Friday, November 26, 1999
Pace reflects on council term

Staff Writer


Nearing the end of four years on the City Council of Peachtree City, Jim Pace is clear about the direction the city is taking.

“I do not fear for the future of this city,” he said recently during an interview in his office at Group VI Corporation, of which he is president. “I embrace it.”

Pace says that he served on the council mainly to see that what the founders of Peachtree City had in mind over the years as they developed the community was not neglected.

“I feel like I've always understood the vision of Peachtree City, and I've felt almost a mandate to carry out the plan,” said Pace.

He never considered running for public office until he was urged to do so by friends and neighbors around the city, people he respected — “a broad base of support,” as he put it. This came after his predecessor, xxxxx Bradford, decided not to run for re-election.

Pace moved to Peachtree City in the mid-1980s with his wife Mary and their three children, two of whom are now in college while the youngest attends McIntosh High School. It was a much different city then, with a population of about 10,000.

The original plan for Peachtree City had a buildout population of around 82,000. By the time he moved there, it was at 60,000, so there was no question a lot of changes were in store.

“Growth was a given,” he said. “And we were glad to see it.”

Whereas Peachtree City was known as a transient type of community in the past, where families would come for a few years before being transferred again, Pace says that has changed, with a lot more people coming to stay.

“I still think it's probably the best place to live in the country, which is a blessing and a curse,” he said.

He took office at the beginning of this term with the intention of continuing with the plan for the city and working toward buildout. He firmly believes that every rezoning decision made in the past four years has been a positive one, including numerous moves to go from multifamily to single-family zoning in residential areas.

Growth has slowed considerably since the 1980s, Pace pointed out, saying that it was common at one time to have 500 or more housing starts in a single year. That number is now below 300, as Mayor Bob Lenox noted at a recent City Council meeting.

One thing he did not count on going into the 1995 election was the effect his occupation — Group VI is major developer in metro Atlanta — would have on many voters. He admits that the common perception is of the developer being the bad guy, as says, “It saddens me.”

It came to light again in the most recent election, where all three candidates for his seat made much of their non-association with developers. Most “developers” in Peachtree City, he says, are simply business owners who undertake construction projects to house their own businesses.

“I was absolutely taken aback when I found that some people would not vote for me simply because of my occupation,” he said.

Group VI has worked on about 40 projects in Peachtree City since it was formed in 1998, according to Pace.

“We have never asked for a rezoning or appeared before council,” he said. “We have always built within the land-use plan and done the best job possible.”

Also on the topic of development, Pace points out that when his family moved to the area, Peachtree City Development Corp. was “the good guy.

“I always thought buildout would be a cause for celebration,” he added. “All of the former mayors and founders still live here; it should be an historic event.

“The city is nationally viewed as one of the most progressive, best planned, best managed in the country. Now we're wanting to blame the ones who got us there.”

In his own company, Pace puts qualities such as integrity and a positive attitude at the top of the list for prospective employees. He considers those qualities just as important in politics or elsewhere in life.

“I like people that are proactive, that have a bias for getting things done,” he said. “Anybody can raise issues; it takes a leader to solve problems.

“I've tried to take that approach in politics. I don't vote for negative campaigns. I don't think ego has a place in politics. If someone feels he's the only solution, I probably won't vote for him. In Peachtree City, there are literally thousands qualified to do that job.”

With attitudes such as those recently expressed concerning developers and what he feels has been negative campaigning in general, Pace sees a disturbing trend in Peachtree City.

“The mood of the city is changing,” he said. “The welcome mat got pulled back a bit.”

The cooperation among the City Council has been good during his term, he believes, and he only knows of a few instances where he voted against the rest of the council.

One of those times was during the proceedings for the proposed Mews project at Ga. Highway 54 and Walt Banks Road, which he thought was a good idea. He adds, however, that he thinks the current plan is better.

Most recently, he cast the sole dissenting vote on the first draft of the traffic impact ordinance and abstained from voting on the updated version.

“I understand the council's frustration,” he said. “I just disagree with their method of solving the problem.”

Pace feels that the city should proceed immediately with implementation of the suggestions traffic consultants have already made, like signalization improvements, lane extensions, and turn lane improvements in various places. “We don't need to be waiting to do those things,” he said.

He is also a proponent of extending TDK Boulevard from the industrial park in Coweta County. He credits the industrial park with being a major contributor to the traffic volume at rush hour, but all knows it must continue to thrive as an economic engine in Peachtree City.

“The people who are working in the industrial park are mostly living in Coweta County,” he said. “It puts the educational burden on Coweta, which is the biggest expense, but it also creates a traffic problem here a couple of times a day.”

Without minimizing Peachtree City's problems, Pace thinks traffic is much worse in other parts of metro Atlanta. He also believes that having more opportunities to live, work and shop in the city could improve the situation. Whether residents go to Home Depot in Newnan or on the west side of Peachtree City, they are still going to go through the intersection of highways 54 and 74, he noted.

