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Flowery Branch officials ponder future downtown look
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City officials cast a vision Saturday for Flowery Branch's downtown, one that combines new roads with residential and business growth and government offices moving away from the heart of Main Street.

"We've identified some underdeveloped properties or vacant lots and ... if we had some pieces of this puzzle filled in, this area would look a lot different than it does today," City Planner James Riker said, addressing City Council during its annual retreat at City Hall.

"And it's really not that far off. With a really neat road network and accessibility, that would essentially be the redeveloped downtown. It wouldn't need to be something outside the ability to have a market to support it."

Downtown redevelopment isn't a new concept. Several years ago, city leaders considered a plan to eventually consolidate city offices in a single government building at Main and Gainesville streets, overlooking downtown.

The city has formed a tax allocation district, with the revenue used to demolish a deteriorating downtown building.

City Council has approved a developer's $15 million plan for a residential/retail development next to Main Street, Old Town Flowery Branch. And city officials have used grant money to beautify Main Street and Railroad Avenue with sidewalks and streetlights.

Also, the city has bought property at Gainesville and Main streets for a possible government complex. Council talked Saturday about maybe using some TAD money to tear down old structures now on the property.

Much of Main Street between Railroad and Church Street is now occupied or owned by the government, including City Hall.

City officials showed a map to the council Saturday that depicted the area of potential development and redevelopment, also bounded by Lights Ferry Road and Chestnut Street.

The area includes aging homes and the site of an old school.

"We always think of what (the city) owns as being the key to redevelopment, along with the (Old Town) site," City Manager Bill Andrew said.

"These are the two really important properties, but don't forget the school site. That's something we really think that could make a real change in the community with the right owners."

A casualty of the economic downturn, the Old Town site is no longer in the hands of the original developers, Buford-based Hortman & Dobbs.

Council members talked about a slew of potential road improvements at the retreat, but one that would directly affect the downtown area would be extending Snelling Drive to Lights Ferry Road. That project would provide a direct connection, ultimately, from Interstate 985 to McEver Road.

"As (Snelling) comes into Mitchell Street, that would then become, really, the formal entrance into downtown," Riker said.

"And if you had a redevelopment project on the school site, you've got a wide boulevard leading you into the downtown area."

An engineering firm that has done work for the city even suggested a "roundabout," or traffic circle, in that area, "as a way to slow people traveling from McEver Road to 985," Riker said.

In addition to TAD money, another possible resource is special purpose local option sales taxes. Its funds could help reshape the area through roads, a new government building and other improvements.

"But if we don't start planning and we don't start allocating those SPLOST resources, it's never going to happen," Councilman Damon Gibbs said.

"And this downtown area is never going to flourish."

Moving forward on plans would involve "talking about what's possible, how it will be possible and how much it will cost," he added.

"We can talk it all day, but until ... we get to those steps, we're spinning our wheels and wasting our time," Gibbs said.


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