As 2020 has drawn to a close, it is time to reflect a bit on the year that none of us anticipated. It was a year marked by grief, isolation, and loss, but also by resilience, hope, generosity, and compassion. We rightfully mourn the lives we lost to COVID, as well as the memories we could have made with friends, family, and loved ones that were stolen by the pandemic. Often, we begin each new year with a sense of anticipation, hope, and a clean slate for what is to come. While hope abounds as we transition to 2021, it is also a time to recognize the progress we made as a city despite the many challenges and offer appreciation and gratitude to those who made it possible.
I share these 2020 accomplishments to reaffirm my commitment to keeping you better informed, and to ensure that you are part of this process. Whether it was the services provided that keep us comfortable and thriving or updates to plans and processes that now are more relevant, less subjective, and more equitable, the Board of Mayor and Commissioners (BOMC), staff and volunteers on our many boards and committees accomplished so much with extraordinary efforts, sacrifice, and collaboration.
Our staff has shown their flexibility and resourcefulness to make things happen even in challenging circumstances. Our elected officials have battled through technical difficulties and provided guidance and foresight needed to prioritize and make tough decisions for our rapidly evolving City. Volunteers have stepped up to support school students, celebrate graduates who went without the usual ceremonies, provide PPE to frontline workers, and make our community more beautiful and livable. Our businesses have been creative, innovative and vigilant in their efforts to open safely and provide a sense of normalcy back into our lives.
This past year we welcomed many new residents to our City. Our population grew as we annexed Berkeley Village and brought online the new, beautiful Alexan mixed-used development. Despite an uncertain economic climate, new businesses popped up adding to the diversity of entertainment, retail, food/drink, and services available in Avondale Estates. We, as an organization have grown as well, creating new positions that serve to strengthen the talents and skills we have at our disposal so we can continue tackling the progressive, smart growth agenda set out by the BOMC. This theme of “Welcoming” was a strong priority in 2020 and will continue in 2021 as our new Welcoming Committee is seated and develops initiatives for inclusivity and stronger community.
To maintain a safe and healthy work environment for our employees and to provide convenient methods for our residents and businesses to do business with the City, several new communication tools were introduced. Building permits that used to require a visit to City Hall are now available online, as are newly streamlined request forms for City services. We launched “Ask Avondale,” a quick and easy way for you to get answers to frequently asked questions and to participate in quick polls for the benefit of the entire community via text. And maybe most importantly, we pivoted quickly, at the onset of the Pandemic, to convert our in-person meetings to a digital format through Zoom ensuring that you continue to have a strong voice in this community.
Community engagement remained a priority, especially when it came to plans for the new Town Green. The City and Site Solutions executed an award-winning community engagement process to develop a refined concept plan for the Town Green, which was presented and adopted in late spring. Since then, the design team has developed construction plans, submitted for permits, and interviewed potential contractors to build the park. We hope to break ground in the next several months!
I am also pleased to share with you that we are moving forward with a new street connecting Washington and Parry Streets, one of the key recommendations that came out of the downtown street grid plan adopted at the end of 2019. Engineering drawings are completed, and discussions are underway with the impacted property owners to acquire the necessary right-of-way. Construction of the street is planned for 2021 in conjunction with the Town Green.
The large City events that we all love did not happen in 2020, but we are setting the stage for the future. In addition to the park, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) built and landscaped an 80+ space surface parking for downtown businesses and future park goers.
The City’s Historic District Design Guidelines received a much-needed update in 2020. The new guidelines are clearer, easy to understand, and leave less room for subjective interpretation. The process to develop these new guidelines was a great success only made possible by the feedback from many of the district’s homeowners and other interested community stakeholders.
The City also undertook a stormwater plan to assess the condition of existing stormwater infrastructure and prioritize repairs throughout the City. The consultants were charged with ranking identified issues and developing concept plans for the top five most pressing stormwater problems. Concept plans are underway, and much needed repairs to this critical infrastructure are expected within the next 12 to 24 months subject to funding.
The City has also been moving toward implementing a new zoning code. Utilizing the results of a zoning code audit conducted in 2017, the City contracted with Clark Patterson and Lee (CPL) in 2019 to help the City re-write its zoning code. The year-long drafting and community input process culminated with a draft document to the BOMC at the end of 2020. The proposed new zoning code is on track to be considered for adoption by BOMC in Spring 2021.
In 2020 we welcomed new Public Works Director Marcel Jackson who met the challenge head on as he came aboard in the midst of leaf season. The City’s Public Works crews collected more than 1,900 tons of garbage and facilitated the collection of more than 240 tons of recyclables. That is in addition to more than 200 special pick-ups of oversized items including furniture and appliances. With reduced crew capacity due to precautions taken because of the pandemic, the Public Works Department successfully managed tasks as right-of-way maintenance, park and plaza landscaping, and decorating for holiday celebrations throughout the year. As always, these efforts were bolstered by tremendous community support from our two garden clubs and the newly formed volunteer group, Gardeners for the Common Good.
While 2020 will be remembered for the pandemic and its challenges, we were also called to re-examine our impacts on ourselves and our surrounding communities, and with that fresh perspective bring about change that is better for everyone. One such step we embarked on has been the seeking of state accreditation for our Avondale Estates Police Department. This process is a long and arduous one that examines not only policies and procedures but also seeks to implement best practices that meet or exceed today’s policing standards. Once that process is completed, we will consider additional options to further examine our department’s operations and steps to even more effectively address the challenges facing law enforcement and the communities they serve.
While I’m proud of how much we’ve accomplished, there is much more work to be done. First and foremost, we need to ensure our community stays healthy in anticipation of the vaccine distribution. Simultaneously, we will continue planning for our post-pandemic normal, focusing on the health of our businesses, the maintenance and utilization of our green spaces, the securing of our infrastructure, and the continuity of our services to you.
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t see the momentum for City Hall slowing in 2021. We are continuing to shape our City as a place we all want to live, work, and play. In the coming months, we will update the City’s
Comprehensive Plan and push forward with the Complete Street Project on North Avondale/East College Avenue. The project will transform approximately one mile along this corridor into a bike and pedestrian friendly path, providing a main street that functions for our residents and visitors alike.
Make sure you are keeping connected with the City by following us on social media, signing up for the enews, and checking out the website.
Thank you for your support, interest, and commitment to Avondale Estates in 2020. Like you I am optimistic about the possibilities of 2021. It is my hope that 2021 be a healthier, happier, and better year for everyone.