Candidate Q&A – Lisa Shortell, Avondale Estates City CommissionLisa Shortell
Decaturish sent questions to all of the candidates running for Avondale Estates City Commission ahead of the Nov. 7 elections. Early voting begins Oct. 16.
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1. Why are you running for the Avondale City Commission seat?
Avondale Estates is a special place. It is important to understand that this did not happen by accident. Nearly 100 years ago, intentional planning and design were key to a physical and social framework which encouraged the development of a warm residential community with a wonderful quality of life.
Now our city is entering a period of change and growth unlike any since its founding. We are presented with new opportunities and challenges. How does Avondale grow and change while preserving the best parts of our small town identity, quaint character, and quality of life? This is a great challenge and a tremendous opportunity. I am very excited about the potential for Avondale’s future and would love to serve our city during this consequential period.
I believe the future character and quality of our city will be determined by how intentionally we approach and manage new challenges and opportunities now. We should strive to plan strategically, set goals, and prioritize. I want to see Avondale prepared, pro-active, and engaged in decision making that considers and reflects our unique character.
As a longtime resident, I have been engaged in the many groups and activities available in Avondale. In more recent years, I have become deeply involved in observing how our city government works and how policy is made and implemented. I have attended hours and hours of meetings and actively participated in opportunities for citizen involvement and input. I feel ready and prepared to take the next step and hope to now contribute to our community as a commissioner.
2. What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
My husband and I have lived in Avondale Estates for nearly 28 years. We bought here as a young newly married couple, raised our children here, and are now empty nesters. I have experienced Avondale from all these perspectives and am sensitive to what nurtures our sense of community at every stage of life. As someone with a science background, I value thorough research and informed, evidence-based decision making. That said, I believe that the intangibles can matter as much as data and dollars when considering some issues.
I am very well informed on current city issues, direction, and process. For years I have attended nearly all BOMC meetings and work sessions and other important city meetings including the Downtown Development Authority and Planning and Zoning Board. My involvement has included attendance and/or participation in the Downtown Master Plan public meetings and related workshop, the road diet study public meetings, and “Build an Intersection” Day. I was a member of the Comprehensive Plan Update Steering Committee and, more recently, part of the zoning code audit stakeholder session. In addition, I am a founder and core committee member of Second Century Avondale, a citizen interest group advocating for a high quality, walkable, well-planned, and unique downtown.
I am an organizer, collaborator, and communicator. I have used these skills to head committees and work on boards and in groups. If elected, my focus and priority will be on representing and being available to the citizens of Avondale.
3. What do you think is Avondale’s greatest strength?
Avondale’s identity and character are its greatest strengths. This identity is shaped by the physical design of the residential area with its tree-lined streets and parks, its cohesive community character fostered by the pool, community club, garden clubs, and other groups, and its eclectic architecture of historic and modern homes. It has the intimacy of a small town with the advantages of the metro area on its door step. The residents know and watch out for one another. If we can preserve and enhance our distinct identity and character as our population grows, we can strengthen — instead of dilute — the very things that make Avondale so special to us today.
4. What do you think is Avondale’s biggest challenge?
Developing and revitalizing our downtown is our biggest challenge, especially building the necessary public infrastructure (those things owned by the public and/or for public use such as streets, sidewalks, storm water and sewer, open space, etc.) that will be its foundation. We should strive to do this in a way that is uniquely Avondale and that bridges and connects the downtown to the currently well-developed residential area. A viable, vibrant downtown will increase our tax base and help us grow culturally and diversely. Updating and building residential area infrastructure to handle storm water and maintain Lake Avondale, sidewalks, and streets also present a challenge.
5. How would you address what you feel is Avondale’s biggest challenge?
Some areas that I would emphasize to encourage revitalization and meet community planning goals in our downtown are:
(a) Developing a comprehensive framework for the entire downtown indicating desired public infrastructure including new streets and streetscapes, bike and pedestrian connections, open spaces, storm water infrastructure, and parking. The planned 278 road diet and new town park on the city-owned four acres would be a part of this framework.
(b) Pursuing an update of zoning to accurately reflect the Downtown Master Plan and other planning documents. Currently, there are inconsistencies that may cause uncertainty for those trying to build in our downtown. Having a clear framework and development process allows the City to be clear about how it expects to meet its goals and gives its future partners confidence about the context of their investment. Setting clear expectations upfront saves developers time and money.
(c) Focusing on strategic prioritization of projects and creative funding. There are ways small cities with limited resources can fund, implement, and encourage desired projects. These include grants, public-private partnerships, and leveraged funds from tax allocation districts. Responsible loans and bonds are one way to ensure that current residents are not the only ones paying for infrastructure which will benefit future residents. Engaging with the Avondale Estates Downtown Development Authority can speed up implementation and funding as well. However, everything cannot be built at once. It is crucial that we fully detail our needs and then prioritize based on achievable and well thought out phasing.
