Candidates for Dunwoody mayor and two City Council seats squared off in several public debates this month, expressing different views on how the city should deal with parks, density and economic development.
While the candidates largely agreed about what they want their city to be in the future, they voiced differing ideas about how to get there.
Bob Dallas, Mike Davis and Gordon Jackson are running for mayor of Dunwoody. Mayor Ken Wright, the young city’s first mayor. is not running for reelection.
There are three open council seats. Incumbent Councilman Robert Wittenstein is running for another term in his Post 4 seat. He is challenged by Rick Callihan and Terry Nall.
Lynn Deutsch and Kerry de Vallette are running for the Post 5 seat that will be vacated by Councilman Danny Ross.
Councilman John Heneghan is running unopposed for his Post 6 seat.
Here’s what the candidates had to say on the top issues.
Candidates in each race said the number one question people ask them is if they will support the upcoming parks bonds. On Nov. 8, voters will be asked to choose whether the city should take out two bonds issues: $33 million for acquiring land for future parks and $33 million for park improvement and development.
Some candidates proposed alternatives to the $66 million bonds for park land acquisition and development. Citizens will vote “yes” or “no” on issuing the bonds on Nov. 8, the same day as city elections.
“I feel like it’s too much too soon,” Terry Nall said of the bonds. “If both bonds fail, I believe we should fund our parks incrementally through the annual budgets.”
Robert Wittenstein said he was one of the council members who suggested splitting the parks bonds into two separate issues: one for acquisition and one for development.
“The residents of Dunwoody have important decisions to make on what we should do and what we can wait on,” Wittenstein said. “I think the thing that strikes me as a near term need is to acquire property while prices are low. It’s about acquiring property for our children and grandchildren.”
Callihan said he worries about land zoned for office and industrial being converted into city parks using the bond funding.
“The concern I have is taking large parcels of land off the tax rolls,” said Rick Callihan. “There are no specifics whatsoever in the plan. On the council I would work to come back next year with a better plan.”
Candidates for the Post 5 seat discussed what they would do if only one of the parks bonds is approved by the voters.
Lynn Deutsch said it’s important to remember that the council is not required to spend the full amount allotted in the bonds.
“If you pass the improvements one, you can improve the parks we have,” Deutsch said. “If the acquisition one passes … I don’t know how we’ll pay to maintain the land.”
Candidate Kerry de Vallette said the worst case would be if only the acquisition bond passed.
“If the improvement bond were to pass, it would give us more latitude to deliver as a council,” he said. “I would prefer to have some specificity going into it.”
The mayoral candidates also spoke out on the parks bonds.
Gordon Jackson called it a very difficult issue.
“As a youth sports coach, I am absolutely in favor of parks and recreation,” Jackson said. “But we are living in a time of worldwide recession.”
Dallas said the city needs to lay out a more specific plan for spending money from the parks bonds.
“This city does need parks and we need ball fields specifically,” Dallas said. “If it passes, I can assure you we will work to develop consensus before one buck is spent.”
Mike Davis said while he would like to see more parks, he believes the city will be better off if it remains debt-free.
“It comes down to taxes,” Davis said. “We’re a three-year-old city. We’re not prepared to start raising taxes yet. We’ve got to get our sea legs under us and build up a decent reserve.”
The candidates were asked for their views on how the city should handle future multi-family housing development.
Callihan said the council needs to consider any future apartment buildings on an individual basis.
“I think the key is maintaining the current balance,” Callihan said. “We can’t increase density without bringing in jobs.”
Terry Nall said the slow economy has kept development at bay.
“The race we have is that in the next two years this council will rewrite the zoning code,” Nall said. “We have to try to moderate multi-family housing and all the other development.”
Councilman Robert Wittenstein said one of the main reasons the city of Dunwoody was created was discontent with the number of apartments being built.
“We need to keep that sense of focus,” Wittenstein said. “We are actually going to be in a position of strength when the economy picks up. Our role as a council is to make sure as development occurs it will be something the whole community will want.”
De Vallette said he would like to see the city council prioritize rewriting Dunwoody’s zoning code.
“I’d like to see us accelerate that so we have time to vet it,” de Vallette said.
Deutsch also said a strong zoning code would benefit the city.
“That is going to go a long way in helping us control our destiny,” Deutsch said.
Bob Dallas said the question is not about whether density is good or bad, but about bringing density to the right areas.
“I want good growth … that brings professional jobs here,” Dallas said.
Mike Davis said he believes apartments have a 20-year life cycle before they end up as deteriorating, low income housing.
“If we keep building these things, the older units continually go down in value.”
Gordon Jackson said he doesn’t think there is support for more density in the Perimeter area.
“We have to look at infrastructure and what it means for the rest of Dunwoody,” Jackson said.