City leaders met Wednesday in the administrative conference room at city hall for a work session that focused on developing a master plan for land use along Veterans Parkway.
Taking part in the discussions were Mayor Jim Thomas, City Manager Billy Edwards, Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier, councilmen Keith Jenkins and David Anderson, Sonny Timmerman and Rachel Hatcher with the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, and consulting engineer P.C. Simonton of P.C. Simonton & Associates, Inc.
Discussion began with Timmerman and Hatcher reviewing the development strategies they followed a few years ago, when what was then Frank Cochran Drive was widened to four lanes from Highway 84 to E.G. Miles Parkway. Timmerman said they ensured property owners were involved, meeting regularly with them and other stakeholders. He said they received some good input, but admitted there were difficulties with some property owners.
Frasier said he could understand why property owners did not want to give up their road-access rights. Anderson asked if the city would be taking the property or buying it. Timmerman explained that it depended on whether it was to be used as part of a road construction project.
“I think we’ve got is a really nice corridor there with Veterans Parkway,” Frasier said. “What I’d like to see is some retail development from South Main to E.G. Miles. There’s a lot of opportunity there.”
Thomas agreed, but said he expected most development to begin after Veterans Parkway is widened from E.G. Miles Parkway to the gate at Fort Stewart. Simonton said that construction project is slated to begin this summer and will take 24 months to complete.
Edwards asked for clarification about the development concept, specifically asking if city leaders intended to follow the city’s current zoning and overlays. He added that if the city was going to build frontage and other connecting roads, it was going to cost money.
He said the city first should first develop a master plan for land use along the Veterans Parkway corridor, and then suggested the city support developers’ plans with a contingent agreement that the developer had to build the necessary support roads at their expense.
Anderson changed the subject somewhat, noting they would need some guidance on how development should look. Timmerman agreed, saying he was more concerned with how a development looks than what goes in it. Hatcher then referenced the overlay to Memorial Drive, which brought a warning from Simonton.
“We need to be careful how (Veterans Parkway) is developed,” Simonton said. “The Memorial Drive plan was a good vision, but it became too restrictive on developers. We need to give the city what it wants without putting the developer in handcuffs.”
Timmerman said roadway development of this kind was no different than road construction in a residential subdivision. Hatcher said the LCPC had just completed its Veterans Parkway transportation study, suggesting it wouldn’t take them long to come up with an outline for a master plan. She said they could send a plan outline back to city leaders for review and further guidance by the end of next week.
“A master plan takes time,” Thomas warned, suggesting they not get in a hurry. “It takes a lot of work — six to nine months, at least, because you have to include all the stakeholders. First, we need to establish an overlay district for this corridor.”
Other details discussed included building set-back and signs. Thomas and Edwards both joked they needed to be careful about how they deal with the subject of signs, saying they still had battle scars from last year’s “signs war” that resulted when the city changed its signs ordinance.
The meeting ended with a question by Frasier about what the city could do to get the support of stakeholders — land owners and developers. Timmerman said they had to show them the city was empowering them to develop the corridor the way they wanted. Edwards added the city would mostly be involved through zoning and enforcing Georgia Department of Transportation regulations.