Town hall focuses on economic future of county, especially south DeKalb

Dozens of DeKalb County residents spent Saturday morning on April 15 at the South DeKalb Senior Center on Candler Road hearing from key players about the county’s economic plans and sharing their concerns with county officials and with their neighbors.

Organized by DeKalb County’s two super district commissions, Lorraine Cochran-Johnson of District 7 and Ted Terry of District 6, the meeting included two key discussions—one on how strategic economic growth is charted and the 2025 Unified Plan and the other on revitalization of South DeKalb Mall and proposed initiatives for the Candler Road Corridor—among those the organizers called “experts who are at the forefront of the county’s short- and long-range plans for growth and development.”

“As our infrastructure and economy grow, we want our citizens involved at every level, learning, and collaborating with us on our county’s bright future,” Terry said. “I’m excited to share more about DeKalb’s robust plans for economic growth with such an esteemed panel of leaders.”

Cochran-Johnson called improving the economic well being of the county’s residents one of her ongoing priorities, adding, “A robust strategy for economic growth will support tax base enhancements and the creation of jobs. I encourage all DeKalb County residents to join this conversation.”

Sylvia Smith, planning manager for the DeKalb County Planning & Sustainability Department, was among the presenters on the first panel. She explained that the unified plan looks at transportation and land use and how the two drive one another. “Transportation doesn’t just mean public transport,” she noted. “We’re planning for all modes, including cars and pedestrians.”

Larry Washington, planning administrator for DeKalb County Planning & Sustainability Department, presented a future land use map that shows regions such as the area around Perimeter Mall, neighborhoods, and town centers such as Decatur, which he called “a hot bed of growth.” Like many of the presenters, Washington emphasized the importance of residents making their preferences known. “People are not aware of the power of participation,” he said. “We look at a lot of factors in our planning, but we don’t always get it right. There are factors such as societal trends that are hard to predict.”

Among the ways the county is encouraging economic development is simplifying business licensing and permit processes, according to Aaron Kimble, special projects manager for the DeKalb County Planning & Sustainability Department. “It hasn’t been simple in the past,” he acknowledged. “We now try to get through the process in seven to 10 days. We don’t always hit that mark, but it’s what we shoot for.”

Although the town hall was a countywide event, much of the discussion centered on the economic future of the area that was the setting for the Saturday morning meeting, specifically the future of the Gallery at South DeKalb Mall and the Candler Road Corridor.

Calling South DeKalb Mall “the gateways to south DeKalb,” Ryan Gravel, urban designer at Six Pitch and a member of the second panel, said, “If we transform the mall, it will bring economic growth to the entire area.”
Stephen Macauley, president of Macauley Investments, LLC, explained that the decline of South DeKalb Mall is not a unique event. “Most other malls across the nation built around the late 1960s when South DeKalb Mall opened also have either closed or no longer have national retail stores as anchors. We have to create a new national model based on how people live today and what they want today.”

Presenters cited Avalon, a mixed-use development in Alpharetta in neighboring Fulton County as a successful model to replace old shopping malls. Avalon, which opened its first phase in 2014 and its second in 2017, has in addition to 500,000 square feet of retail space, a 12-screen cinema, 101 single-family homes and 250 luxury housing units.

Macauley said that the Gallery at South DeKalb Mall, located on Candler Road next to I-20 and only a short drive from I-285, is in an excellent position for a similar development.

Cochran-Johnson said much of what current DeKalb elected officials are trying to accomplish should have gotten attention many years ago. “The sins of the fathers are being visited on the sons,” she said. “I would like to see change come quickly, but government moves slowly.”


One thought on “Town hall focuses on economic future of county, especially south DeKalb

  • April 24, 2023 at 5:01 pm

    We need a decent place to shop for grocery in the south dekalb area.


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