The Dunwoody Village, public safety, and school overcrowding were all major talking points at the Dunwoody Homeowners Association’s candidate forum for the upcoming Dunwoody City Council elections on Nov. 2.
The forum took place on Oct. 13 at the Kingsley Racquet & Swim Club at 2325 N. Peachtree Way. The DHA held a 30-minute forum for all three district races, and all six candidates were in attendance. DHA President Bob Fiscella served as the moderator.
Residents can watch each district’s candidate forum on the DHA’s Facebook page.
When asked what he considered the biggest challenge facing the city of Dunwoody, Nall brought up the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the city’s economy. He said working to create “sustainable funding” would help ramp up other aspects of the city, such as its parks and the police department.
“We’re still relying on COVID federal funds to make our budget work,” Nall said.
Lautenbacher said she believed the city’s biggest challenge is the redevelopment of the Dunwoody Village. The City Council initially approved a rezoning to make the collection of stores and shops known as the Dunwoody Village into a mixed-use development in 2020, but only just finished that rezoning process this year.
Lautenbacher said she doesn’t want more housing to come into the Village. She would like to see the area developed in a way that fits with the rest of Dunwoody.
“I think it serves as the heart of the city. It’s a central point where we can gather,” she said. “I don’t want to see it turn into the next Avalon.”
The candidates disagreed on the best way for the City Council to help expedite the redevelopment of the Dunwoody Village. Lautenbacher suggested using the city’s Development Authority, a quasi-governmental body that offers tax abatements for development projects, and working with Regency Center, the real estate company that owns Dunwoody Village.
The Development Authority previously helped foster a new development in the Dunwoody Village through the support of a restaurant and entertainment complex. The first segment of that development is expected to open this fall.
“I think that is the best way that we can work with Regency … to get the amenities that we want, the greenspace that we want,” Lautenbacher said. “Recognize that this is private property, and there’s only so much that we can do … but through our economic development, through negotiations, and through investment in the Development Authority, I think we can make it the kind of place that we want to go to.”
Nall said he didn’t think the city’s Development Authority would be the best solution to development in the Village. Instead, he said the city should work with the surrounding property owners to create a solution.
“What we have to do … is talk to the peripheral property owners,” Nall said. “There’s a way to make Regency work, but it’s not through the Development Authority.”
Nall further stated that one of his priorities would be to establish a “Town Green” in the Dunwoody Village.
“Ever since the city was formed, we’ve been talking about a Town Green in Dunwoody Village, and it hasn’t happened,” Nall said. “I believe it’s time to make that reality.”
When asked how Dunwoody could hire and retain police officers, both candidates said they believed that the city should increase officer pay. Dunwoody’s proposed 2022 budget includes increased pay for police officers. However, Nall said he did not think the proposed increase would be enough to be competitive with surrounding cities, such as Sandy Springs, which also just approved an increase.
School overcrowding and the best way to work with the DeKalb County School District were also big talking points. Both candidates said they would support the creation of a new elementary school at the intersection of N. Shallowford Road and Chamblee Dunwoody Road. The DeKalb County Board of Education approved plans for a new school in November of 2020.
“If DeKalb County is offering a new school, I say yes,” Lautenbacher said.
During the District 2 forum, Rob Price faced off against incumbent Jim Riticher. When asked what the biggest issue facing Dunwoody is, Price said the city needs to better prepare itself for the future and improve aspects like transportation, parks, arts programs, and sustainability.
“Our needs in the city 10 years ago – eight years ago, even five, six years ago – are not the same,” Price said. “We have to obviously support our core programs, but we need to be very imaginative and creative with the remaining parts of our budget.”
Riticher said the biggest challenges facing Dunwoody are problems with the school system and overcrowding. Both he and Price said they would be in favor of the creation of a new elementary school at the N. Shallowford Road and Chamblee Dunwoody Road intersection.
