By Joel Hall
Riverdale voters gave city officials approval Tuesday night to use the Georgia Redevelopment Powers Law to rebuild the city.
A total of 278 voters cast ballots in the special election, and 193 voted in favor of the measure that will allow the city to make its Town Center project a Tax Allocation District (TAD.)
The TAD, which will act as the primary funding source for the project, will help the city pay for the project without increasing property taxes. The Town Center project is a multi-use development that will feature commercial, retail and residential components, as well as a new amphitheater and city hall complex.
"I am delighted that we are now moving towards the right direction," said Doug Manning, Riverdale public works and community development director. He said more people came out for this special election than other special elections the city has held in the past.
"That means something," he said. "It means people want a change, and I think that is wonderful."
There were 85 votes against the measure.
"I don't think it behooves Riverdale to have this much expansion," said Elizabeth Lewis, a flight attendant for American Airlines and a 13-year Riverdale resident. "We have enough traffic ... that level of business needs to stay downtown [Atlanta.] That's why we live in the suburbs."
Lewis worried that the new development would eliminate the city's greenspace, as well as bring an increase in crime.
The city of Riverdale needs to maintain "it's charm and history instead of all that hoopla," she said. "The city of Atlanta needs to stay within its parameters."
Lewis' view represented a concern about too much expansion from opponents, but supporters prevailed by a 2-to-1 margin.
Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie said development is unavoidable, and having the TAD will make it easier to create new, desirable development.
"I don't know why anyone would vote against it," she said. "Development will continue. If people were voting against it, they would be voting against development, but it will not stop development."
While Riverdale is smaller than other nearby communities, Jessie believes the city can benefit from new development. "Size doesn't matter," she said. "There are plenty of small cities that have a very good quality of life. I think that [the TAD] will make it easier for redevelopment or development. It gives us more tools to use."
Other supporters seem to agree the funding mechanism for the Town Center is a step in the right direction.
"I've been coming to the meetings for the Town Center," said Raymond Bell, a retired bus driver who moved to Riverdale two years ago from Boston. "The first meeting I came to, I stood for the whole meeting. That tells me people are concerned. From what I've heard, its a step forward for the city," he said. "If you are going to keep up, you have to keep up with the times," he continued. "I bought a house here and I'm not going anywhere."
Pat Bostic, a 16-year Riverdale resident and business owner, said she welcomes an "upgrade" to the city, so that people "can talk about some of the positive things Riverdale is doing.
"In the past, I wasn't very happy with Riverdale ... now I can see that we are shifting towards some positive things happening," she said.