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Flowery Branch balks over state roads grant
Officials want to wait until there is a more defined project
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Flowery Branch officials are shying from applying for a grant that is geared to dressing up local streets with sidewalks, streetlights and other such improvements.

The city has won previous state Transportation Enhancement grants, including $250,000 for a project under way on Railroad Avenue, but is balking at seeking another one until “we have a more defined project,” City Planner James Riker said.

The state Department of Transportation is accepting grant applications from local governments through Dec. 15.

“Frankly, it will take us until spring to start our (Railroad Avenue) project here,” Riker said at Thursday night’s City Council meeting. “Perhaps by then, some things may break loose for us and it will make sense where that next project will go.

“If we were going to put (a new) project anywhere, it would be in a block that we would hope, at some point, would be redeveloped.”

The Transportation Enhancement program helps pay for “multiuse facilities,” such as walking and biking trails and paths, street improvements and landscaping projects, historic preservation of transportation-related structures (such as railroad depots) and preservation of scenic byways.

The South Hall city hopes to put out a bid package early next year, perhaps by spring, on the Railroad Avenue project.

The target area is Railroad between Snelling Avenue and the planned Old Town Flowery Branch development north of Main Street, as well as Church Street between Main and Pine streets.

The project will primarily consist of sidewalks and street lighting, Riker has said.

The city was required to match the project by $50,000.

Riker said the city can use revenues from its tax allocation district toward the match.

Under state law, local governments can create the tax districts as a tool to lure developers to blighted areas, using property taxes from developments to pay for certain public-use projects within the district.

But City Manager Bill Andrew said he believes those proceeds “would be better spent on demolition of properties that we own.”

“If we were going to try to match the grant with general funds, that just takes away from the road program,” he said. “... We’re just not sure if the timing is right.”

Flowery Branch’s downtown improvement efforts go back several years.

The city wrapped up a major “streetscaping” effort in February 2008 that involved landscaping, widening sidewalks on the first block of Main Street off Railroad Avenue, installing new streetlights and benches with a historic touch and adding parking spaces. That work ended up costing about $488,000.

The City Council in neighboring Oakwood just voted to apply for a Transportation Enhancement grant to do more work along Main Street, between Railroad Street and Oakwood Elementary School at Academy Street.

The city already has $100,000 in hand from a previous grant, and City Planner Larry Sparks has said the city would like to combine that amount with money from the new grant to end up with $300,000 to $500,000 for the project.