Candidate Q&A – Tucker City Council member Michelle Penkava, District 3 – Post 1

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt September 18, 2017

In an effort to help voters prepare for the Nov. 7 elections, Decaturish sent questions to candidates for the Tucker City Council. Early voting begins Oct. 16. To see a map of the Tucker City Council districts, click here. (Editor’s note: Attempts to reach this candidate’s opponent, Dave Deaton, have been unsuccessful.) 

Michelle Penkava

1) Why are you running for the Tucker City Council seat? 

I care deeply about Tucker and the future of our community.  My husband and I moved here 16 years ago and from day one we felt at home and knew this was the perfect place to raise our children.  Over the past 18 months I have had the privilege of serving the people of Tucker as a Councilperson.  It has been an exciting and rewarding experience setting up our new city.   I would like the opportunity to continue the hard work our staff and Council have done to invest in building Tucker’s foundation while developing a city-wide vision and planning for its successful implementation.

2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?

Tucker and cityhood have been my focus and passion for the last five years.  I have experience fostering successful relationships at the State, County and local levels in order to provide Tucker with the best possible opportunities for collaboration and support.

3) What do you think is Tucker’s greatest strength?

Without question it’s our incredibly involved and supportive community.  There is tremendous strength in people who are always willing to roll up their sleeves and get things done.  That self-sufficiency and generations of engagement have contributed to another major strength – our well established balance of resources.  Tucker has wonderful neighborhoods, great parks, thriving industrial corridors and well distributed commercial areas that are beginning to experience vital redevelopment.  Putting policies in place to protect these assets is a key factor in preserving our equitable tax base allowing Tucker to continue to be successful in all economic times.

4) What do you think is Tucker’s biggest challenge? 

In one word, patience. Our biggest challenge in Tucker will be staying focused on purposefully laying the groundwork for our city in order to support longevity and sustainability. We are very new, which is easy to forget sometimes when we see the long-range plans of other cities, begun many years ago, coming to fruition now.  The natural desire for immediate gratification and a fear of “now or never” can sometimes foster discontent.

5) How would you address what you feel is Tucker’s biggest challenge? 

We as a Council must remain focused on the purpose of thoughtful planning — sustainable success. We are at various stages of completing a Comprehensive Plan Review, a Transportation Plan, a Park Study and several smaller data gathering projects — all part of developing an informed framework for planning and making sound policy decisions.

6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as a council member? 

If I am given the privilege of serving a second term on the Tucker City Council, I will continue working with staff and Council to complete our city set-up, always mindful that we must set sound policies and provide a workable and conscientious roadmap for future councils.  I will work with DeKalb County staff and elected officials to assist with the finalization of our Inter Governmental Agreements and a smooth transition of Parks and Recreation services to Tucker next year.  Once these things are in place, I would like to begin working with staff and Council on reviewing the fundamental ordinances that we adopted from DeKalb County. This will be a comprehensive process, often involving the community, but it will allow us to be better aligned with the vision for Tucker set forth in our comprehensive plan.

7) Did you vote for or against incorporating the city of Tucker?  If you voted for it, why did you vote for it?

I voted Yes for Tucker cityhood. As a matter of fact, I cast the first in-person vote for incorporating Tucker.  From the beginning, I worked with other volunteers in the community as we deliberated the pros and cons of cityhood and then at the legislature to ensure that Tucker residents had the opportunity to vote their will in a cityhood referendum.  Once the referendum was secured, I advocated in the community for passage of the vote.  The idea that outside groups sought to dismantle our long-standing community, home to generations of families, was unacceptable.

8) Do you agree with the Tucker City Council’s decision to vote against the zoning for the Rise project? 

I agree with the Tucker City Council’s decision to deny the rezoning request for 88 acres to a non-compliant use, by a 6 to 1 vote. Doing so would have violated our Comprehensive Plan. I personally voted to deny the request. I also agree with the Council’s decision not to change the Comprehensive Plan to allow for a high density residential land use in the middle of an Industrial Corridor, by a 5-2 vote. Unfortunately a lot of misinformation has spread across social media about the denied request which has led to a perception that Council doesn’t support moving Tucker forward.  Nothing could be further from the truth – the reality is that I support quality development done in a way that sets Tucker on the right course.  I couldn’t be more proud of the work that our Council put into vetting this proposal.  Beginning many months before we hired Planning Staff and took over Planning and Zoning and until the final vote, council members met with community members, researched, toured projects, reviewed studies and sought zoning and legal counsel.  We each took the decision very seriously.

The current land use and zoning of that property allow for a high number of favorable uses:  School, daycare, restaurants, parks, retail, office, movie studio, movie theatre, public space, auditorium and much more.  Tucker planning staff worked with the applicant for over a year in an attempt to develop a plan that was more transitional, from residential on the east side to more commercial uses on the west, during the many iterations of the applicant’s plan:  movie studio, no movie studio, movie studio again, no movie studio.  The applicant in this case, however, was adamant about changing the Comprehensive Plan and rezoning the entire 88 acres so that multi-family residential would be allowed in all areas in every scenario.  Additionally, there are areas in Tucker, ripe for redevelopment, that would support residential mixed-use now, as zoned.

This decision tested who we are as a Council. After working side-by-side throughout the cityhood effort, some found themselves on opposite sides on this issue. I’m so proud to work alongside a Council that has shown a willingness to do their homework on all of the issues and impacts, and make difficult decisions.  In spite of the admirable due diligence of each of our Council, in advance of our final vote, supporters of the development threatened to replace Honey Van De Kreke, District 1, Post 1,  if she didn’t vote yes, in favor of the developer.   She is now being challenged because of her vote to deny.  It turns out that the outcome would have been the same, with or without her vote.  Honey voted her conscience, as she always has.  She supported the action that she thought best for our City  – a decision that reflected our staff’s recommendations, was supported by a feasibility report conducted by Georgia Tech for Decide DeKalb and an independent appraisal of the property, and was supported by the majority of our Council.  Honey has been a hard-working and vital part of Tucker’s successes for many years.  She has always put our community first.   I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work with her, as I am with each of the other members of our inaugural Council.

9) What is your vision for Tucker’s future?  

Tucker is truly a special place. We are a community filled with hometown pride, school spirit and neighborly affection – all within minutes of downtown Atlanta. During the years leading up to our becoming a city, our community fortitude was tested. And we passed with flying colors.  My vision for Tucker is that as we grow and develop, we remain true to ourselves and our community. There will be difficult times.  Decisions will be made that are disappointing to some in the community.  We must remember that it is okay to disagree and to trust that those who have worked hard for our community in the past likely still have the best interest of Tucker at heart. Tucker has come this far by taking the high road and that is the path that will move us forward.

10) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? 

Yes, I will continue to conduct myself in an ethical and transparent manner.

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About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

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