2020 Gwinnett County District 1 Commissioner Candidate (Democrat)
GPCID Guest Blog Post: Kirkland Carden
Introduction: Gwinnett Place CID has asked candidates running for both the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman and the Gwinnett County District One Commissioner to answer several questions explaining their vision for the County and Gwinnett Place.
I’m former Duluth City Councilmember Kirkland Carden and I want to be your next Gwinnett County Commissioner for District One. I have decided to run for the Board of Commissioners because I care about the future of our community. Together, we can keep our community strong and vibrant for many years to come. Learn more about Kirkland by clicking here.
Guest Blog Questions:
1.Why are you running for District 1 Commissioner?
Answer: I decided to run for the Board of Commissioners because we live in a time of great social and political change–I’ve dealt with this firsthand on Duluth’s City Council–and the current Republican leadership in Gwinnett has not done enough to keep up with that change. It is important to preserve the best of our past, but at the same time we have to be prepared for what is to come. In a county of nearly one million people that’s supposed to grow to 1.5 million by 2040, there are no real mass transit options; we have serious public safety concerns that need to be addressed and portions of our county that desperately need revitalization have been ignored. Gwinnett County deserves better.
The residents of Gwinnett have a right to better transportation, better public safety, and better economic opportunity for every community. My track record as a Duluth City Councilperson shows that as District 1’s next Commissioner, I will work to improve Gwinnett every single day by providing world-class governance to all that call this incredible county home.
2. Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Gwinnett Place area and why?
Answer: Paris Baguette, Breakers Korean BBQ and Mariscos Mazatlan are where I spend the most amount of time. One of my favorite things about the Gwinnett Place CID is the diverse restaurants from cultures all around the world and these venues highlight that.
3. What do you see as the role of CIDs in Gwinnett, and how would you work with the Gwinnett Place CID, if elected?
Answer: I see the CIDs as the bridge that brings the private and public sectors together. They can help craft and execute a master plan that aligns with the needs of the residents and business communities. I also see the CID playing a role in providing elected officials and county staff with vital information so that educated public policy decisions are made.
I will plan to schedule a monthly call with the Gwinnett Place CID to listen to your concerns. After this election, the Gwinnett Place CID will have a district commissioner who proactively seeks your advice.
4. If elected, will Gwinnett Place be a priority for you? If yes, what is your vision for the Gwinnett Place area?
Answer: The improvement of the Gwinnett Place area is one of the top issues facing Gwinnett County–it’s one of the three things I mention to every single voter I talk to. For too long, areas of District 1 have been ignored. Unlike our current commissioner, I will have a keen interest in helping shape the future of the Gwinnett Place area.
Over the course of my campaign, voters and the development community have expressed a desire to see the public sector create a proactive strategy beyond concept drawings, renderings and ideas. We have to create a tangible economic road map for the Gwinnett Place CID.
With the right leadership, the current Gwinnett Place Mall site will become the epicenter in Gwinnett County for advancing workforce housing, transit and green infrastructure in the heart of the most diverse and fastest growing county in Georgia. Roughly 200,000 millennials are living within 3-10 miles of the Gwinnett Place CID. We have an opportunity to create walkable mixed-use communities that provide multi-family housing that caters to all generations.
We have an opportunity to create a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly destination in the core of Gwinnett’s central business district. The redevelopment of the 93-acre mall site presents an opportunity to transform and improve the economic engine of Gwinnett County. Much of these changes to improve this area can be accomplished with changes to the zoning ordinance and by forging a public-private partnership.
It is time for the public sector to take a more proactive role in the redevelopment of the CID than has been the case in the past. Redevelopment efforts on this scale are not easy. However, dramatic changes must occur in the CID for this area to reach its full potential. Closing our eyes to these challenges will set us on a path to further decline and failure.
5. What is your vision for transit in Gwinnett County?
Answer: Gwinnett needs to expand mass transportation. We are 20 years behind on this issue. Traffic is already bad enough and with our population expected to swell to near 1.5 million by 2040, the burdens of traffic congestion will only get worse. In the long-term, Gwinnett needs to expand our bus services, develop Bus Rapid Transit, heavy rail lines and paratransit service for eligible riders with disabilities. Drastically expanding transit and properly building the infrastructure takes time, however there are simple steps we can take right now for immediate improvement.
Many residents who work retail and service jobs are without reliable transportation on Sunday. The county should fund Sunday bus service to and from major employment hubs in Gwinnett County such as the CIDs. Just because Gwinnett County transit doesn’t provide bus service on Sunday doesn’t mean the work week is over for many Gwinnettians. This is a realistic short-term solution that will immediately improve bus service for our working-class residents, seniors, youth and the disabled.
5a. How will you bring transit to Gwinnett Place?
Answer: Gwinnett’s current Republican leadership has played games with our transit needs for far too long. The decision to hold last year’s transit referendum in March of an off-year election was partisan politics at its absolute worst. They designed that referendum to fail and it worked.
The voters of Gwinnett deserve another opportunity to have a transit referendum that is held in November of a major year election so more voters can participate in the electoral process. When elected to the Board of Commissioners I will work to accomplish that. The personal and economic burdens of traffic congestion cannot be ignored any longer.