6. What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your time as commissioner?
In addition to working on the challenges and opportunities of downtown development, I am committed to finding new ways to communicate and engage Avondale residents. Our small city is full of talented citizens who would like to be more informed and involved. Many residents are unable to come to scheduled meetings due to work and family demands. The audio recordings which serve as minutes can be very lengthy. I have several ideas I would like to see implemented including commissioner coffees and a commissioner update/summary of important issues in our city newsletter. A monthly commissioner email update is another possible way of reaching residents in a more effective manner.
I would also like to see the city take more advantage of resident experts and other interested citizens by forming ad-hoc committees (such as the currently working Green Space and Education committees) and other kinds of advisory groups when appropriate.
7. Do you think Avondale should annex more neighborhoods and properties into the city?
While I am not opposed to all annexation, I strongly believe that annexation of other areas should, first and foremost, make sense for Avondale.
Annexation should be viewed in the context of the big picture. Avondale’s first priority should be to develop and revitalize our downtown area and that will bring with it a great increase in commercial and residential density. In ten years, our downtown district alone may add 1,000 – 2,000 new residents to our current population of 3,000.
In order to be fiscally healthy, cities need a balanced commercial to residential tax base ratio. Avondale does not have enough commercial. It is important that we develop our downtown and add commercial areas as opportunities present themselves. There may also be green space and residential additions that might prove advantageous, but those additions would need to be carefully evaluated for both tangible and intangible benefits.
Regarding most residential annexation, I would approach it with caution for several reasons:
(a) It is difficult to fully determine whether annexing a residential area will result in a positive or negative cash flow over time. Most experts regard the cost of services and increased revenues for residential annexation as a “wash” which is not a huge help to a city’s tax base.
(b) Currently, many of the residents in surrounding areas are opposed to being annexed by Avondale Estates. I believe annexation happens most smoothly and happily, when it happens incrementally and when most residents in the annexed areas want it. Adding a large number of opposed residents would be difficult for us and them.
(c) It takes our energy, focus, and possibly resources away from the revitalization of our downtown.
Lastly, the threat of annexation of surrounding areas by other cities through the legislative method has resulted in Avondale developing their own “annexation map” for consideration. There is no guarantee that Avondale will receive anything on the map or that we will receive a responsible, fair ratio of commercial to residential areas. The map may be completely changed by legislators who do not live in Avondale. Areas currently not on our map may be assigned to us. While I do not categorically oppose all annexation, I am not in favor of annexation by this method.
8. What is your vision for Avondale Estates’ downtown?
My vision is in step with the Downtown Master Plan (DMP) and Comprehensive Plan (CP), visioning and planning documents created with citizen and stakeholder input. The DMP vison statement says it well:
“The City of Avondale Estates is a vibrant, growing community with a small town feel, which is inclusive of all residents, supports new and established businesses, and encourages quality and sustainable development. The downtown will follow the holistic city plan first designed by George Willis with integrated transportation, passive and active recreation opportunities, extensive landscaping, and exceptional architecture maintaining the City’s unique sense of place.
Downtown Avondale Estates will be a unique pedestrian-oriented town center. New development will preserve and celebrate the City’s arts and cultural heritage and provide housing and destinations for shopping and services, all within an environment of tree-lined streets, pocket parks, and plazas. A network of streets with wide sidewalks and bike facilities will provide safe connectivity throughout downtown and link it to MARTA and surrounding neighborhoods.”
(Avondale Estates Downtown Master Plan Update, March 2014).
In addition, I fully support the implementation of a town park, as recommended in the Downtown Master Plan, to serve as a gathering place for community events, a needed green space for our future downtown residents, and a driver of quality, sustainable development.
9. There is a perception that Avondale Estates is unwelcoming to outsiders. Do you think this is accurate? If so, what would you plan to do about it? If not, why not?
I do not think this perception is true of Avondale residents or officials.
Avondale has long been a primarily residential city with limited resources. Yet, the City and citizen groups welcome visitors to large-scale events, held mostly in the small, historic residential area. For example, visitors enjoy the Fourth of July parade and fireworks, Halloween trick-or-treating, festivals, and the annual Easter egg hunt for children. The Avondale Community Club hosts the Tour of Homes and Christmas Market every year. City residents contribute personal donations and many hours of City staff time are used supporting the influx of visitors. These events, and others, draw thousands of visitors to our residential area each year. Our parks, streets, and sidewalks are open to all who want to enjoy them and are heavily used by residents and visitors alike.
But our city does lack a vibrant downtown. City centers can be magical, welcoming places where visitors and residents mix and congregate, sparking cultural exchange. Downtowns can and should be powerful people connectors.
Developing the downtown district will also provide more diverse housing options for those wishing to live in our city. More welcoming bike and pedestrian connections to MARTA, the PATH, and the East Decatur Greenway may be in the works, too. Improving our downtown is the single most important thing we can do to extend a warm Avondale welcome.
10. If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Yes, I promise.
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