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Ward 5 election produces Forest Park runoff

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The special election to chose a new Ward 5 councilman in Forest Park has resulted in a runoff.

The council seat was made vacant by the death of Councilman Wes Lord.

His widow, Linda Lord, outpolled others in the race, but will face Avery Wilson, a systems maintenance operator at a packaging company, in an October runoff. The exact date will be announced later, according to John Parker, Forest Park city manager.

Only Ward 5 residents could vote in the race, and of the 177 casting ballots, 82 votes were cast for Lord, while Wilson picked up 59 and Roy Lunsford received 35. There was one write-in vote.

Another measure on the ballot, an initiative to make use of the Georgia Redevelopment Powers Law, did involve all voters. Forest Park citizens approved the measure giving the city the legal means by which it can redevelop some 1,000 acres, which will be left vacant after the closure of the Fort Gillem Army base in 2011.

Of the 227 total votes cast, 161 voted "yes" and 66 voted "no."

The project will be the largest redevelopment effort ever in the metro Atlanta area, according to Parker. The law also allows the city to create Tax Allocation Districts -- at no extra cost to the taxpayers -- to address other blighted areas of Forest Park.

"At one time, Forest Park was a very vibrant commercial center," said Parker. "It's dilapidated and in serious need of revitalization.

"We're all elated that the citizens voted for it," he said. "I believe they voted in the best interest of the city."

Parker said he wanted to concentrate on making the Main Street shopping strip into a vibrant downtown area with multi-use buildings, the bottom floors hosting retail and office space, and the upper floors containing condominiums geared toward young professionals.

"A lot of cities have what is known as a downtown area ... we have a shopping strip a mile and a half long," he said. "With people living in these areas, it brings life back to your downtown area. Shops will have a better chance of being successful, and there will be less crime."

Parker also said he hoped that "commuter rail would become a reality" to create a "seamless connection" from the State Farmer's Market to Main Street, and on to the Fort Gillem area.

While turnouts for local, special elections are usually low, several residents came out to vote their convitions. Nguyen Son, a produce shop owner at the State Farmer's Market, wanted to see more commercial development in the city.

"It's a great community," he said. "I would like the community here to go forward. Why should we go over there," to the city, "when we can go over here. I hope they do what they say they are going to do."

Lisa Gosa, a home business owner and a 16-year resident of Forest Park, said she wanted to see a change in the way the city is run. "I love living here, but it doesn't seem to be working," she said. "We have a beautiful park and other areas that could be better utilized. I do want to see some development come in" because "a lot of places are falling to the wayside," Gosa said. However, she said the city should take measures to ensure that residents can still afford to live there.

"They need to keep in mind the people they have living here," she said. "You have a lot of people who have been living here all their life and they want to stay. Forest Park is a neighborhood. It needs to stay a neighborhood," she added.

"We have a small community and not a lot of people speak up," said Pamela Lake, a retired Forest Park resident. "It's an important issue for our city ... Forest Park needs a change ... a change of thought, a change of ideas, and a change of people. It also needs to be more inclusive. I don't feel that our current government reflects that."