Candidates for Austell City Council seats look to revitalizing downtown
by Rachel Gray
October 20, 2013 11:03 PM | 1729 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AUSTELL — Every candidate running in the city’s Nov. 5 election is concerned about the boarded-up buildings lining Austell’s downtown, but the seven contenders differ on how to spur development.

The number of Cobb residents living in poverty has doubled since 2000, with the highest rates found in the southern tip of the county, especially around Austell near Six Flags Drive and Interstate 20.

“In today’s time, people are hurting, people are struggling, especially the city of Austell,” said Randy Green, who lost his at-large City Council seat in 2011 and is running for the Ward 3 seat held by Martin Standard.

Green said property values are plummeting in Austell and he has seen foreclosed homes auctioned off for “prices below belief.”

Trudie Causey, who holds the at-large position on the City Council, said pushing owners to fix deteriorating buildings is her priority.

“Our major concern is the cleanup of the city and revitalization of downtown,” Causey said.

There has been a history in Austell of not enforcing ordinances, which has led to a lack of maintenance of commercial businesses and some residential properties, Causey said.

Causey, who said she enjoys representing everyone in Austell, said the city has also been stricter about collecting property taxes from owners who have lapsed over the past 10 to 12 years.

“It is a loss to our city,” Causey said. “Our city has so much potential to be so much more.”

Green, who was raised in Austell and had to close his door-and-window business after nine years, said the city is pushing businesses out of town by issuing citations.

“We need to keep the businesses we got, to start with,” Green said about how he would clean up downtown.

Green said the owners are good neighbors who are struggling and should be helped instead of criticized and threatened.

Private and public property improvements:

Kirsten Anderson, who is running unopposed for her third term representing Ward 1, said privately owned buildings cannot be rejuvenated by the city.

Anderson said she sees a need to offer some tax incentives or form a special tax-allocation district to raise funds for the improvements.

Martin Standard, who represents Ward 3, said he has tried for the last four years to reduce the large number of automotive businesses in Austell, which he said can be “junky.”

“I would rather be known for having no businesses instead of having only automotive repair shops,” Standard said.

Standard said the council has focused on vacant homes to promote more responsibility by owners of abandoned buildings.

The council has also supported an initiative to improve the look of city-owned property, especially in downtown Austell.

Five years ago, the city received almost $2 million in “Livable Centers” grants, which are

federally funded and dispersed through the Atlanta Regional Commission. The project required $312,000 in matching funds from the city.

The funding was used for streetscape improvements, including new lighting and brick pavers around the sidewalks.

Standard said Austell now has a nicer, uniformed look, but “nothing’s really come from it” in terms of attracting new businesses.

Ann Turner, who moved to Austell in 1995 and is running for Standard’s Ward 3 seat, said improvements have not spurred development in the area.

“It has made it pretty, but it has not attracted many businesses,” said Turner, who added some businesses have since left the area.

The only Bank of America branch in Austell, at 2765 Veterans Memorial Highway, across the railroad tracks from City Hall, closed on Aug. 2.

Green added that the improvements “were not a total waste,” and it was important to take advantage of the federal grant program.

Attracting business and people into downtown:

The youngest candidate on the Nov. 5 ballot, Chris Djonis, said Austell is in need of more sidewalks and city parks, but the improvements will not have an economic impact unless the council draws festivals and events into Austell.

Djonis said Austell should pursue more partnerships with the private sector.

“Quality real estate development projects in downtown and the surrounding area not only could modernize Austell, but would expand its tax revenue,” Djonis said.

Djonis said the types of retail shops and restaurants available define a city, as well as give residents and visitors a reason to come downtown.

“I go (downtown) sometimes and there is nothing there really,” Djonis said. “There is nothing to encourage people to walk around and spend time in the area.”

Burger King and BBQ:

Turner said Austell does not have enough to offer beyond a Burger King and Mr. D’s BBQ on Austell Road.

“We need a reason for people to go downtown in the evening for it to be vital,” Turner said.

Officials have high hopes that one project approved by the council will attract a younger generation into Austell.

Last year, a unanimous vote by the council authorized $8,000 from the Austell Area Community Improvement Fund to develop a disc golf course.

In May, the city opened the Frog Rock course with nine holes that crisscross the 50 acres of park dotted by large trees.

One candidate for the city’s at-large Post 1 office, Ollie Clemons Jr., hopes players at Frog Rock will stay in town to see what Austell has to offer.

“I think it has potential to attract a lot of different people to come into the city and county,” Clemons said.

Standard, who has been playing disc golf for 25 years, said visitors to the park will have to venture into the “quiet neighborhoods that have homes with shaded porches,” to see the real reason to stay in Austell.

Meet the candidates: Austell City Council

AT LARGE, POST 1:

Trudie Causey

Age: 64

Residence: Old Marietta Road

Family: Husband, Norman Causey, three children, Michael, Travis and Alicia, and two grandchildren

Job: Housewife and current City Council member

City Service: Served on City Council for four years, previously served on the Planning and Zoning Commission

Education: Graduated from South Cobb High School

Ollie Clemons Jr.

Age: 57

Residence: Bishops Run Subdivision, as HOA president for six years

Family: Married to Valerie for 18 years, five children, three graduated from college and two in high school

Job: Sr. Sales Executive for U.S. Postal Service for 31 years

City Service: Vice Chair of Planning and Zoning Commission; last year, appointed to the Area Community Improvement Commission

Education: Two years of college

Chris Djonis

Age: 31

Residence: Cureton Woods subdivision

Family: Single

Job: Runs a construction business,

Djonis General Contractors

City Service: None

Education: Graduated from North Cobb High School

CITY COUNCIL, WARD 1:

Kirsten Anderson

Age: 55

Residence: Rosehill Street

Family: Husband, Ricardo, son, 23, and daughter, 19

Job: hairstylist

City Service: City Council member for eight years

Education: Two years of college

CITY COUNCIL, WARD 3:

Randy Green

Age: 55

Residence: Edith Street

Family: Wife, Cheryll, son and two daughters

Job: Construction and remodeling work

City Service: Former City Council member for 12 years

Education: Graduated from South Cobb High School

Martin Standard

Age: 55

Residence: Sweetwater Street

Family: Wife, Cindy, son, Jeremy

Job: Tradeshow consultant

City Service: Current City Council representative for Ward 3

Education: Graduated from South Cobb High School

Ann F. Turner

Age: 71

Residence: Austell-Powder Springs Road

Family: Husband, Dana (Randy), and two grown children

Job: Runs a tailoring business out of home

City Service: On Board of Variance and Appeals

Education: Master’s of Agriculture from Oregon State University



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