Candidate Q&A – Todd Pullen, Avondale Estates City Commission
Decaturish.com contacted every candidate running for office in Decatur and Avondale Estates and provided them with a list of questions. Todd Pullen is running for election to the Avondale Estates City Commission.
Here are his responses:
1) Why are you running for this position?
Avondale Estates is my home and I care deeply about its future. This city is going through some significant growing pains in the forms of Development, Population and Education. I have never been one to sit on the sidelines and talk about what should be done. I jump in and make things happen. I have been involved with the city with various roles since I moved here in 2002, most notably ten years on the Historic Preservation Commission and Architectural Review Board. This position is a natural progression where I think I can make a more significant positive impact on our community.
2) What makes you the most qualified candidate for the job?
There are several reasons that make me the candidate most qualified for the job:
I have lived in Avondale Estates for over 13 years. I lived in and developed the Locust Lofts, the only multi-family development in the business district, up until the last 10 months. Over that period I became deeply engrossed with the business district, which many of us also know as “Ingleside.” I have gained friendships with many of the business owners who have come and gone. I have witnessed firsthand the successes and failures of our business district. I have experienced the business district as a walking community. There were periods of time when I would only use my car on weekends. Avondale Estates cannot consistently support this way of living in its existing state. The dynamic is therefore constantly changing. I have been mentally developing a plan on how to make it better since day one. Now is the time to share that vision with the rest of the City!
My daily occupation is in high-end residential design and landscape design. The different facets of the multi-million dollar projects I work with parallel the functions of many of the City’s planning processes. I take ideas from napkin sketches and turn them into physical brick and mortar, controlling budgets and supervising contractors, working within zoning confines until a tangible product is achieved. It is going to take this sort of skill set to help lead our city through this period of growth.
I have a keen eye for building design and aesthetics. I think this is an expertise our board has lacked until the presence of Mayor Elmore. There needs to be more of this proficiency though, it is crucial that our business district retain a cohesive aesthetic, and remain connected to the town centers being developed around us. Decisions about this need to be made now and clearly presented during planning to avoid costly adjustments in the future.
It was also my design skills and passion for our city that led me to almost immediately join the Historic Preservation Commission. This commission helped hone my skills in design. I was ecstatic to participate in many continuing education courses on Historic Preservation as well as Urban Development. These classes introduced me to many leaders in these professions who I still am in touch with today. These relationships will be quite valuable to our city. The Historic Preservation Commission also introduced me to many of our City’s citizens. I heard first-hand accounts of our City’s history beginning with a resident from the Homestead that pre-dates Avondale Estates through entertaining accounts from some of our most known staples of the community like Ray Belcher, of Rays TV and Rays Indian Originals. But there were difficult parts of the position as well. I was a successful mediator when the meetings were not so sentimental. That is a difficult position to be in when everyone is your friend and neighbor. My ability to remain a neutral and just party when emotions are high enabled me to resolve conflicts , devise plans that work toward linking both sides together, and to work toward the greater good for all. We have to remember to look at the big picture.
As a part of the HPC I also participated in the draft of our Historic Preservation Guidelines, the rewriting of the Preservation Ordinance and the creation of the Architectural Review Board and Ordinance. I worked alongside the other boards such as Planning and Zoning to help modernize our Zoning ordinance.
Perhaps some of my greatest experience with the board, that I believe will be vital to this commissioner position is that I was on the HPC and ARB when Century/AG/Armstrong came through with their development plans. I am extremely well versed in how to visualize, read and communicate our current master plans. I know what it is that developers have to offer, and what we have to offer as a city.
3) Proposals to annex more property into the city of Avondale Estates could be revisited over the next four years. Do you support annexing more property into the city?
This was probably the single most position that determined the last election, and I do not see it going away until all of unincorporated DeKalb is eaten up, especially in light of DeKalb’s most recent headlines. Annexation seemed more lucrative when there was opportunity to annex commercial property. I need some strong documentation to support a different initiative. I think it is even more important to include the entire City in this decision. There is some fear in the neighborhood that annexation will diminish certain amenities our city has to offer and that it has the potential of changing the dynamic of our community. If annexation is to happen we need to make sure we have policy in place to keep what makes the current residential neighborhood special special. The fact of the matter is that we are due to radically change our population with or without annexation, which does not ease this fear. I think the roles of Historic Preservation Commision, the Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Zoning Commission need to be a major part of this discussion outside of the financial implications.
