Using black and white chess pieces, area residents voiced their opinions Thursday night on how Gainesville's "gateway corridors" should look over the next 20 years.
Some 15 residents, along with city leaders and other officials, took part in the first of three workshops the city of Gainesville is holding as part of developing its 2030 comprehensive land-use plan, a blueprint that outlines community development goals and guidelines.
"Your input is central to this effort. When this plan is done, folks ought to be able to pick this up, read it and realize that this is your Gainesville," said John Skach, the city's lead consultant and senior associate with Atlanta-based consultant Urban Collage.
Thursday's hearing allowed residents to focus particularly on the outlook for three main entryways to the city - Thompson Bridge Road, Athens Highway and Limestone Parkway.
Skach talked about how the city looks now overall, giving an employment percentage breakdown in such categories as retail, residential and manufacturing. He also discussed the recession's impact on the city.
"There's a lot of vacant office space, homes and industrial space," he said.
Generally speaking, "almost 20 percent of the city is in vacant lands, so that's definitely something that the comp plan has to deal with," Skach said.
In 20-minute sessions, residents examined a map of each of the three key traffic arteries, and then, after some discussion and debate, placed chess pieces on squares that identified a certain type of development they'd like to see along that roadway.
For example, some residents said they foresee Athens Highway as having "clean, green industry."
Several participants explicitly shunned "big-box retail with national chains" on Thompson Bridge Road.
Some residents said they believe Limestone Parkway will become a "health care corridor."
"We probably don't want them all to look alike," Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann said of the corridors.
"We like diversity in Gainesville. There has to be a place for big-box retail, and there has to be a place for greenways and corridors that are just plain beautiful."
Some residents came with specific concerns or complaints, such as fast-food development planned or under way on Thompson Bridge Road.
"We're concerned with just how ... growth is going to affect the neighborhoods, with more traffic and business coming in," said Jeff Rudeseal, a Green Street Circle resident.
Connie Propes, who protested in January against possible expansion of Walmart on Thompson Bridge Road, said she would like to see less apathy about what happens to Thompson Bridge Road.
"This room should be filled tonight," she said.
Gainesville will hold two more workshops to garner public feedback on specific areas in Gainesville.
An Aug. 11 hearing will look at the "central core" of the city, including the downtown, midtown, Fair Street and Bradford Street areas.
A final workshop Sept. 8 will pinpoint commercial opportunities along Atlanta Highway, Browns Bridge Road and Lakeshore Mall.
Residents already can fill out an online survey that gauges users' reactions based on photographs of streetscapes, densities, roads and open spaces.
Also, the plan will incorporate Vision 2014 from Gainesville Parks and Recreation, Vision 2030 from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan by the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.
It should be completed by the end of the year, possibly by Thanksgiving, Skach said.