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Picking up where the road dropped off
Recent improvements to Brown Street may pave a new future for Morningside Heights
Longtime Brown Street resident Gary Cox said he is glad the repairs have been made to his street, but recognizes that much more work is needed for the street to be safe for drivers and pedestrians.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony on Brown Street today marks what many in the community say needs to be the first step in improving the Morningside Heights neighborhood.

At 10 a.m., county officials and community members will gather to showcase the work that has been done and look at what has yet to be accomplished.

For years, community groups have worked to get government attention to the area, located north of Athens Street in Gainesville and straddling a portion of Interstate 985.

Brown Street is one of the only entrances into the many neighborhoods in the Morningside Heights area. Over the years, the road became riddled with dips and potholes as pipes below the streets collapsed.

Hall County Public Works Director Ken Rearden said new guardrails were installed along steep drop-offs where old pipes had collapsed.

“It’s two new pipe crossings,” Rearden said. “And we added enough flow into the pipes to alleviate any flooding hazards that may have been happening out there. The pipes that were out there were old and deteriorated.”

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell, who represents the area, said the ribbon cutting is a celebration of residents and government working together.

“We’re using this occasion as a forum to talk about some other efforts we’re putting forth in the community,” Bell said. “Brown Street is a great example of everybody holding up their end of the bargain.”

Bell said beautifying the area and making it safer are priorities.

“The Brown Street project is a special project because it highlights some of the problems we’ve had in government, some of our areas being underserved and neglected for far too long,” Bell said.

Hall County Code Enforcement is now working with residents to remove inoperable vehicles, and Bell said reducing litter and putting in street lights are next.

He said the county is working with Keep Hall Beautiful to get more public trash receptacles in the area.

“There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic; pedestrian traffic leads to litter,” Bell said.

Gary Cox, a Brown Street homeowner, said he is glad to see some improvements on the dangerous road.

“There’s been so many wrecks,” said Cox of his 20-plus years in the neighborhood. “We got the guard rail, street lights, stop signs — we’ll see how that does.”

He hopes to one day see a speed bump to improve safety.

The Concerned Citizens of Gainesville and Hall County helped make the improvements possible by meeting with county officials and organizing to collect signatures and right-of-way from neighborhood residents.

Rev. Victor Lamar Johnson, president of Concerned Citizens, said he is ready to see change happen in his neighborhood.

“We look the same way we did in 1956,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot that needs to be done — resurfacing roads, playgrounds, parks ... We feel there’s a need to invest in that community.”

Johnson said the group’s next priority is a recreational facility for the area.

 “Why do we have to go all the way across town to a park, a play ground?” Johnson said. “I believe in this commission.”

Concerned Citizens group member Garland Reynolds said while the Brown Street improvements are “absolutely a step in the right direction,” he thinks there is much more to be done.

“It’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” Reynolds said. “This area’s been neglected by both the city and the county for so long.”

Reynolds said it is heartening to see awareness at the government level.

“They deserve some representation ... every other area has gotten parks and community centers but this area’s gotten nothing,” Reynolds said of Morningside Heights. “They definitely have not been given their fair shake.”

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