4) As a city commissioner, what will you do to support and improve educational opportunities in the city of Avondale Estates?
Everything I have the power to do. It pains me to hear of people who leave the neighborhood because their child was not able to enroll at the Museum School. The Museum School has been a wonderful solution for many residents, but it is only a band aid, not a panacea. It starts with parents getting involved. We need more to do so. One of the benefits of population growth is that more people means more families. Perhaps one day this will make a difference. We need to be persistent and stay the course. I love the idea of a possible partnership with the Decatur School System, and with our needs and their growing needs, take back some of the vacant schools around. There is so much potential! I think this would mean taking the issue to the state level. I am honestly not sure how realistic that is, but one has to dream big to make things happen.
5) The development of the Euramex project will be a big issue facing city leaders over the next four years. Do you have any concerns about this development, and what will you do to ensure it balances the needs of the developer with the needs of residents?
I love our downtown business district. This is the main reason I am running for this position. I am a perfect candidate to facilitate this process for many of the reasons I have already mentioned. This is the opportunity to make our city stand out in the metro area for the next hundred years. Euramex needs to step up to the plate and make us proud. The East Decatur Station and Kensington Marta Station developments have raised the bar. Euramex has yet to give the public anything to which we can relate. I have not gotten a warm feeling about them from our current BOMC either. If we are to make concessions with Euramex,we need them to present us with a more holistic vision. They need to offer something for the whole city, not just the most desirable property frontage on North Avondale.
6) The downtown business district has grown over the last few years. As a commissioner, what will you do to support the continued development and growth of the downtown business district?
We have four acres that can be used in many different ways to help support the business district. Out of this four acres I think we need at least two for a central green. I would love to have select businesses surround the green; places that make people loiter, like restaurants and galleries. Outside of the green we need businesses that operate during regular business hours so that the traffic is not an increased burden on the neighborhood. It needs to be a balanced appealing destination. Again, this is going to prove to be even more difficult to find this formula with the surrounding developments proceeding at such a rapid pace, but I am excited about it and will be a part of making it happen no matter what the outcome of this race.
7) What do you think Avondale Estates should do to address the need for additional parking near the downtown business district?
I believe the best plan for adding accessible parking is to break it up in pockets. It should offer shade and reprieve through decorative and purposeful landscaping. This type of plan has a proven successful throughout history. It’s much more beautiful than larger clusters of concrete parking lots. I have already mentally placed many such parking pockets on my many walks through the business district. Perhaps part of our plan with the four acres is to work with developers to help realize this goal. I have heard of ideas of a building a parking deck behind City Hall. Such an idea is so disconnected from where the need is. Parking decks aside from being an eyesore, are expensive to build, and expensive to maintain. I do not think it would really help our business district grow.
8) Over the last few years, concerns have arisen about the level of transparency from city officials. Do you have concerns about the transparency of Avondale’s government? If so, what would you do to make city government more transparent and accountable to residents?
Timing is key. . I vow to be completely transparent. I prefer to listen, then react to the public. While I have my own ideas about how I would like to see this city grow, it is everyone’s city and I will merely be its servant.
9) Avondale Estates is a historic district. Do you support the current historic preservation standards, or do you think they need to be revisited?
I gave ten years of my time to the HPC. I left the HPC because I did not think it was practicing pure Historic Preservation, yet I firmly believe it is one of the most important boards to preserve the character of our community. As the city grows, I do think we need to constantly evaluate whether or not the guidelines are meeting our needs and adjust them as necessary. I commend this board and all that they have to do. This board as well as the Architectural Review Board is critical to keeping Avondale Estates special.
10) What are your feelings about the current effort to upgrade and renovate Willis Park?
Part of the upgrade was to revitalize a park to give it appeal again. The kids from the Museum School gave it the love it needed again. Perhaps we spent a bit too much on it, given that it had found the love it needed. We could have shared the wealth with other green spaces. Ultimately I am glad it is happening though.
11) If elected, do you promise to behave in an ethical and transparent manner?
I have often been told I am too honest. I will be completely transparent. I understand that sometimes it is the timing that is important. I hope I can hold back when it is needed.
The election is Nov. 3 and early voting begins on Oct. 12.