Smyrna City Council members talk redistricting, ordinances, safety at joint town hall

The exterior of Smyrna City Hall, a red brick building with four large columns

by Arielle Robinson

Smyrna City Council Wards 1, 2, and 3 held a joint town hall last Tuesday evening at City Hall. Councilmembers Glenn Pickens, Latonia Hines, and Travis Lindley, respectively, briefly discussed several items of interest.

Below is a summary of what each member said:

Pickens—Ward 1:


Pickens, who chairs the Committee on Short-Term Rentals, started by discussing the short-term rental ordinance city council passed unanimously in May.

The ordinance applies to Airbnbs and and other short-term rental properties.

“First we started looking at what kind of issues were we having in the city, and how are other local jurisdictions addressing the same issues,” Pickens said.

“So we spent probably close to a year working on the ordinance and we just wanted to make sure it was right, that it covered everything. We had a town hall, got citizen input on it before passing it, and it went into effect earlier this year.”

Pickens touched upon a few of the requirements for short-term rentals, which include:

—A business license

—A permit, which you have to be the homeowner to get

“It’s a pretty big issue for different areas around Ward 1, specifically close to The Battery,” he said.

Click here to read the ordinance city council passed in May.

Pickens also talked about traffic calming.

“Last year the mayor introduced the traffic calming committee and one of their focuses has been Campbell Road,” Pickens said. “So through them we’ve implemented speed humps, stop signs, and also flashing crosswalk signs, and the final one should be in place next week.”

The councilman also talked about the upcoming Emerson Center, which will be one-fourth of a mile west of The Battery.

It is a mixed-use redevelopment that will add a full-service 188-room Hilton Hotel, 300 apartments, a 546-space parking garage, and 37,000 square feet of retail space for restaurants and shops.

The Emerson Center is currently in the planning and engineering phase.

“I think it still will stand as the largest investment in Smyrna,” Pickens said. “It’ll cost probably $150 million once it’s complete.”

The last thing Pickens touched upon was redistricting.

“Earlier this year, we started the 2020 redistricting process due to the census,” Pickens said. “And when we looked at all the numbers, Ward 1 was significantly smaller than all the others. It had roughly 6,000 people and we needed to hit 8,000, so it grew the most. So different parts of Wards 2 and 6 will now be part of Ward 1…[The new map will] take Atlanta Road all the way up to the Zaxby’s and then along Village Parkway.”

Click here for the draft of the new redistricting map the city approved at the Sep. 19 and Oct. 3 council meetings. The map says “draft until adopted” because Smyrna has not yet received the final version of the map from the agency that made it.

Hines—Ward 2

Tuesday evening, Hines reiterated a few points she made at her first town hall early last month.

Among them were the ideas of neighborhood captains, a newsletter, and public safety promotion.

She talked about neighborhood captains.

“I’m doing some reach out to the different neighborhoods within my ward and trying to get some people to give us their input,” Hines said. “Or something like if you live in your own neighborhood and tell us some things that are going on, and being able to have some regular meetings and kind of discuss those things so that we’re communicating with each other.”

These captains could also highlight events occurring in one another’s communities.

Hines said she is still working on getting out a newsletter for her ward.

Hines also said she, Pickens, and Lindley have been discussing doing community outreach events in light of their wards touching one another.

“One of the things that we’re going to ask…if you have some ideas, if there’s something you think would be good within your ward or your area or something that you know, if there’s a need…I want us to be able to get together, do some community outreach, and if you have ideas, great, I’m all about an idea and I promise you I will have a meeting about it,” Hines said.

Hines closed out by talking about public safety.

She said that entering autos is very common, and for residents to not leave their valuables on the front seat of their cars. She said to especially be vigilant about this with the holidays starting.

Hines then brought Smyrna Police Chief Keith Zgonc up to discuss Flock cameras, which Hines is a strong proponent of.

Zgonc said “Flock” is a proprietary name for license plate readers, which he referred to as LPRs (License Plate Readers).

“LPRs…provide information to local law enforcement on stolen cars, wanted people…so that police can respond quickly, apprehend wanted felons quickly, recover stolen cars quickly, recover stolen property quickly,” the chief said.

Zgonc said the police department recommends that neighborhoods invest in Flock cameras. He said that some neighborhoods are currently using flock cameras and sharing that information with law enforcement.

“It’s not big brother, you control the information that you share with us,” Zgonc said. “One of the things that we do ask is that you share what’s called ‘hot’ information with us, so if a stolen car comes into your neighborhood, we’ll get notified [within minutes]. It’s an email alert that goes to every police car.”

