Sarah Shurden is running for Austell City Council At Large Post 1 in the November 5 2019 special election. The post was vacated by then-Mayor Pro Tem Ollie Clemons when he took over as mayor when long-time Mayor Joe Jerkins retired for health reasons.
The Courier had a conversation with Shurden at Cenacle Coffee Shop and Bistro in downtown Austell on September 17.
Asked to tell a little about herself, she said, “My husband and I moved here about six years ago. We never had any intention of moving here.”
“We bought some investment property and we were just going to flip the house. We lived in downtown Atlanta, but every time we came out here we fell in love with this community pretty quickly,” she said. “It had that small-town charm and we’re only 12-15 miles outside of the city limits of Atlanta.”
“We fell in love with this little town, and we saw that there was a lot of potential,” she said. “There’s a lot of boarded up buildings, but it had a lot of historical charm.and we really saw a vision for it from the first time we came here.”
She said her house in Austell is an 1896 farmhouse, and that their previous home, in the Riverside neighborhood of the City of Atlanta, was a 1930s Craftsman.
“I like historical houses,” said Shurden.
“So we sold that, moved into this house, and never regretted a minute of it,” she said.
“We love living out here because we feel like it’s a hidden little gem,” she said. “You’re 30 minutes from wherever you need to be, whether it be the airport, Suntrust stadium, Kennesaw, you’re thirty minutes from anywhere you want to go, and it still has a lot of that small-town charm that a lot of the other places are lacking.”
She owns an antique store on Broad Street in downtown Austell.
“Like old houses, I like old things,” she said. “I like the history behind them. Sometimes I wonder if they can only tell their story, whether it be a china pattern or some of the old railroad stuff.”
When asked why she decided to run for city council, she said, “I’ve been really active in the Austell Business Association for the past several years. And we’re a little bit different from other business associations in the sense that we want to be more community-driven.”
She said the goal of the business association was to plan a big project for the year, and that they had settled on reviving Austell Day.
“Austell Day was something that used to be huge for this town. and for whatever reason twenty years ago they stopped doing it,” she said. “A lot of people still remember that, and refer back to some of the best times they had growing up. So we were like ‘Let’s bring that back.'”
“So we organized and started reaching out to the community, and vendors, and (organized a) parade, and fireworks show, and it was a huge success,” Shurden said.
“We also started with the scarecrows last fall,” she said. “And it was exciting for us to see how much something so simple impacted the community. People really enjoyed coming out and looking at all the scarecrows for all the different businesses participating.”
“And they did a scarecrow that either represented their business in some fashion, or it was just some sort of advertising for their business. And people got really creative with it,” she said.
She said that’s one of the reasons she decided to run. “There’s been nobody to drive that sense of community.”
“Everybody wants to complain about everything that’s wrong, but there’s nobody stepping up to the plate to try and fix it,” she said. “And that’s where I hope to be able to step in and do both; continue to do community events and continue to hopefully bring new perspectives and ideas to (the) council.”
Shurden said that making downtown Austell a quiet zone where trains would not blow their whistles is a priority of hers.
“I think that in order to get developers interested in the area, they need to have an area where they can build and develop and be able to sell what they do. And I think that the horns are a great detriment to that,” she said. “Just the horns. I don’t have any problem with the railroad. I think (the railroads are) vital for a country to move. And it’s been there forever, it ain’t going anywhere.”
“You can be awakened at two or three o’clock in the morning by the whistles,” she said. “If you have a business that is near or around the tracks there you have to stop doing business and wait for the horn to quit going before you can go any further. You just have to wait ’til it’s through blowing.”
She said, “And I think if this was a quiet zone then it would attract developers to build houses, which will bring in … new revenue … for the city, as well as fresh blood and families and all that.”
“So that’s kind of a two-in-one for me,” she said. “The quiet zone I think will affect so much. Light industrial, small businesses, new homes. So that’s a big priority for me.”
Asked about what sort of development she would like to see in the area, she said that retail would be her first choice.
“Because unless you go to the East West Connector, unless you go to Hiram, we really don’t have a lot of retail options, especially in the downtown area. Now the East West Connector is considered Austell, but it’s not in the city limits of Austell,” she said.
“So within the city limits we’re really lacking that backbone to draw more people in,” she said.
“Austell doesn’t have a grocery store,” said Shurden. “You have to drive to Mableton or to Lithia Springs right next door or to Powder Springs to actually go to the grocery store. And I think that would be a great addition to our community.”
“I don’t necessarily want to see any more industrial development in this area. I think we have enough of that already,” she said.
Asked whether she favored growing the city by annexing surrounding areas, she said the only area she could imagine annexing would be the parts of unincorporated Cobb County toward Douglas and Paulding counties.
“We can’t go the Mableton direction, we can’t go the Powder Springs direction. But there is a lot more land going (toward) Douglas, Paulding counties,” she said. “That’s about the only area that I think we can really see any true growth.”
When asked if there would be any benefits to annexing those areas, she said, “Absolutely. I think the people themselves would gain a lot. The City of Austell has a lot to offer.”
She said that compared to living in the City of Atlanta, taxes are much lower in Austell, but city services are better.
“Just simple things like putting your leaves and branches out by the road and they come around and pick them up. You don’t have to bag them up they come around and sweep them up and it’s simple things like that that make a huge difference,” said Shurden.
Asked if there is anything else she wants voters to know about her, she said, “I am a proud daughter of two Vietnam veterans. Both my biological father and my stepfather served.”
“I’m a wife, I’m a business owner. I like to be involved in the community,” she said. “I just have a desire to see this city grow, and I think it can, with some fresh ideas.”
The election will be held on November 5, 2019.