Residents weigh in on Smyrna downtown redesign

·7 min read

Sep. 17—SMYRNA — On Thursday, Smyrna held two of three open houses where residents gave input on the ongoing design process to redesign the Jonquil City's downtown area.

At Brawner Hall, residents perused renderings and maps of two proposed designs, both similar to a concept approved by the City Council last month. Attendees posted sticky notes with comments under "likes" and "dislikes" columns. They also placed stickers under photos of design features they liked and filled out cards with their suggestions.

The third open house is next Tuesday, 4 to 7 p.m., in the Smyrna Community Center. The designs can be viewed and input can be submitted online at smyrnagreenspace.konveio.com.

Smyrna's planned downtown dates to the early 1990s, when the city, led by then-Mayor Max Bacon, built a roundabout, community center, library and other buildings to anchor the area. Commercial development and the Smyrna Market Village followed soon after.

Bacon's successor, Mayor Derek Norton, is leading the redesign, a concept for which was approved by the City Council in late June on a 5-2 vote. Norton said Thursday the final plan would likely be a hybrid of the two options presented at open houses.

The redesign concept will do away with the roundabout and extend King Street up to Powder Springs Street. The roundabout area will be replaced with green space and some combination of seating, a plaza/stage area, shade structures and a water feature. Public art installations have been proposed, such as letters spelling out Smyrna — without the letter Y. Visitors would pose to fill in the missing letter, what the city calls an "Instagrammable moment," though many sticky notes called the idea "derivative" or "tacky" at the open house.

The concept also calls for a piece of city land by the community center — bordered by Atlanta Street to the east and Village Green Circle to the south — to be sold and developed with a StillFire Brewing brewery and more green space.

The city has signed a nonbinding letter of intent with the brewery to sell the land for $600,000. Norton said the land is being appraised before a final price is decided.

Thursday morning's open house lasted from 9 a.m. to noon. By 11:30 a.m., about 80 people had attended, per the sign-in sheet. In interviews, residents expressed a range of opinions. Some fully supported the project, others were opposed to it and some had more nuanced views.

The final cost estimate is unknown, but Norton has said the roundabout replacement/greenspace would cost about $2.5 million. The concept also includes a 250-spot parking deck south of the Smyrna Police Department, estimated to cost about $4 million. A traffic study for the project is underway.

The project would be funded through Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds, with all the contracting going through Croy Engineering.

ReactionsKathy Omaits stood at the rear entrance of Brawner Hall with a sign asking citizens to visit the website of the Smart Smyrna group, which has laid out its concerns with the proposal on its website and Facebook page.

Smart Smyrna opposes the scrapping of the roundabout and the (currently nonfunctioning) fountain. The group also is against the brewery, believing it would be better suited to another location, away from the community center and nearby Second Baptist Church.

Omaits also took issue with the task force that Norton set up to shepherd the project through its final design phases, which includes three citizens appointed by the mayor, the five council members that voted for the design, but not the two who voted to table it and seek more input — Charles Welch and Susan Wilkinson.

"(Norton's) task force is comprised of people who agree with him," Omaits said.

Norton defended his appointments.

"They didn't support the plan," Norton said in an interview. "Why would I have people choosing details of a plan that they didn't support?"

Welch said in an interview that he should have been included on the task force, since he has worked in the engineering industry for 40 years.

Welch is also worried about cost.

"With the list of tasks that are associated with this downtown development plan, $6.5 million is way under budget. And I don't feel like we can get it done for $6.5 million," Welch said.

Mike McNabb, a former Smyrna councilman who attended Thursday morning's open house, recommended the council table the plan in June in order to collect more input.

"I welcome the opportunity to refresh and upgrade the downtown. And I thank the council for taking the time to finally get public input like this. This was much needed before the first vote, which they didn't get," McNabb said.

McNabb and his wife Karleen praised specific aspects of the plan, such as scrapping the roundabout, adding an interactive water feature and using removable bollards to close off streets during festivals. Karleen McNabb was worried about the loss of vegetation earlier plans indicated but said newer plans addressed that concern.

Filling out a sticky note with his suggestions, Mike McNabb said he hoped the city genuinely listens to public opinion.

"My hope is that this is a legitimate input, that they're going to take time to digest the public input, and then work with the designers to modify the best plans to what the public says," Mike McNabb said. "If this is a sham, then shame on them."

Norton has repeatedly shot down criticism that the plan was made hastily or without public input. The concept for the redesign comes from a 2019 update to downtown Smyrna's master plan that incorporated input from hundreds of residents.

"This isn't just pulled out of thin air. We've had a lot of due diligence, a lot of public input, we're getting more public input now, and then we'll move forward with a recommendation to council for a vote, probably later October, early November," Norton said.

The mayor said the Smart Smyrna group was a small group of 20-30 people. He also said one of their leaders "mistakenly sent me and the council an email that was meant for her group, saying that she wanted all the council to go to hell and enjoy the trip there."

Generational divide

Allen Potter, a 79-year-old resident who has lived in Smyrna most of his life, called the entire project a "huge waste of taxpayer money."

"I think that what they did 30-odd years ago when they designed downtown is great," Potter said "I think it still works. I have no idea why they think that this is needed."

Potter added that "there's a lot of folks that are my age or near, born in the '40s, '50s and '60s, that are not for this. I don't know who's for it."

The crowd at Thursday morning's open house skewed toward retirees. Vanya Foote, on the other end of the spectrum, supports the redesign plan. As a mother of young children, she believes her generation of residents wants a modernized downtown.

"I've had some neighbors — my demographic, a little younger, with very young kids — and they've moved out of the area, because these are the kinds of things they are looking for," Foote said.

The director of an Atlanta chamber orchestra, Foote has a background in arts and entertainment.

"So, I love the dedication to a stage. You look like you could probably see it from anywhere, which is great. But that is incorporated into such a flexible space, it can be used for almost anything," Foote said.

Foote liked aspects of both designs and said they offer "something for everybody." She approves of the brewery and parking deck (if it offers free parking). Bringing more art and entertainment into the area will help the community grow and increase economic activity, she said.

"There has been this desire to really upgrade the downtown, do something to give back to the community, attract new people, keep people here, and help the businesses downtown too," Foote said.

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