By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Residents talk about future of Gainesville's west side
Officials divided residents into groups to come up with ideas
Placeholder Image

Ideas floated around the room in bunches, as some 50 or so people talked about the future of Atlanta Highway, Browns Bridge Road and the Lakeshore Mall areas of Gainesville.

But mainly the mission was to dream up ways to correct the "blight" of the areas, beset with strip shopping centers, high traffic congestion and general economic decline.

"There's a lot of urgent issues out there," said John Skach, the city's lead consultant in its effort to develop the 2030 comprehensive land-use plan, a blueprint that outlines community development goals and guidelines.

"There are vacant commercial spaces and developments are starting to hit their limit in terms of life expectancy," he told the crowd gathered Thursday night for the third of three workshops on the comp plan.

Officials are "thinking about this whole area as an opportunity zone," said Skach, senior associate with Atlanta-based consultant Urban Collage. "And that is to create a separate plan for it that would allow you to create tax incentives for job creation."

Urban Collage is joining several other groups in the project and hopes to complete the plan later in the year.

The previous two 2030 Gainesville Comprehensive Plan workshops focused on improving business and housing in downtown Gainesville, as well as roads leading into the city.

Like those workshops, officials worked to get input from residents by dividing them into groups to pore over detailed maps of the targeted areas and offer suggestions.

Many of the residents have been workshop regulars.

Others, like Peter Saddler, who lives off Thompson Bridge Road in North Hall, have traveled across town to take in the event.

"I'm a concerned citizen," he said. "I like to know the long-term plan in the city where I'm living. I'd like to know what direction we're going in."

In setting up the discussion Thursday night, Skach talked about the challenges facing Gainesville's westside.

"This is a suburban area," he said. "A lot of it was built in the late 1940s ... (to) early 1960s, when suburban development was really happening. In the last 20 years or so, these places are just really to start show some evidence of decline."

Consumer preferences and demographics "have sort of moved away from this area," Skach said. "They've moved very far out of the central core of the city."

He likened Browns Bridge Road to Memorial Drive in DeKalb County. One suggestion offered for that area was the creation of "activity centers," or redevelopment around key intersections to make them more appealing to the eye and more pedestrian-friendly.

Skach asked workshop participants to identify three such key areas along Browns Bridge Road and assign certain uses to them.

One participant, Brent Hoffman, scoffed at the idea of forecasting how certain areas would look, calling it "social engineering."

It drew laughter from others at the table.

"Really, it's going to be a function of what will come in to support (the area)," he said.

Jessica Tullar, Gainesville's special projects manager, said residents don't have to accept whatever development occurs at certain locations.

"You can come up with what you believe should go there or how you'd like it to look, and then think about strategies the city could adopt to actually ... make something a reality," she said.

Next up for the city in the comp plan: a final draft presentation. In the meantime, residents can complete an online survey.

"There are still going to be opportunities to participate, so spread the word," Skach said.

Regional events