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Chamber wants Gainesville money for greener I-985 gateways
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On more than one occasion, Gainesville City Council members have indicated their intentions to clean up "gateways" into the city.

On Thursday, representatives of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Department of Transportation asked them to put their money where their mouth is.

The group asked the Gainesville City Council to commit $90,000 to an "extensive landscaping" project on the exits of Interstate 985 in Hall County.

The landscaping project will utilize existing plants and include the installation of drought-resistant plants along interchanges in Hall County.

Kit Dunlap, president of the chamber, asked the council members to consider giving $30,000 a year for three years to the project that is intended to beautify the entrances into Hall County from the interstate.

"So when somebody comes into Hall County, they know they’re in Hall County," said Denise Deal, executive director of Vision 2030.

Deal helped pitch the project.

The project is a public and private partnership, and the chamber has already received funding commitments from some local business owners, Dunlap said.

At its Feb. 14 meeting, the Hall County Commission approved a three-year commitment, totaling $90,000, to the project. The chamber also intends to ask officials from Buford, Flowery Branch and Oakwood to help fund the beautification project.

Russell McMurry, Gainesville’s district engineer for the Department of Transportation, said the project will keep motorists from littering in Hall County.

"We find that litter is down at landscaped exits," McMurry said.

Frank Norton, Gainesville real estate executive, added that the beautification project would make a good impression on Hall County’s potential business recruits. A similar project in Gwinnett County cost nearly $250,000 at each exit, but the chamber could find a way to do it for less money, Norton said.

Council members expressed support for the project, but did not clearly indicate whether or not they would approve the commitment at the March 4 meeting.

Councilman Bob Hamrick said the project was a great plan, but Hamrick was concerned about long-term maintenance of the landscaped entrances. Hamrick said one downfall of a similar project before the 1996 Olympics was that the landscaping fell by the wayside shortly after the event was over.

Though Dunlap said maintenance would be a priority, there is no clear plan on how to carry out the maintenance, she said. Still, Dunlap expressed her confidence in the project.

"We think that this will work, and we want to start with Exit 20," she said.

In other business, Gainesville Director of Public Utilities Kelly Randall advised the council of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s recent decision to allow people to hand water their lawns and fill their swimming pools. Randall said the relaxed restrictions would help the landscaping industry recover from the hit it took when outdoor watering was completely banned.

The department is exceeding the state’s mandated 10 percent reduction in water use, but Randall said he expects people will start using more water as the weather gets warmer.

"We really need to stress that the restrictions have not been lifted," Randall said.

Mayor Myrtle Figueras said she did not think Gainesville residents would begin to overuse water now that the restrictions have been relaxed.

"... People have started thinking differently," she said.