At forum, experts nudge Avondale to look outward

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 8, 2015
Lake Avondale. Source:

Lake Avondale. Source:

Avondale Estates’ charm is also its weakness.

It’s a city that’s inspired by and rooted in history. But that history, including its downtown district’s peculiar Tudor architecture surrounded by a mishmash of different development, has created a cloistered culture within the city limits.

During a forum on Oct. 7, a team of experts in downtown development, seated next to people running for elected office, encouraged the city to look outward.

The Second Century Avondale forum was held in the Community Club overlooking Lake Avondale, an amenity enjoyed mainly by the families lucky enough to live around it. Jack Honderd, a local developer and architect, tried to put the problem delicately as he spoke to a room full of long-time residents.

There’s a perception that Avondale’s protectiveness of its way of life has isolated the city from the world around it. It’s created a fundamental conundrum of identity. Avondale’s leadership in recent years has pursued growth and development, while some residents have fought it. Honderd asked, “Is Avondale distinctive or insular?”

Throughout its recent history, it has tended to be perceived as insular, Honderd said, describing the town’s attitude as, “We like this place so much, we don’t need anyone else to come here.”

“If you want economic development, you want to be connected,” he told the audience.

With the Nov. 3 elections on the horizon, one that could bring in a decidedly more youthful cast of leaders on the City Commission, there’s a sense that things could change. Euramex, a local developer, is in the process of creating its vision for a mixed-use development in the city’s downtown. It will occupy 13 acres that used to house a mill and then a conveyor belt plant. But the project is very much a blank slate. Residents haven’t seen a rendering yet.

Avondale has proved stubbornly resistant to change.

Euramex also purchased the city’s notorious “Erector Set” building at College Avenue and Maple Street. It was once part of a larger plan by developer Century/AG LLC that fell apart and ended for good when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

Avondale’s residents are aging. The city has one of the highest median ages in the metro area. Young families move in hoping for a shot at the Museum School, only to leave when they don’t win the charter school’s lottery.

Plans to annex more property into the city whipped up a controversy last year when residents found out an annexation bill had been filed without their knowledge. That plan died down, but in the process it drew out residents who believe that change threatens the city’s quality of life. There were also a number of other business owners in the proposed annexation plan who wanted no part of Avondale, citing a culture they believed was hostile to business.

Former mayor Ed Rieker was lauded for his business savvy, but quickly resigned after the town caught wind of the annexation plan and confronted him about it. Rieker, who still owns property in downtown, said he was resigning to take a teaching position at Emory.

As a community, Avondale tends to look inward. Civic life takes place at City Hall, in the heart of downtown, and in the rows of homes surrounding Lake Avondale.

Honderd was joined by Ken Bleakly, president of Bleakly Advisory Group, and Pratt Cassity, director of the Center for Community Design and Preservation in the College of Environmental Design at the University of Georgia. All three urged the city to create a public space that would welcome people to the city and maybe convince them to stay and support local retail.

“You need memorable places and every community needs a heart and a town green tends to be a heart,” Honderd said. “When you think of iconic places, they all have these great public spaces. Right now you have the lake. It’s a wonderful feature. It’s in the heart of the residential area. This would be in the heart of the civic and business area.”

They also encouraged the city to have a seat at the table with any developer looking to make a big investment in the community. The experts said a developer dictating its desires to city leaders who unquestioningly obey them might lead to a project that won’t be good for Avondale, in the long run.

“I think it’s an interactive process,” Bleakly said. “It works best when all of the parties are engaged. Sometimes it works well when the private developer is engaged. It doesn’t work well if the developer is not engaged and the community is heavily engaged.”

The candidates acknowledged that the city is at a cultural crossroads.

“The pieces are there,” said Mayor Jonathan Elmore, who is running unopposed this year. “We’ve just got to make it happen.”

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Hannah

    I don’t live in Avondale and don’t plan on moving there, but have wondered in the past about language associated with the swim and tennis club: “Condominium developments, including but not limited to the Condominiums of Avondale Estates, the Kensington Walk condominiums and the Kensington Trace condominiums are specifically excluded from the membership area.” I found this on a link from the AE New Residents guide. I know that the Swim and Tennis Club is a private club, but this exclusion seems really mean-spirited. Can someone in Avondale tell me otherwise?

  • Fred

    The historic old pool and tennis club, built in the 1920’s, based on a small local population, that at that time was really out in the country, has a limited ability to comfortably and healthily serve but a specific amount of persons. Like an airplane, or train car, or restaurant. There is a number, and that number is reached. If you show up at a restaurant, and they are full with a waiting list and there are no tables available, do you think they are mean-spirited if you don’t get seated asap?
    In addition, the county health dept. has controls on pool attendance from a public health position. Are they being mean-spirited, or practicing intelligent guidelines for overall well-being?

    • Viola M

      It’s also the tone and semantics of calling out certain condos by name. Thoughtful writers understand that negative wording generates unfavorable reactions and unpleasant associations.

      “Only single-family homes within incorporated areas of Avondale Estates are permitted to join” is the courteous way to say, “Condos…are specifically excluded from the membership area.”

      A full restaurant will continue to be popular if they politely say they are full. Saying, “everyone else not on our waiting list is specifically excluded from dining here” will result in folks spending money elsewhere while
      telling others about their negative interaction.

      Don’t be negative! Be positive!

    • Thisten

      But, if you show up to a restaurant and it’s completely full with a waiting list, you could come back on a different day. Here, it appears from the club’s statement that residents living in these and other condominium developments within their membership area will never be able to get in. They have no shot. In addition, what also seems interesting, is that condominium residents living in Avondale Estates would apparently not be able to attend as guests either since the club’s policies indicate that “A guest is an individual not residing in the membership area” and “Avondale Estates residents are not eligible to be guests.” Maybe it plays out differently in practice.

