Mayor on new F’ville sidewalks, bike paths; changes coming to Hwy. 54W.

Wed, 01/02/2008 - 9:57am
By: Ben Nelms

It was a look behind for 2007 and a bit of a look ahead for 2008. A recent conversation with Fayetteville Mayor Kenneth Steele revealed his view of the status of the city, the current home to nearly 15,000 residents.

Some of the noticeable changes around Fayetteville, both in 2007 and extending into 2008, are those involving recreation and fitness opportunities for area residents.

“One of the big things is the completion, in conjunction with the county, of the joint Redwine bicycle/pedestrian path project. That has just been dramatic. You hardly ever go down there that you don’t see people using Patriot’s Park and the bicycle and pedestrian path,” Steele said. “It probably gets more use than any other area in the county and the people are excited about it.”

And peering a bit into the future, Steele said the city has four or five similar projects on the horizon involving federal transportation dollars to connect residential areas with activity centers.

Those include projects along Stonewall towards the East Fayette Elementary area, along Grady Avenue to Ga. Highway 54 and on past The Villages to connect streetscape projects currently underway. Another project will connect Lee Street to the county complex.

“These are ongoing projects. We can’t afford to do them all at once. Twenty years ago sidewalks in the South in rural communities like ours were almost unheard of. So it’s hard to catch up, that’s why all our new construction requires it,” Steele explained. “That’s why you see sidewalks to nowhere, but eventually they will go somewhere. That’s why we have developers paying for it now and the city, as we get grant money, will connect them over time.”

Currently visible in the downtown area along Lanier Avenue and at the corners at Ga. Highway 85 are the streetscape improvements that began a few weeks ago.

Funding for the project came through a grant from Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI). The impetus for the $1 million streetscape project began several years ago, with 80 percent of the cost coming from federal funds and the remaining 20 percent from local Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds.

When completed, the streetscape project will add 8-foot brick pavers, benches, a bicycle lane, curbside trees and period lighting along Lanier from Hwy. 85 to Tiger Trail, the addition of a median just north of Lanier on Hwy. 85 and improvements to the sidewalk and crossing areas on Hwy. 85 between Lanier and Stonewall.

“It’s part of the plan for the community to enhance connectivity to the downtown area from the courthouse square to The Villages. As they develop The Villages we’re trying to get them to put in something architecturally significant, a fountain or something like that, on the northwest corner of Tiger Trail (and Lanier) so that the brick sidewalk will lead to someplace and will highlight the entrance to The Villages area,” Steele said.

In the immediate area of the streetscape project, ground has been cleared at the Stonewall-Lanier split for a two-story office building, while other plans have been approved for additional office and retail space directly across Lanier at the corner of Tiger Trail.

Further west on Hwy. 54, Piedmont Fayette Hospital continues to expand. That expansion continues to generate a growing presence of other medical offices and retail business in the immediate area.

And 2007 was clear evidence of that trend, with projects either gaining approval or seeing completion from just west of Grady Avenue to those recently approved but not yet constructed that will dot the landscape all the way to the west side of the hospital.

“This is good for the economy, quite frankly,” Steele said, noting the often higher paying jobs that accompany the medical field.

And looking a bit into the future, Steele commented on tentative development plans for the large acreage area west and northwest of the hospital that sits outside the current city limits and is potentially slated for residential growth.

“We’ve been working for the last year and a half with the county in discussions as to how that land can be developed rather than letting it develop piecemeal with the subsequent traffic problems. If you master-plan it, get the transportation grid and services in there ahead of time, just like The Villages, then let it develop over time where you have control over what happens,” Steele said.

That rationale would have the Hwy. 54 corridor, and the obvious increase in traffic that will accompany it, develop differently than what occurred along Ga. Highway 85 in past years. Also helping with the city’s notable increase in traffic congestion will be a SPLOST project in 2008 to install two north-south lanes on Jimmie Mayfield Boulevard.

“(Fayetteville) is an old community. There is a curb cut (on Hwy. 85) every 50 feet. In the area near the hospital you can limit your curb cuts to just two or three and have internal connections. The transportation grid we envision out there is that, if your business is to the north, you’ll never have to get on Hwy. 54,” said Steele, noting a more effective way to manage the traffic flow on major thoroughfares.

And back in the immediate downtown area, Steele complimented the ongoing historic restoration at Burks Square that provides a different type of retail opportunity along Hwy. 85.

In terms of community entertainment, Steele said this year’s concert series at the amphitheater was a success, adding that the lineup for 2008 was generally in line with what residents indicated to be their preferences, though the city is sometimes restricted on the basis of cost when booking some musical acts.

Like so many others in the shadow of the Gold Dome, it was not that many years ago when Fayetteville, like so many other small towns, began to feel the influence of the never-ending spread of metro Atlanta. Though that growth continues, Fayetteville retains something that holds an overall significance, one that is not measured in any single factor, Steele said.

“Fayetteville has been a great place to raise a family and it’s still a great place to raise a family,” he said. “I love this town.”

Steele had high praise for the city’s employees.

“I’m just extremely pleased to be associated and work with our employees and the caliber of people working here,” he said. “I think we have a fantastic staff, from the city manager all the way to the newest hire. They truly have a desire to provide the services to our community in a very efficient and economical manner.”

Steele said his appreciation extended to a host of city departments, such as the nationally recognized finance department, the water and sewer department whose staff are asked to conduct seminars for similar departments in other cities of similar size, the police department’s current trek toward maintaining its national accreditation, the fire department’s work to successfully bring the ISO rating down, the ongoing efforts by the Main Street initiative and to city manager Joe Morton, who was also recognized in 2007 with national credentials shared by less than 600 others.

Also significant, Steele said, was the positive response from the city’s first citizen’s police academy. Many of those attending saw for the first time the complex issues facing law enforcement officers today, he said.

Steele said the council and City Hall staff during 2007 had worked with various community groups and neighborhoods in helping to resolve challenges, such as amending city ordinances on residential occupancy and parking, thereby protecting citizen’s constitutional rights.

“I try to stay in touch with homeowners associations and give State of the City updates, listen to their concerns and try to resolve things. So I think we’ve been very successful in that area this year,” he said.

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