Smyrna City Council greenlights downtown redesign plan

·5 min read

Oct. 20—The Smyrna City Council has approved an updated plan to overhaul its village green, the roundabout and public space at the heart of the city's downtown.

The Monday night vote to approve was 4-2 with council members Susan Wilkinson and Charles "Corkey" Welch opposed. Councilman Lewis Wheaton was absent due to a death in the family.

The plan, approved after more than two hours of public comment and council member debate, makes official an updated concept for the green space that will replace the roundabout, after an initial concept was approved in June.

"What our predecessors did here was start a great thing," said Mayor Derek Norton, who spearheaded the project. "And now we're building on that and creating something even better for the citizens of Smyrna."

The plan will be the biggest change to Smyrna's downtown since the 1990s, when then-Mayor Max Bacon led the creation of the village green, followed by the building of Smyrna Market Village.

Some citizens spoke of a "house divided" and made passionate comments for or against the plan. Supporters and opponents often clapped after comments were made. The majority of speakers at Monday night's meeting were in favor of the project.

Under the updated concept, the redesign will include a lawn space, interactive water feature, several peripheral plaza areas, seating, shade structures, new trees, bike racks and a stage for concerts and events. Public bathrooms may be added later.

Instead of the roundabout, King Street will be extended north to link up with Powder Springs Street.

The city also plans to build a 250-spot parking deck north of downtown and may sell a piece of public land between the community center and Atlanta Road to StillFire Brewing to build a brewery there.

The redesign was borne out of a study that began in 2019 when a new downtown master plan was created with input from hundreds of residents. After an initial concept was approved by council in June, architecture firm Pond & Company created two detailed concepts. Three open houses were held in September to get public input on the concepts. Pond created a concept that combined elements of the two, which is what was approved Monday.

In remarks ahead of the vote, Norton emphasized the length of the design process to dispel claims about it being rushed.

Norton says the cost of the green space will be about $6.5 million, which includes engineering costs and 10% contingency for unanticipated costs. It will be funded by the special-purpose local option sales tax approved in 2020.

The SPLOST project list includes $12.7 million for downtown and South Cobb Drive improvements — Norton says about half of that money will still be able to be used for South Cobb Drive. A planned 250-spot parking deck north of downtown will be funded by $4 million in SPLOST dollars, which is a separate line item.

Councilman Austin Wagner moved to table the issue after the discussion ended, saying he had struggled with his position on the matter. There were other "pieces of the puzzle" that needed to be considered, he said, including the parking deck, the proposed brewery deal and improvements to South Cobb Drive.

Wagner, Wilkinson and Welch voted to table the issue, while Glenn Pickens, Travis Lindley and Tim Gould voted not to table. Norton broke the tie to defeat Wagner's motion.

Shortly after, Lindley made a motion to approve the updated concept, which passed 4-2.

Greg Teague, president of Croy Engineering, presented the results of a traffic study his firm conducted prior to public comment. The study indicated the only negative traffic impact anticipated was an increase in traffic at Powder Springs Street and Atlanta Road. However, with the widening of Powder Springs and the addition of a traffic light, Croy believes the traffic flow will be improved.

Teague said construction will start in March or April and that the green space should be finished in spring 2023.

'Like a civil war'A range of views were expressed by residents — some didn't want to change anything about the area, some wanted to change details of the plan, some were on the fence and many expressed full-throated support.

"I've been pulled in each direction," resident Ed Carter said. "It's almost like a civil war."

Resident Richard Pecha said the "magic money tree" should instead be used to improve essential services.

Locals who attend concerts at the current roundabout said that many concert-goers cannot see performances due to the current roundabout and the tall trees in the area. The new design will be better suited for large events, they believe.

"It's a bold move, but it's time to move forward with some corrections to the original design," said resident Robert Harrison.

Supporters said the redesign would help Smyrna compete with other cities for new businesses and residents. Gould said the city has already been contacted by prospective new businesses who have heard about the plans.

"This project is one small part of our economic development plan for the city. But it's a very key, important part of the plan," Gould said.

Pickens said the roundabout area was "a ghost town" compared to the lively Smyrna Market Village.

Former Smyrna Councilwoman Maryline Blackburn said the process had not been transparent and criticized Norton for excluding Wilkinson and Welch from the task force he appointed to shepherd the design to its completion.

Jay Wallace, owner of the Adventure Outdoors gun store, said the new plan was "taking what (former) Mayor (Max) Bacon and council started, and improving it."

Resident Ken Himes called Norton's claims of overwhelming support disingenuous, saying Smyrna was clearly "a house divided." He also said that the budget was a "ridiculously low figure" given current construction costs.

And resident Slade Gulledge called the plan "visionary leadership."

Before voting, Wilkinson said that "from the beginning, we never saw another concept ... we could have developed something that ... everybody would have liked."

Welch, meanwhile, said he couldn't countenance a redesign of something built less than 30 years ago. Welch has been skeptical of Norton's budget.

"I simply can't support spending almost $12 million to revitalize a downtown that, in my opinion, is already a vital asset to our town," Welch said (Norton disputes Welch's figure).

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