Hall County Commissioner Deborah Mack said that in order for residents who live in the neighborhood running along the Athens Street corridor to have an adequate park, a minimum of 10 acres would be needed.
"We have been looking for the past four years," Mack told about 40 people who gathered at the Butler Center for a forum held by the Concerned Citizens of Gainesville and Hall County. "If you know someone who can give us a lead, we’ll be glad to follow it up."
County Manager Jim Shuler added that work was ongoing in trying to identify available properties.
A park for families living in the area was one of numerous issues brought up during the a two-hour town hall meeting, with Concerned Citizens Vice President Teffeny Pierce posing most of the questions, including some submitted by the audience. Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras, City Manager Bryan Shuler, County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver, County Commissioner Steve Gailey, various department heads and local law enforcement representatives took turns responding. The tone of the meeting was and civil and respectful. Among the issues addressed by southside residents:
A need for more sidewalks. The city has prioritized areas for sidewalks, Bryan Shuler said, noting that "there’s never as much money in the budget as anyone would like to have for sidewalks, but we’ve been trying to address that incrementally."
On the county end, Mack said right-of-way acquisition sometimes becomes an issue in adding sidewalks.
The future of the Butler Center. Residents expressed concern about the state of the Butler Center, which is owned by Ninth District Opportunity, a federal agency. The city rents out the gymnasium. Figueras said with two new recreation facilities opening this year, at some point the feasibility of keeping the center open should be evaluated.
Noting that it is underutilized, Figueras said, "at some point, Butler has to go."
Beautification efforts. Code enforcement and landscaping regulations for new businesses, along with a push by the Gainesville Housing Authority, are some of the ways local government can try to keep neighborhoods from becoming unsightly, officials said. But individual efforts play a big part, too.
"It’s really, really hard to excite the community to help," in cleaning up run-down areas, Figueras said.
Speed bumps and guard rails. Jim Shuler said Brown Street presents challenges for speed bumps because of its grade. A guardrail there would require right-of-way acquisition. He said any street where speed bumps are installed needs the backing and support of the neighborhood.
Public safety. Hall County Sheriff’s Capt. Woodrow Tripp said officials are considering using a seized motorhome as a "mobile precinct," parking it in hot spots to deter drug peddling. Gainesville Police Lt. Keith Lingerfelt said residents would see a "marked increase" in bicycle officers as the weather warms up.
Mack told the group that she took its concerns seriously and would work to address what she could.
"We can’t do everything, but nothing falls on deaf ears," she said.
Afterward, Pierce said he felt officials "skated around" issues of having a recreation center and park nearby, but was satisfied that contact information was provided by city and county officials to address specific concerns.
"We’re willing to work with them, in making sure they address the issues and address concerns," Pierce said. "And we tell the concerned citizens ‘you have to do your part first.’"
Said Figueras afterward, "I think it was educational for all of us today. They called us to get answers and we gave them answers."