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Public can now chime in on Oakwood’s 2030 plan

POSTED: October 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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G.E. Light has expressed his opinions to city officials about their ambitious plans to recreate downtown Oakwood by 2030.

"It’s very important to me to not take away all the old parts of this community here," said Light, a 60-year Hall County resident.

"That is one thing I’ve stressed to (City Manager Stan) Brown — let’s not just do away with the past, let’s stay focused on preservation."

Others soon will get their chance to voice ideas on the city’s plans, released Tuesday at City Hall to the South Hall Business Coalition.

The city has set town hall meetings for 6:30-8 p.m. Oct. 23 and 28 at City Hall, 4035 Walnut Circle.

The plan, which affects 253 acres around the city center, including the planned Thurmon Tanner Parkway’s final leg, foresees construction of multiuse and commercial buildings on large chunks of now-vacant land throughout the city, as well as redevelopment of other, older parts of town.

Highlights of the plan include an amphitheater, a new multistory City Hall and a commuter rail station that would sit along the railroad tracks running through the heart of the town. It also features three miles of connecting trails, parks and green spaces.

The plan puts names on certain areas throughout town — Government Town Center, Town Commons, Main Street Village, Historic Neighborhood, Neighborhood Village and Commercial Center.

Light’s church, First Baptist of Oakwood, sits on the edge of Government Town Center next to Town Commons.

City officials envision a new city hall sitting near the church and situated on a hill overlooking Main Street, with Oakwood Elementary School sitting elevated at the opposite end of Main Street.

The plan also features a new First Baptist Church building, including a tall steeple.

"That (is) very, very conceptual ... looking significantly down the future," pastor Steve Fenlon said.

The city approached the church in June "with (its) ideas and desires, and we were very open and supportive of trying to help the city develop," he added.

"... The city has given us some ideas and thoughts of what we could do."

Will Schofield, superintendent of the Hall County school system, said he envisions, as part of the plan, "future additions or remodeling (to Oakwood Elementary) would be done to match the facade (the city is) seeking to establish."

City officials expect that the plan will involve $150 million to $250 million of private investment and about $50 million in public investment through 2030, including infrastructure and "key land acquisition pieces," Brown said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Financing could come in several ways, including through a tax allocation district, which has been approved by the city and the Hall County commission, and possibly by setting up a community improvement district that can set its own tax rate.

The city has set aside $1 million, profits from selling land to a private developer for the Oakwood South Industrial Park off McEver Road, to pay for initial land planning and engineering work, city officials said.

Perhaps the soonest part of the plan to happen is construction on Thurmon Tanner.

The state Department of Transportation is set to consider construction bids Friday.

Thurmon Tanner is a four-lane road running between Spout Springs Road in Flowery Branch and Plainview Road in Oakwood and between Mundy Mill Road and Atlanta Highway in Oakwood.

The final leg would extend the road from Plainview to Mundy Mill, with the work scheduled to wrap up about the time the state finishes its $75 million reconstruction of roads around Interstate 985 and Exit 16 and the new Exit 17.

Schofield said he also foresees a possible second exit from Oakwood Elementary toward Thurmon Tanner Parkway.

"Oakwood has been very proactive sharing their dreams with us and asking for input," he said.

The flurry of changes are fine with Light, who lives on Flat Creek Road just outside the city.

"It’s modernizing and it’s not going overboard," said the retired Georgia Power lineman. "It’s upgrading and that we have to do."

"We upgrade our homes every so often and so I think the city of Oakwood has come to the time when they need to upgrade," Light said. "But yet, they’ve got the basic structure of the old Oakwood."



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