Stakeholders are not looking for “Daw-vegas” style development on Highway 400.
That was the general consensus, and one of the more colorful comments, at last week’s meeting in which the public discussed potential development guidelines at the Gateway Corridor.
With a focus on transportation, aesthetics and zoning issues Scott Pippin and Chrissy Marlowe with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government (CVI) asked those attending:
• What uses they would like to see on the corridor and what it should look like
• What they did not want to see
• How the county should manage the requirements
• If they saw the corridor as being one, or as different parts having different needs
The first session was intended for city and county staff, but many members of the general public were there to express their thoughts and ideas. Several stayed for the second session for property owners, real estate agents and businesses located along the Highway 400/60 area.
What people wanted and didn’t were written on large sheets of paper that were then placed on the wall.
Most of those from both groups agreed with EMS Director David Wimpy when he said, “Keep the front pretty and have everything else behind it. The frontage needs to look good, but back behind we’re going to have to give a little and not be as specific I[n the requirements].”
Shopping, lodging, restaurants, mixed use developments with connecting sidewalks, green space, trees and walking trails were all mentioned as uses for the corridor.
The possibility of a district around the hospital for doctors offices, pharmacies and other medical facilities was another possibility voiced.
Housing and more apartments were also mentioned.
“We need to have a balance,” one attendee said. “We are missing young people here. We need planned unit development with infrastructure, places to work and ease of commuting.”
“Maybe housing above retail shops,” another said.
As for the look of what could be seen from the highway, brick, stone and wood were the preferred materials, with parking in the rear. Several people suggested only consistent, rustic and up-lighted signage be allowed.
“We don’t want it to look like ‘Daw-Vegas,’” one attendee said, harkening to the hurried series of developments that have popped up down the road in Dawson County.
Nearly everyone agreed there should be strict enforcement of the regulations.
“That makes it a level playing field for everybody,” said Dana LaChance, businesswoman and property owner.
Chamber of Commerce President Robb Nichols noted, however, said the county needed “to make sure the regulations are not so restrictive that we can’t encourage the businesses we would like to see come here. We need to be flexible.”
Several people mentioned they did not want to see “adult-type” businesses.
No strip malls either. Other items in the “don’t want” category included light pollution, tall buildings that block the county’s scenic views, traffic lights one after another, large signs, metal buildings and overhead utility wires.
The first afternoon session was devoted to the city, whose focus was the needs of the tourism industry.
Councilwoman Helen Hardman, who worked in that industry most of her professional life, was concerned about the possibility of Department of Transportation making Highway 60 into a four-lane road.
“You need to show as much nature as you can. Have it be residential and mixed use with retail that fits—no commercial businesses with big trucks coming in and out. Highway 60 comes straight into town. Make it inviting.”
Councilman Ron Larson noted that there are existing businesses on Highway 60 that “don’t make that easy.”
Uses Larson found acceptable included lodging, restaurants, some retail and clean industries such as software and data entry that compliment University of North Georgia’s students.
Hardman said commercial would be last on her list for the corridor, but a craft brewery would be acceptable.
Paul Hoffman, former owner of Paul Thomas Chocolates came up with an idea everyone applauded. He suggested planting some type of the same tree—crepe myrtles, for example—along Georgia 400 and continuing the planting down Highway 60.
“As I get older it’s harder to read signs, but having that consistency of the same trees would direct people to make the turn toward Dahlonega,” he said.
Larson, as well as several people at the earlier meeting, asked if there was some way to make use of the riverfront property at the 400/60 intersection. That property, however, is owned by the Corp of Engineers, and anything done there would require their approval.
BOC Chairman Chris Dockery started the meeting by thanking CVI for gathering all the comments from previous groups.
“This is a big step for Lumpkin County. We want to get as many thoughts and ideas as possible. Our task will be to take all this and do what’s best for the county,” he said. “We have to be realistic on uses but put together something that is aesthetically pleasing. I think we can do better than Dawsonville/Atlanta. When I’m driving down 400 I feel like I’m in Atlanta before I get to Atlanta.”
One of Dockery’s concerns was “attracting a workforce with some years left to work,” he said. “Unemployment is at an all-time low. We need connectivity, walking trails, consolidated parking—amenities that will attract young professionals. And we must have affordable housing.”
Commissioner Bobby Mayfield suggested the county’s encouragement of one house per acre needed to be looked at along the corridor in favor of high-density housing.
Commissioner Rhett Stringer voiced approval of tiers of uses starting at Highway 400 and going back and/or two or three “districts with totally different use areas.”
Overall, he said he would want to see signage low to the ground made of stacked stone, “not up in the air.”
Commenting on the tier approach Mayfield said, “Factories would be fine as long as they are back from 400.”
Commissioner David Miller agreed with what his fellow commissioners said, but added, “Rather than apartment complexes, a mixed use development where people could work, live, play and have some retail, with parking in the back, similar to Avalon,” was what he had in mind.
Miller also agreed that districts were a good idea—especially for the new hospital’s location.
“I envision where the hospital will be will attract labs, doctors’ offices, high-tech. I think it will be the hub of technology, but it can be aesthetically pleasing. Then different businesses and endeavors down 400, but still consistent and attractive,” he said.
Commissioners were in agreement with other stakeholders when it came to what was not wanted—strip malls, light pollution, adult businesses, parking visible from the road or excess signage.
Managing requirements, all agreed, should be the function of the Planning Department and Planning Commission.
“It should be an adopted ordinance, not mere guidance,” urged Planning Commission Sean Phipps.
“Lock this thing down tight and let the planning process do its job,” he said.
“This is where the work starts for us and Carl Vinson,” said Planning Director Bruce Georgia.
And while the meetings held last week, are a start, there is still a long way to go.
The public will have more opportunities for input before a final version of new regulations is presented to the BOC a vote. Starting Thursday, Aug. 1, a visual preference survey will be available at http://lupkin-co.typeform.com/to/B8qpMm. The survey will show a series of images and ask participants to score them according to their preference. It will be available through Sept. 16.
Additionally, there will be an Open House Thursday, Aug. 22, 6-8 p.m. at Parks & Rec.