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Gainesville residents get view of future

Planners share land-use ideas

POSTED: May 22, 2011 12:47 a.m.

Gainesville residents are beginning to put in their 2 cents' worth about how the city should look in 20 years.

The city's planning staff hosted an open house and public comment session Saturday morning as they begin to create the next comprehensive land use plan, which is a blueprint that outlines community development goals and guidelines.

Residents were invited to learn information about the different planning elements, such as demographics, economic development, affordable housing, utility infrastructure, transportation, community amenities and historic preservation.

City staff and consultants from Urban Collage and The Jaegar Company also listened to residents' ideas.

"Under this planning process, we create policies whereby officials can use them for a growth plan," said Matt Cherry, landscape architect for Urban Collage. "This could include where to put pedestrian sidewalks or invest money for capital improvements. Essentially, it helps to prioritize decisions."

In coming weeks, Gainesville staff will post an online survey that will gauge residents' reactions based on photographs of streetscapes, densities, roads and open spaces.

"This is something you can do at 2 a.m. in your pajamas, so we hope we get more feedback there," said Bob Begle, a principal and co-founder of Urban Collage. "We want to know what's working, what's not working, what people love here, why they decided to move here and why they decided to do business here."

On a large map, residents posted stickers on areas that deserve special attention. A green dot welcomed changes and a red dot requested preservation.

"Put a huge sticker on Newtown," Faye Bush, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, said with a laugh to one of the consultants.

Throughout the morning, residents placed green dots at the midtown area, Lakeshore Mall and the intersection of Jesse Jewell and E.E. Butler parkways. They stuck red dots on the downtown square and Gainesville High School.

"Here on (Ga.) 369, there's terrible traffic where three lanes move into one lane," John Snyder, a Gainesville planning board member, told a consultant while tracing his finger along the map. "That's something we're talking to (the Department of Transportation) about, but let's put a green sticker there."

The comprehensive planning process is meant to be a community-based project. Consultants handed out comment cards for specific suggestions.

"It's crucially important to do this planning process because nobody knows Gainesville better than the people who live here," said John O'Sullivan, a Gainesville resident of 10 years. "I'd like to see some development in Gainesville similar to Hilton Head in terms of protecting the trees and having some smart-looking signs."

The city should protect green space, create more bike trails and provide public access points to Lake Lanier, he said.

"The lake is our biggest, most beautiful asset, and we need to use that," said O'Sullivan, who filled out several comment cards. "We can have progressive business and protect the environment, and we absolutely need to do both."

A few cards asked for improved development and more housing in the midtown area, a trolley system from the lake to downtown, preservation of historic buildings and 24-hour activities in the downtown area.

Others discussed the perception of crime and gang activity around College Avenue and the need for a northern connector between Thompson Bridge Road and Dawsonville Highway.

"Gainesville is the heart of Hall County, and a healthy Gainesville means a healthy Hall County," Hall Commissioner Craig Lutz said. "I've been concerned that South Hall residents look to Gwinnett County for entertainment, retail and shopping. There are some assets here that need to be redeveloped."

This includes the Lakeshore Mall area and transportation along Ga. 365 and Interstate 985, he said.

"We need a regional shopping center, and we could do a better job of keeping retail in the county to help entertainment and dining," Lutz said. "For many residents, especially in South Hall, the mall area is not as easily accessible."

The staff will host three workshops this year to garner public feedback on specific areas in Gainesville. A July 14 meeting will focus on the gateway corridors and roads that lead into the city.

An Aug. 11 hearing will look at the "central core" of the city, including the downtown, midtown, Fair Street and Bradford Street areas.

A final focus Sept. 8 will pinpoint commercial opportunities along Atlanta Highway, Browns Bridge Road and Lakeshore Mall.

The plan will also incorporate Vision 2014 from Gainesville Parks and Recreation, Vision 2030 from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan by the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

"I came to see if I could find out what people are interested in, and I like what I hear so far," Councilman George Wangemann said. "This is a long process, and I hope it will include anybody who wants to be included. I would hate to see a few people make all of the decisions."

Wangemann wants to focus on retail opportunities around the city, and he expressed concerns about dilapidated housing in some of Gainesville's neighborhoods.

"I hope there is some way to improve that and give incentives to people who own homes and can bring them up to where they should be," he said. "There are some redevelopment opportunities, but we also need to work on keeping our neighborhoods intact by being creative in figuring out how to improve homes."



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