Gainesville’s population is expected to grow by about 55 percent over the next 20 years, and services like the police and fire departments, as well as parks, will have to adjust.
Officials are updating the city’s Capital Improvements Element plan and looking at how that growth could affect public services. The public can comment on the plan at the Gainesville City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4, when council members will vote on it before it is sent to the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.
To measure public safety needs, the report also considers the number of workers in the city, who benefit from services like the police and fire departments. In 2019, Gainesville is projected to have about 44,000 residents and 49,000 workers. Those numbers are expected to climb over the next two decades, to about 65,000 residents and almost 56,000 workers in 2039.
“The little town that I was born in and grew up in has changed a lot,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said at Thursday’s City Council work session.
Rusty Ligon, Gainesville’s community development director, said population has been increasing as the area recovers from the economic recession.
“It seems like in the early 2000s, our population kind of hovered around 25 to 30,000, then we went through the recession and it actually decreased a little bit,” Ligon said. “Now we’re seeing, year after year, an increase.”
This study is the city’s first major update to the plan, which was adopted in 2006, although other small updates have been made annually, Ligon said.
The plan includes projections for the police and fire departments, as well as city parks. The city collects impact fees, or one-time fees charged to developers of new projects, for these services.
Other proposals in the plan include waiving impact fees for affordable housing and prohibiting exemptions for fire facility impact fees.
When the original plan was written in 2006, Gainesville Police had about 15,000 square feet of space on Jesse Jewell Parkway, near the current pedestrian bridge site. Then, in 2010, the city opened a new 52,000-square-foot public safety complex on Queen City Parkway.
The plan calls for further expansion of those facilities over the next 20 years.
The report draws on discussions with the police department in December 2017 and identifies two needs moving forward — new precincts and a new training facility. The new precincts would be in the New Holland and Dawsonville Highway areas. A 10,000-square-foot training facility is also needed, but that could be built at the current site and would not require a land purchase, according to the plan.
New facilities could be completely funded by impact fee funds.
Fire and rescue
Gainesville has four fire stations, the same number it had in 2006. The city is in the process of relocating Fire Station No. 2 from Pine Street to the Park Hill Drive area, almost doubling the station’s size at the new location.
The fire department had 9,000 calls for service in 2017 and has seen an increase of about 1,200 calls annually since 2010. By the year 2022, the department expects about 15,000 calls annually.
Over the next few years, the city has set aside money for two new fire stations and planning for a third additional one.
According to the plan, there are about 100 homes, including some in the Cresswind at Lake Lanier subdivision, that would be better served by a fire boat than a fire truck, due to narrow, steep driveways. The fire boat would use water directly from the lake rather than hydrants.
New training space is also needed, as currently only Fire Station No. 1 is equipped for training.
Parks and recreation
The report prioritizes upgrading existing parks facilities. About 45 acres of new developed park land will be needed over the next 20 years to adapt to a growing population, according to the report, but that could be achieved through either building new parks or adding to existing ones.
Proposed parks projects include playground improvements, a new playground along the Midtown Greenway, an outdoor pool at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, a new recreation center and a dog park.
Gainesville City Council
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4
Where: Public Safety Complex, 701 Queen City Parkway