“[The school system] has been the challenge for 25 years,” Riticher said. “I’ll do everything I can to support the build out of the new elementary school at the old Shallowford site and support anything we can do to push things along with the school system.”
The candidates disagreed on the best way to revitalize and expedite development in the Dunwoody Village. Price said while the City Council might not be able to explicitly do anything, it could use different tools to encourage development in the area.
“We need some sort of public greenspace that we can acquire. For the short term, just to give something for the middle schoolers that like to hang out at the Village … but longer term, that we can leverage into some sort of public-private partnership to guide the development that we want,” Price said. “We could also use our Development Authority in a much more direct and engaged way than we have.”
Riticher asked residents to be patient with the redevelopment process. He brought up the recently finished rezoning of the Dunwoody Village and said that zoning will “bear fruit over time.”
“Unless you want to give us a whole bunch of development money to play with – and I don’t think you do – wait for this process to generate the rewards of redevelopment,” Riticher said. “That will happen over time, just be patient.”
When asked whether Dunwoody’s two upcoming parks – one at Vermack Road and one at Roberts Drive – would be used to provide senior programming, Riticher said he thinks the focus should be on parks first, and brought up the upcoming Perimeter Center East Park, which he said is “first in line.”
“There are some who want seniors programs, some who will say that there are tons of seniors programs already,” Riticher said. “I think we need to focus on our regular parks first.”
Price said that while he would like to have a senior center in Dunwoody in the long term, in the short term he would focus on things such as accessibility in parks.
“Seniors have different park needs than other folks,” Price said. “We may need to install additional benches. We may need to have handrails to help people get up and down ramps.”
Both candidates said they would be in favor of a parks bond for the city of Dunwoody in order to fund improvements and upgrades for the city’s parks.
“We need to hold developers accountable, to our standards, not to theirs,” Lambert said. “We need to make sure that future development has placemaking opportunities.”
Sims said in his view, a lack of leadership in DeKalb County and the city of Atlanta has caused many of Dunwoody’s biggest problems, such as overcrowding in schools and increased traffic on roads.
“We need leadership to make sure that we are financially stable, financially strong, [and] we are making appropriate and prudent decisions to keep our city safe,” Sims said.
Both candidates expressed the view that in order to retain police officers, the city would have to offer more incentives and reward experience and education. Both candidates also said they would support a parks bond for the city. Lambert said he believed a bond would be the most “responsible” way to put amenities in parks because it would allow the people enjoying those park amenities to contribute to their creation.
“People want quality of life. Parks are a big part of that,” Lambert said. “A bond will go out to the public and they will vote on it. They can say yes we want this, or no we don’t.”
When asked about whether the city should prioritize senior programming in Dunwoody’s two upcoming parks, Sims said he wanted to see the city take on more initiatives to support its seniors in general.
“We keep talking about it, and if we continue to kick the curb down there, we’re not going to get what we need to do,” Sims said. “I propose that we continue to make good decisions for parks. Find out what the people want, look how we’re going to be able to afford those decisions, and move forward.”
Lambert said the city has a responsibility to make life easier for all of its residents ages “one to 100,” and said he thinks the city has given residents opportunities to make it known what programming or amenities they would like to see in the two new parks. The city held a pop-up event at Brook Run Park’s Food Truck Thursday on Sept. 9 and a later public meeting at the Roberts Drive park site on Oct. 2.
“Based on those surveys and the feedback that we got from the community, our consultant put together basic plans,” Lambert said. “We had another public meeting at the Austin site. It was well-attended … to say we’re not listening is just not accurate.”
Lambert said he thinks the city should focus on starting a community center for seniors, and that he is trying to work with the county on doing so. Sims said he also thought that seniors need a place for themselves in the city, but that he doesn’t believe the city is doing enough.
“Seniors need a place to congregate, to enjoy themselves, to recreate, and I just don’t feel like we are meeting the need,” Sims said.