Zgonc said that many crimes have been solved through LPRs that would have been difficult to solve without them. He said that people interested in learning more information about them can reach out to him or Lieutenant Louis Defense.

Lindley—Ward 3

Lindley echoed some points his colleagues made.

The councilman chairs the traffic calming committee and said the following:

“One of the biggest issues when we came into office early in 2020 was the constant refrain that the rate of speed through our neighborhoods was a major issue.

“We took that head on, and by the end of the year we expect to have nearly 40 intersections, incident areas across the city with monumental changes—everything from speed humps to traffic calming islands, and the end result we hope, obviously, is that we slow folks down.

“…We are a gateway community, so folks come through our city twice a day to and from work. We are hopeful that when they do that they will do so in a safe manner. Certainly, in the early years of COVID we had a number of tragedies throughout our city. So by the end of the year, we’re proud that we will have made a sizeable resource investment citywide. Virtually every ward was touched by this,” Lindley said.

Lindley also touched upon redistricting.

“I kept having this feeling like I seemed to be busier than some of my other council members and when the numbers came back earlier in the year and my ward was 26 percent larger than it legally is supposed to, that made us take a hard look,” he said.

Lindley said the council worked with an out-of-state group to ensure that the reshaping of districts was generally equal.

“I hate to lose chunks of Ward 3 but I know they’re going to be in capable hands,” Lindley said.

Lindley said the new map does not take effect until the next election term. All wards will remain the same until the end of 2023.

Lindley also chairs the townhome standards committee.

Last month, city council voted in favor of code amendments to its zoning ordinance with regard to townhome standards and their designs. The amendments can be read here.

Lindley said Tuesday that the ordinance was a “methodical endeavor,” and that the city analyzed examples from other municipalities to make their decision.

“Our hope is that we have come up with something that will stand the test of time,” he said. “When we came into office, it seemed like every meeting we were dealing with about two or three townhome proposals, all of them sort of varied in what was the look and feel.”

Lindley thanked Community Development Director Russell Martin and his staff for working on the townhome ordinance.

The councilman also thanked staff for their work in putting together the city’s 150th birthday celebration on Oct. 8.

“We had the opportunity to look out on the mass that assembled and it was truly amazing to see how many people came out and were part of that historic evening,” Lindley said.

Lindley also briefly discussed city council’s approval at the Oct. 17 council meeting of the site furnishings, shade sail components, and custom shade structures for the downtown greenspace redevelopment project.

Lindley also chairs the downtown redesign details task force and echoed what he said at the Oct. 17 meeting.

“A week and a half ago, the committee that I have the honor of chairing took a site visit,” Lindley said. “And it was sort of stunning how vast a space and a resource that is going to be for our citizens and our city in the years to come, and we are—knock on wood—a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, but looking to have that delivered next spring.”

Lindley then pivoted to newsletters for his ward.

He said he has put about seven or eight newsletters up and said residents can access those on the city’s social media pages along with Lindley’s official Facebook page for that and past newsletters.

Lastly, Lindley pointed out volunteer residents Keith Bentley, who is on the Planning and Zoning Board, and Lisa Castleberry, who serves on Keep Smyrna Beautiful. He expressed his appreciation toward them.

“A huge thanks to all of our volunteer residents that give up their time and resources,” Lindley said.

Mayor Derek Norton closed out the town hall by discussing Support Smyrna, a 501c3 started during the pandemic that helped support and feed Smyrna residents in need.

Norton talked about how neighbors were able to help their neighbors through the program, along with the police department delivering groceries to people who were unable to leave their homes.

Norton said the city has now expanded that program.

“We’ve created our own 501c3,” Norton said. “My wife Laura chairs that board of diverse, very talented Smyrna residents. We’re expanding the mission of what we’re doing—we’re helping veterans, we’re helping children and families, we’re helping seniors, we’re helping anybody in need in our community.

“The way that we’re connecting the resources with the needy is we went to the Smyrna American Legion Post 160and met with the commander in the chaplain, and we’ve been able to help six veterans or their families that had housing issues, medical issues, you name it. It pulls on your heartstrings what we were able to do for those people.”

The mayor said city officials have met with the five social workers for all Smyrna schools and so far have helped get uniforms for kids who do not have them.

He also said Support Smyrna helped buy medicine for an asthmatic child of a single mother who was missing school because he did not have his medicine.

Norton said the 501c3 is about to meet with faith leaders in order to better connect with the community’s needs.

“I’m really excited about the impact that this is going to have and the help it is going to provide,” Norton said. “I’ve discovered personally that there’s more need out there in our own city than you could possibly imagine, and we’re answering that call to help those folks. If you want to be involved, it’s, and I want to talk about this every chance I get because it’s such a great program.”

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.