Decatur mayor discusses affordable housing, parks and recreation during speechDecatur Mayor Patti Garrett delivers the State of the City Address at The Chapel on Sycamore on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decatur, GA — Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett highlighted the work the city did in 2023, as well as the city commission’s priorities for 2024 during her State of the City Address on Jan. 23. In particular, Garrett highlighted the city’s work around affordable housing and parks and recreation.
Around this time last year, the city commission was considering an ordinance to re-allow duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in single-family zoning districts in the city. The commission approved the missing middle housing legislation on Feb. 6. Since then, three permits have been issued. The three projects include building a new duplex, converting a single-family home into a duplex, and constructing a new quadplex.
The city purchased the property at 600 Commerce Drive and will kick off the public input process for the site soon to determine how that property can be used for additional affordable housing, Garrett said.
In terms of parks and recreation, the Recreatur master plan was adopted, and the Active Living and Children and Youth Services Divisions merged to establish the parks and recreation department.
“Priorities in the plan include [improving] existing parks and facilities, to develop new parks and facilities, to further develop walking and biking and facilities and to acquire new park land,” Garrett said. “And kudos to our parks and recreation department for being recognized as the parks and recreation agency of the year in Georgia [last] year.”
The McKoy Park baseball dugouts are being renovated, she said.
“The project includes expanding the first base dugout, installing a new storage facility, and improving the stairs that lead to the fields,” Garrett said. “They’ll be ready for the spring season.”
The skate park at McKoy was also recently renovated, and the city celebrated the ribbon cutting on Jan. 20. Last year, the inclusive playground at Legacy Park opened as well.
Decatur wouldn’t be Decatur without the adoption and implementation of a few plans. Last year, the city commission also approved the downtown master plan, the UNICEF child-friendly city local action plan, and the AARP age-friendly action plan.
“[The downtown master plan] is the city’s first holistic and comprehensive look at the city’s downtown since the original 1982 Town Center Plan,” Garrett said. “We reimagined the Square…without the gazebo, opening up the space. In addition to transforming the Square, the downtown master plan calls for human-centered design, enhancing the downtown experience and stimulating economic growth.”
In 2024, the city commission will focus on pedestrian and traffic safety, communications, affordable housing, the downtown experience, and parks and recreation. The commission set its priorities during the city commission retreat earlier this month.
Garrett said pedestrian safety continues to be a concern and the city is taking several steps to address the issue.
Garrett added that phase one of the South Housing Village will break ground soon. The project, being developed by the Decatur Housing Authority, will include 132 affordable units in total. It is broken up into two phases, each consisting of 66 units.
“Next year there will be an actual picture that you can see, not just a drawing,” Garrett said about her presentation.
Construction of the Oak Cottage Court project on Commerce Drive will be finished soon. The Downtown Development Authority and Decatur Land Trust hope the homes will be occupied by March.
“[The] six dwellings will be made available to city employees, City Schools of Decatur employees, and Decatur Housing Authority employees with homeownership and the land will be held by the Decatur Land Trust to maintain long term affordability,” Garrett said.
School Board Chair James Herndon delivered the State of the Schools address and highlighted some of the accomplishments of the school district. Herndon and Garrett highlighted the track and field at Legacy Park that will break ground this year.
The project is a joint venture between the city and City Schools of Decatur to provide another athletic facility to students and the community.
He added that the school board is proud of the school district, but there is still much for CSD to accomplish. In 2023, the school board adopted the district’s strategic plan. The plan, called All in Decatur, will serve as a guide for the school district for the next five years.
The plan identifies key strategic accelerators – building and sustaining an engaging and inclusive culture, organizational effectiveness and excellence, cultivating and retaining quality professionals, and student success in all areas.
The district’s charter was also renewed last year.
“It presented us the opportunity to reimagine innovative ways to increase student outcomes, including, I’m proud to say, adding a student representative to the board of education,” Herndon said.
City Schools of Decatur hired a new superintendent, Dr. Gyimah Whitaker, last year as well. She implemented her GEM entry plan during her first 90 days, which outlined Whitaker’s plan to gather information, review the findings to envision a plan forward, and maximize the results.
Herndon said Whitaker has focused on instructional and organizational leadership and professionalizing the school system’s communications. The school board also approved the formal establishment of the district’s communications department.
“That was in response to community feedback that we needed to professionalize our communication and develop a strong relationship of trust between the district and our community. Our primary focus has been establishing opportunities for two-way communication with stakeholders,” Herndon said.
Coming up this year, the school board and administration are reviewing compensation, and the board will consider options in February to make salaries more competitive next year. The school board and Whitaker have also been focused on increasing student outcomes and performance.
The event also featured service awards for city employees and the Thomas O. Davis Award. This year, firefighter Jazzmin Rullán received the honor.
“Decatur’s Thomas O. Davis Award honors someone who helps strengthen the bond between government and the community,” City Manager Andrea Arnold said. “They serve as a role model for others in public service, they contribute to the well-being of the community, they inspire others to get involved in public service, and they serve the public with respect.”
Rullán began working for the city in 2021. Arnold said Rullán works quietly, without seeking attention.
“While much of her work is running to the aid of others in times of crisis, she prioritizes our community risk reduction programs that help to reduce those calls for service,” Arnold said.
Rullán is also passionate about the department’s child passenger seat program, and she designed an information card for parents.
“When the city held a car seat giveaway and installation event for Afghan refugees, she came in on her day off knowing that the Afghani mothers would be more comfortable with another female present,” Arnold said.
Arnold added that one of her favorite examples of Rullán’s caring spirit is that she created bulletin boards at the fire station that share her fellow firefighters’ achievements.
“She’s found a creative way to connect firefighters that come from varied backgrounds, knowing that the stronger the team, the more effective they will be in serving our community,” Arnold said.
Several city employees additionally received service awards. Here is the full list of the award recipients:
– Fire Chief Toni Washington
– Police Patrol Sergeant Joshua Speed
– Fire Inspector Craig Dubose
– Fire Apparatus Operator Deratae Harris
– Building Maintenance Crew Member James Kelley
– Cemetery Superintendent Demetrius Whatley
– Sanitation Superintendent Kelvin Davis
– Building Maintenance Superintendent David Goode
– Parks and Recreation Director Greg White
– Municipal Court Clerk Lori Bell
– Streets and Drainage Crew Member Eddie Swift
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