the College of Environment and Design at UGA) were tasked with creating a master plan and a site-scale design for Tybee Island. The project sought to create a sustainable, resilient landscape in the face of climate, development, and tourism challenges – a solution that balanced conservation, recreation, and development. The semester-long project involved collaborating with multiple stakeholders of the island including residents, developers, city officials, city engineers, and marine/ecological specialists. Professor Smith, a licensed Landscape Architect and AICP Certified Planner, uniquely ties landscape architecture with comprehensive planning throughout the studio in both design knowledge and technology. The master plan highlights a fresh approach to innovative planning measures for traditional problems.

Accepting the award: Allison Smith (UGA College of Environment + Design)

Award Category: Outstanding Student Project – Honorable Mention

Project Name: Clarkston Speaks! Planning with Refugee Communities in the South
Award Winners: School of City and Regional Planning, Georgia Tech, in partnership with City of Clarkston


Summary of the Entry: This plan, led by 13 city planning students, presents a citywide study of Clarkston, GA. In order to better understand the communication problems between local governments and refugee residents, the effort was a critical partnership and collaboration between community leaders and elected officials. The “Clarkston Speaks” plan reached out to many local stakeholders and gained feedback from more than 650 elders, children, families, native-born residents and immigrants alike living within the city and the greater unincorporated area. The issues discussed varied from housing needs, social service matching problems, transit access issues, and educational / job training gaps in the community. The graduate students in this studio worked closely with local mosques, churches, statewide refugee resettlement agencies, immigrant serving non-profit organizations, the City Mayor, and the City Council to make recommendations on improvements to communication and services within the city. The robust outreach in this plan was well-intentioned, well thought out, and successful.

Accepting the award: Austin Shelton (City Planner for City of Snellville), Emily Estes (Planner III with Georgia SRTA) – MCRP class of 2017

Award Category: Outstanding Public Outreach and Journalism

Project Name: SunLight Project
Award Winners: Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.


Summary of the Entry: The SunLight Project represents journalists in Georgia and Florida who utilize Sunshine Laws, data research, open records requests, and investigative journalism skills to shine the light on big issues and opportunities facing these communities. The weekly recurring reports include comprehensive, in-depth look at crime, economic development, education, government spending, bureaucratic red tape, quality of life issues, poverty, homelessness, transportation, and a host of other topics that impact their readers and communities. The writing style and simplicity of the articles makes it an easy read for any group – straight and to the point. It represents a different type of medium, perhaps one that is ideal to reach the masses. The project takes a comprehensive, collaborative view of issues and integrates feedback from both citizens and political entities.

Accepting the award: Kristin Patten (Managing Editor at The Valdosta Daily Times)

Award Category: Outstanding Public Outreach and Journalism – Individual

Award Winners: Maria Saporta


Summary of the Entry: Maria Saporta is the creator of the SaportaReport, which provides in-depth coverage of planning-related news in the Atlanta region and across Georgia.  Key topics related to the headlines from recent years include parks, planning, development, public transit, environment, and preservation. Most recently, Maria and her team identified concerns with the redevelopment plans for Fort McPherson, documented the rescue and revival of Grady Health Systems and MARTA, covered election dynamics affecting planning issues, and wrote extensively about Atlanta’s BeltLine project and the development of the PATH Foundation’s regional bicycle trails plan. Through Maria’s leadership, the SaportaReport has become an important source for engaging the public in planning and encouraging learning, public engagement, and contact with elected officials to discuss planning decisions.

Accepting the award: Maria Saporta