  • Hannah

    Fred, I don’t think the answer you provided is relevant to the question I asked. Yes, I know that pools can accommodate a limited number of members. But what I am asking is how come people who live in multi-unit dwellings are not allowed to apply for membership? Is their money no good there?

  • Fred

    The answer is: it’s not that the multi-unit dwellings are excluded for that reason (obviously). It doesn’t matter if a Trump mansion was built in a recently annexed, or close-by area, and brought solid gold. The legitimate private club established long ago with appropriate-for-it’s-size service area, and ability, cannot add more members, or potential member areas. The membership is at maximum every year with the growth of families within the historic and balanced circumference, usually through continual renewal. I believe the caring and intelligent people on the pool board correctly concluded that it would be unfair, misleading and borderline ridiculous to tell folks something they could apply for when there was no way for it to happen at this time. That’s deceptive. Why lead someone on? To me, that’s cruel… When it’s infinitely more wise to encourage and motivate, if the honest desire is there, the townhouses, or whatever interested areas, to establish a similar situation for themselves, which would be great and why not?

    And my fictitious but relevant restaurant analogy was valid because, of course, if the restaurant sincerely explained that it was already filled every night with the local diners with long established reservations, then you would try something else – another restaurant or cook at home, and have a nice meal. I guess you could get upset or perplexed at them (it’s not their fault!) and stand around miffed, but you wouldn’t be getting fed, which is supposed to be your mission.
    Also, members are not prevented from bringing their occasional guests, any time, any way, from anywhere….members are polite enough not to abuse this and therefore it is infrequent enough to not ever present a population problem.

    Any group or complex or neighborhood who would desire a small familiar pool club for their use and enjoyment would only have to ask for info or pointers or lessons on how to proceed, and I know the helpful people on the Avondale Pool board would be happy to provide any and all experience they may have for your help and benefit as best they could.

    • Viola M

      I wonder why Jack Honderd felt a need to be “delicate” when discussing Avondale’s insular proclivity.

      • Fred

        ? I’m not him, but most folks approach a subject ‘delicately” when they’re not sure if they are 100% correct.

  • Hannah

    I guess I just don’t understand the rationale, because the excluded condo communities listed are within the bounds of the membership area. Maybe the thinking is the condo dwellers have access to their own pool? It just seems odd, because it is not as if every single person in the condo complex would want to be on the waiting list for ASTC. Thanks for trying to explain it to me. I also think it would be weird to say at a restaurant, we won’t serve you now or ever because our tables are all booked — even if you want to come back ten years from now — so just eat at home. I’m struggling to understand Avondale as it seems to have such a different vibe from Decatur or Clarkston.

  • Fred

    Hanna you don’t understand because you don’t want to. And I can’t help you there.
    If a thousand story condo hi-rise were now built in the area of the pool, the pool wouldn’t magically get bigger. It is what it is. What it always has been. What it will remain because it’s boxed in so it cannot grow. The thousands of people in the hi-rise (theoretical, like my restaurant analogy that was clear as can be) could not (or if they had common sense would not) try to apply to something that is, by reality, unable to handle it.
    It’s moot. It’s fixed. And it’s not at all hard to understand.
    Maybe you just want the feeling of applying, even tho it won’t be able to happen because of currently the facts (like pretend). OK, apply to me. I’ll take your application to the pool if that makes you feel better (don’t hold your breath but I’m always here to help).
    Personally, when something exists that isn’t personal in any way but just honestly, innocently and practically the way it is, I move on and put effort in working with folks to create our own situation, for us, with no hard feelings and it’s called winning. And if perchance ‘that’ gets to a limit that it cannot grow to accompany every new demand, I will have to explain to the new demanders that that’s the situation now and it’s not an injustice thing whatsoever. Whatsoever. It just is, and go in peace and we love you and wish you the best.
    Your life will be better now, if you take to heart this advice.

  • Fred

    But Hanna, you may be correct that Avondale is different than Decatur, or other places. Every town is usually different than others. Isn’t that great. I’m different than others around me (thank goodness!.. for them!). The world is good that way.
    If Avondale perplexes you, or annoys you, or anything you, then the wonderful thing is that there are millions of places that won’t. Just for you.
    You want to know different!? I’ve lived in Beverly Hills Ca. Now THAT place is different than Decatur or Clarkston (and Avondale) in a ways you wouldn’t believe.

    If I were you, I wouldn’t embark on trying to ‘understand the rationale’ of that, unless you just want to conflict your life forever.
    If someone doesn’t dig Avondale, don’t live there. So simple. If someone digs Avondale, buy there. See.

    Want to know what’s really wierd? When someone moves to Avondale and says it’s wonderful to be here and now I want to change this and change that and that’s no good and etc etc…. ! WTH?

    It’s happened, and you must assume they have to be confused masochists. Otherwise WHY? (not talking about improvements, but questioning what is and has worked fine for decades).
    I don’t miss Beverly Hills at all. But there is another little town up the coast that suits me better than Avondale, and I’m heading there soon. See?

  • Brad

    If ASTC opened it beyond SF homes (few having pools), we’d be on a 5 year waiting list, possibly: Keep in mind that there are multiple private swim clubs throughout DeKalb County with similar restrictive private memberships. It’s not an Avondale thing, it’s a neighborhood thing. (Twin Lakes, Leslie Beach, Pangborn, etc.) At one time the Condos at Avondale Estates were the only condos in the City–with their own pool and tennis—so that’s why they were specifically excluded.

    • Hannah

      Thanks Brad. That makes more sense.

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