Avondale Commission discusses plans for North Avondale Road park and developmentPhoto obtained via the city of Avondale Estates website.
By Sara Amis, contributor
The Avondale Estates Board of Mayor and Commissioners met on Tuesday, May 22 to discuss plans for a proposed park and development along North Avondale Road between Oak Street and Center Street.
The city approved a downtown master plan in 2014 which included converting a four acre plot between Oak Street and Lake Street into a park. The design submitted by local architect Sheri Locke of Stephens & Wilkinson, includes mixed use commercial buildings next to the road and public green space behind those.
The Board of Mayor and Commissioners issued a Request for Qualifications and Fabric Developers, LLC responded. Fabric’s suggested design ideas incorporate a one-acre lot owned by the Avondale Estates Downtown Development Authority and 13 acres owned by Avila Real Estate, for a total of 18 acres of green space, pond, retail, multi-family housing and town homes. The city’s contribution would include building the park, storm water projects which are already approved, and other infrastructure improvements.
Commissioners, city staff, and Mayor Jonathan Elmore were generally in agreement that Fabric’s response looked good and that they wanted to proceed to the next steps in the process. City Manager Patrick Bryant emphasized the need to diversify the city’s economy so that less tax burden would fall on residential areas.
“Right now about 90 percent of the revenue generated for the organization is from residential property taxes. That is something that is not sustainable over the long run,” Bryant said.
“We’ve been talking about this for years, and we’ve had a lot of public input. I think we’ve arrived at a solution that we’re all comfortable with, that’s in the best interests of the city, and that’s a good mix of public use and private development,” Elmore said.
Bryant recommended that the city not re-issue the RFQ in hopes of more responders. He pointed out that Avila Real Estate’s involvement would not be guaranteed in that case.
“If we don’t move forward we may lose the opportunity to develop that entire acreage,” Bryant said.
“The time for action is now,” Commissioner Adela Yelton said.
City staff recommended that the board form an Urban Redevelopment Agency based on the information presented by Teresa Finister at the work session on May 15. A URA would allow the city to issue a bond anticipation note without a public vote and negotiate with developers and other entities directly. Finister described a URA as “powerful and flexible” within certain constraints. The scope of the projects must be described in advance and cannot be altered without altering the downtown master plan in a public process. In this case, the URA would oversee the park project and three storm water projects: Storm Water Master Plan, Kensington and North Woods.
“I like the URA, but I think the public sees ‘powerful and flexible’ and hears ‘lack of transparency,’” Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher said. “It’s incumbent upon the city and the board to make sure that our citizens are comfortable with the steps that we’re taking within the URA.”
“Any major milestones in the way forward will be subject to public process,” Yelton said.
Public comments were focused on transparency and where the money would come from.
“No referendum, no vote. That bothers me a little bit,” George Kennedy said.
Former Mayor Ed Reiker expressed concern that expenditures for the debt and services such as policing that would need to be provided for the new development would come out of the general fund before any new revenues started to come in.
Bryant responded to comments by saying that the alternative to a bond anticipation note would be a general obligation referendum, which would take more time and be more expensive. He added that services for new development and debt would be covered by revenues the city is already generating or will be generating in the near future.
Paul Dorrah, another resident, stated that he believed the city should discuss and complete its capital improvements plan before taking other steps that would incur debt.
Board members individually agreed to the further discussions necessary in order to form a URA.
Commissioner Lionel Larratte was cautiously enthusiastic about the project and the proposed URA.
“I think this fills in all of the various gaps that we had in the downtown area. I think it’s a good plan. I believe it’s feasible,” he said. “I do have the financial concerns as always and want everything to be well explained and well-documented. I want any member of the public who is interested to be able to stand up and explain what we’re doing here.”
Fisher said, “This is a really important project that will have a 100 year impact on our city, and it’s important that it be something that brings the city closer together and not feel like it’s done in a rush, but we also don’t want to wait another three years before we do it.”