5b. Do you endorse the Transit Review Committee’s plan submitted to the Board of Commissioners in February?
Answer: While I respected the recommendations of the Transit Review Committee, it failed to reflect the diversity that makes up modern day Gwinnett County. Most of them were admittedly not regular users of public transit and their plan showed it. When making recommendations, it’s imperative that the transit committee has the firsthand experience and diversity that is required to make equitable recommendations the community will support.
According to the plan created by the Transit Review Committee, it would take nearly 30 years before heavy rail is available to the Gwinnett Place CID. This is simply too little and too late. For years, I have been a vocal advocate for expanding heavy rail to the economic engine of Gwinnett County. This should have been a top priority for the Transit Review Committee.
We have to stop this reactionary approach to addressing our county’s transportation needs and be more proactive in finding solutions. Gwinnett needs to lead on this issue, not continue to delay action. It’s time to create a permanent standing Transit Committee that has broad authority to actively solicit community input and propose bold solutions. A permanent Transit Review Committee would demonstrate that Gwinnett’s leadership is finally taking our transit challenges seriously.
This permanent committee must make sure that its leader is effective. The head of the previous committee produced a plan that the Commission has not voted on months later. She’s now come out against her own plan, saying there are “many reasons” why she’s “not particularly excited about bringing MARTA into Gwinnett.” It’s time to prioritize transportation in our county and quickly expand bus services, light rail, and heavy rail. We can no longer relegate our transportation needs to ineffective and inexperienced leaders who will flip-flop their positions.
6. Gwinnett Place Mall has extended beyond a local issue to become a national punchline, around the topic of the “dead mall.” How will you address Gwinnett’s dead mall problem?
Answer: The county needs to create a long-term strategy to maintain the quality and physical aesthetics of these struggling retail properties. If a mall looks run down it will drive away potential customers, employers and developers. By properly enforcing code requirements, the county can ensure that existing malls do not blight the landscape and drag down surrounding property values. I will work with CID staff to crackdown on absentee commercial landlords and create a welcoming environment.
6a. If elected, what would be your plan for the mall site?
Answer: In October 2019, I proposed the county submit a competitive bid to purchase the mall from Moonbeam properties and create a strategy to acquire the remaining parcels. With new ownership comes the potential for redevelopment. Once the property is acquired a strong, long-term redevelopment plan can be implemented to ensure the Gwinnett Place area has a bright and stable future.
I am committed to working with the Gwinnett Place CID and community stakeholders to create a redevelopment plan that is financially feasible, implementable, adaptive to changing market conditions and considerate of potential impacts on the adjacent community and environment. This redevelopment plan should specifically focus on establishing a transit hub, change zoning to create minimum density requirements, architectural design standards, improvements to stormwater management and establish height requirements that allow for modern multi-family housing and office space. Doing so will create positive long-term aesthetic and fiscal benefits for the Gwinnett Place CID, surrounding neighborhoods and our county as a whole.
The cities of Duluth, Lawrenceville and Sandy Springs are good examples of public sector leadership taking a proactive role in redevelopment efforts in their community. The residents of the adjacent communities deserve better than a neglected run-down shopping center. We need bold progressive ideas, public sector leadership and risk-taking to confront what has been the Gwinnett Place status quo.
6b. How will you work with the Gwinnett Place CID to accomplish your plan?
Answer: I look forward to working with the Gwinnett Place CID to create a high-level task force of county officials, business leaders and CID stakeholders to develop and implement an area-wide revitalization master plan to improve the area. I also see an opportunity to work with the CID to address local community concerns such as public safety, homelessness, park connectivity, improvements to public transit, community outreach, and code enforcement for absentee landlords.
7. During the last SPLOST, of the $486,343,270 in transportation funding available, the Gwinnett Place area only received $9 million. Had the CID not had a list of potential projects prepared and shared information about transportation needs in the area with SPLOST committee members, it is likely even less in SPLOST transportation funding would have been allocated for the area. How will you ensure greater equity in future SPLOST funding distributions for Gwinnett Place?
Answer: I’m disappointed but not surprised to learn that Gwinnett’s current leadership doesn’t think the Gwinnett Place CID is worth significant investment of SPLOST funds. Gwinnett’s Republican leadership has guided funding and development across the county while neglecting the Gwinnett Place CID, at the expense of adjacent communities and their residents. For far too long, the current county leadership has failed to make this area a priority. This election is an opportunity to change that.
As a Transportation Planner for the Georgia Department of Transportation, I will use my professional experience planning and funding transportation projects to work with the Gwinnett Place CID to make sure this area receives an appropriate amount of SPLOST transportation funds. I’m committed to personally working with CID staff to make sure their transportation projects are included in the next SPLOST vote.
8. Gwinnett County and the Gwinnett Place CID collaborated on the ACTivate Gwinnett Place plan focusing on area infrastructure. However, most of the projects outlined in the plan are not fully funded. What is your plan to address this issue and move these projects forward?
Answer: I would like to see the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners provide a dedicated funding source for projects outlined in the ACTivate Gwinnett Place Plan. Properly funding the ACTive Gwinnett Place Plan will help revitalize the Gwinnett Place Mall site, improve roadways to make them more pedestrian and bike-friendly and help the CID accommodate the population growth in the area.