Pace is excited about his own small contribution to easing the traffic flow, which is his company's move from Eagle's Landing in Henry County to Westpark in Peachtree City in the spring. “I can't wait to be able to drive my golf cart to work,” he said.

He places the lion's share of the blame for the traffic mess in Washington. “I personally think that it's more of an Al Gore influence,” he said.

“The irony is that it's [road building restrictions] made the situation so much worse. Peachtree City's the most environmentally conscious city in the country. I think a lot of people were caught off guard all over metro Atlanta.

“The road we need to build to connect the four lanes coming out of Coweta County and the four lanes coming into Peachtree City is a minor project, and to have that sitting idle is criminal. I don't understand why we can't build a 1.6-mile stretch of road to relieve that corridor. I wish the people making those kinds of decisions could see the effect of those decisions.”

Pace's recent statements concerning the impact fee ordinance and its application to assisted living facilities reflected a much deeper concern — his belief that Peachtree City is not properly preparing for the aging of its population.

He considers his family a typical one, with two children grown and only one child left in the school system. As buildout approaches, he sees a strong possibility of the city lessening its burden on the school system and youth recreation programs while greatly increasing the need for senior services.

But if couples looking do downsize into smaller homes for their retirement years cannot find them, or if those needing the kind of care provided in assisted living facilities cannot get it, they will be forced to move out of Peachtree City, Pace said.

Another aspect of the housing market was revealed to him while trying to help an associate pastor at his church get settled. That was a most difficult housing search, and Pace is not sure that younger people in the market for starter homes can find that in the city right now. “My daughter graduates from college this year, and I don't know if she can afford to live here,” he said.

One of the biggest lingering issues in the city as Pace leaves office is annexation, specifically what should be done about the West Village. “When I ran in 1995, the prevailing wisdom was that Peachtree City should annex that,” he said.

Pointing out that the property will be developed one way or another, either as a part of Peachtree City, Tyrone, or unincorporated Fayette County, Pace said that he would prefer it conform to city guidelines.

If a plan is not in place for that area, then projects such as a bridge across the railroad, which Pace thinks current residents on that side of town need, will likely not get built because individual property owners do not have the resources to get them done, he said.

“I'd like to see us stay with the plan and build the roads we intended to build,” he added.

Often projects that are initially opposed turn out to be of great benefit to the city, according to Pace. He cited the Wyndham Conference Center as one example, calling it “one of nicest amenities in town.”

As for serving on the City Council in general, “The hardest part of this job is trying to represent all of the people,” said Pace. “It's easy to vote for something that everybody's in favor. It's a lot harder when you're protecting an individual's rights or the rights of a minority.

“When you've got a room full of people that really don't want something to happen, and yet, to accede to their request would require you to take away the rights of another person.”

He considers the current Home Depot/Wal-Mart a prime example of weighing the rights of the individual against what he may like to see happen. Home Depot not the issue, he says, but the Huddleston family, who has been at that location since before Peachtree City existed, has the right to sell their land.

“I've never been one to micromanage what goes on a site,” Pace said. “I look at whether it matches the plan.”

Many of the things he is most pleased about concering his tenure on the council are relatively small things. He believes that his idea to add a public information specialist to the city staff was a good one. “I felt like we needed a better vehicle to communicate with the citizens and to open up government,” he said.

He is also glad the church ordinance suggested a few years ago did not pass, saying he felt it would restrict religious freedom.

Small, common-sense decisions working with a lady whose garden extended two feet into a area setback or swapping land with a man whose 25-year-old fence was in the wrong place are some other instances that come to mind when he thinks of helping constituents. “It would have been easy to take a hard line,” he said. “But that would have been wrong.”

Pace initially took a neutral position in the 1999 election, not even putting up a sign in his yard. But he readily offers advice to his successor, Dan Tennant.

“First I would say `thank you' for doing it, because it is a scary thing,” he said. “You're really hanging yourself out there. So I appreciate the people that would volunteer to do that.

“Always remember it is a service position. Keep a humble heart, and have compassion. Pray for wisdom. Do the right thing, and pray for courage to do the right thing, because it's hard to do that sometimes when you're facing a hostile crowd. Something trying to figure out what is the right thing is the hardest thing.”

There are no commissions or authorities in Pace's future, as he has plenty to keep him busy, such as the YMCA, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce (he becomes a board member in January), and a ministry for teens known as Young Life that is dear to his heart.

“I would rather go back to being a Sunday school teacher than be on some board,” he says of his future civic involvement.

A final thought from the outgoing councilman reminds citizens that those who serve on that body are just like everyone else, with families who hurt when discussions about issues disintegrate into personal attacks.

“My wife has really suffered these past four years,” said Pace. “When people write these letters, they need to think about how they impact these families.”

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