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Flowery Branch explores long-term road project options
City Council has mixed views about projects
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Flowery Branch plans to start informally talking with property owners in the path of potential road projects to see if they would be interested in selling their land, at some point, to the city.

The subject came up Saturday during a City Council retreat discussion of projects cited in a 2010 downtown transportation study, including extending Lights Ferry Road to Snelling Avenue and setting up a direct link between McEver Road and Interstate 985.

City Manager Bill Andrew said he believes the city has several "game changers" that would stir up more traffic in the downtown area, such as retail and residential plans for Old Town Flowery Branch next to Main Street and eventual development of a long-planned residential area between Gainesville Street and McEver Road.

"To have that happen, to lay the framework and basis for that, there is going to have to be a different configuration of roads," Andrew said. "... If we don't do this road work, then that changing of the city may happen slower, not as well or not at all."

The study shows some $8 million in projects, also including the extension of Pine Street from Gainesville Street to Lights Ferry Road, circling land the city recently bought for a future City Hall complex.

"These roads, in large part, were never designed to handle the type of traffic that we're saying now we want to come here," Andrew said.

Councilman Chris Fetterman said he doesn't favor condemnation as a means to building the roads. City Planner James Riker said the Pine Street extension, even traveling on city land, might require some private property to complete.

Fetterman joked about also striking that project off the list.

"Roads and infrastructure are economic development," Riker said, quoting a Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce official. "If we want to see economic development, these are unfortunate steps that have to happen."

Councilman Kris Yardley, also saying he is against condemnation, suggested the city look at smaller, less expensive projects first, then deal with larger projects "as resources become available."

"Even in economic development, they tell you that small things start balls rolling," Yardley said.

Referring to one project that affects four homes, he said, "We haven't had any conversations with those people. They might want to sell. We're not talking about right now, today, telling them to move - we're just saying long run, big picture, that's what we want and start having these conversations."

Fetterman said he's fine with people wanting to sell.

He's just worried about the holdouts "and where you go with that."

"The way you do something like this is you'd always know you'd be willing to do condemnation," Riker said. "... Most of the time, you don't want to have to do it, but you have got to be serious enough to let them know you're willing to do it."

City Attorney Ron Bennett added, "Especially because you're going to spend quite a bit of resources just to get the road in a fashion so you know where it's going to go, what property you're going to need to take."

Referring to a map in the study, Bennett said, "You can't just go with a pink line and start asking people whether you can buy their property or not."

Councilwoman Tara Richards urged other council members to move one way or another on the issue.

"If we want to be progressive, to get this infrastructure in place, we have to be committed that that's what we're going to do," she said. "And that's what local governments do for economic development.

"... Are we willing to do it or are we just going to piddle on the little projects that are just going to pave some streets but not upset anybody and put any roads down?"