“A lot of accomplishments with the housing market, the way it’s coming back with eight new subdivisions alone under construction in District 3, and with the commercial, the businesses coming back, especially in the Canton Road area, and 92 and Sandy Plains, I think it’s been a very — there have been some challenges, but I think it’s been a very positive year and good economic year for us,” Birrell said.
Cobb Chamber of Commerce Chairman Tony Britton said he was pleased with Birrell’s leadership.
“I think JoAnn has just been very engaging in general to the community, to the business community specifically,” Britton said. “I know she’s had an awful lot of passion along the Canton Road corridor and the redevelopment of that and trying to help the business folks in that area, and from the Chamber’s standpoint I very much appreciate any effort, any engagement to help move business forward and help people be more successful as we work through the tough economic times we’ve been experiencing.”
Birrell’s district is bordered by Commissioner Bob Ott’s district to the south along Roswell Road and Commissioner Helen Goreham’s district to the west along Interstate 75. It also picks up a portion west of I-75 near Kennesaw Avenue in Marietta.
The 2010 census counted 171,932 people in Birrell’s district with 128,075 of them white and 23,389 black.
Eight-three percent of registered voters in her district are Republican, she said.
The first roundabout built in District 3 at Holly Springs and Davis roads this year is one accomplishment Birrell said she’s particularly happy about. The location was originally a four-way stop.
“You could see a line of cars backed up every morning and every afternoon,” she said. “With the roundabout now it is really helped with the traffic flow and alleviated a lot of the traffic and backup in that area.”
The $400,000 cost, originally budgeted in the SPLOST list for $4 million, came in significantly under budget because the county didn’t have to purchase right-of-way, she said.
Birrell said she’s also pleased with the opening of the Big Shanty Connector this year, a four-lane road that tunnels under Interstate 75 to link Chastain Road to Chastain Meadows.
“Big Shanty Connector has really helped with the traffic up in the KSU area, Town Center Mall area,” she said.
As Britton referenced, revitalizing the Canton Road area, an older, mostly commercial part of her district, has been another focus. Last year, the county government identified 38 commercial sites in Cobb that were either blighted or vacant and in need of redevelopment. Thirteen of those sites lie along Canton Road in District 3. Birrell formed a committee to target the problem made up of the area’s business and community leaders chaired by Frank Wingington, who also served this year as president of the Northeast Cobb Business Association.
The idea, Birrell said, is to “bring commercial back there and residential too, but to fill those voids where we have vacancies and businesses that have closed their doors and are run down and vacant.”
The group has filed to become a nonprofit named the Canton Road Redevelopment Foundation.
“Once they get their nonprofit status they will be able to go to the Development Authority of Cobb and ask for grant money to kind of be an additional incentive for businesses to come to Canton Road,” she said.
Birrell said she’s already seeing movement in the area with three of the 13 blighted locations being redeveloped.
One is the $3.8 million Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, which is expected to open near the end of March at Canton and Blackwell roads.
“I think that’s going to really encourage others to come, not just to that shopping center where they are, but all along Canton Road,” Birrell said.
A closed car wash at the corner of Chance and Canton roads is reopening in February. And this month commissioners approved a zoning change to allow a furniture store to open by the Bay Breeze Seafood Restaurant on Canton Road.
Birrell said her goal is to see the area revitalized in the next two to four years.
“We’ve seen some progress already, and I really think once some of these other businesses come on board the market is getting better. It is turning around, both on the residential side and the commercial side. It’s just not going to happen overnight,” she said.
Another project on the redevelopment list is an empty shopping center at the corner of Sandy Plains and Highway 90 that was the site of a former Stein Mart. A $6.8 million movie complex is opening there later in the New Year, she said.
“And then there’s a Wal-Mart neighborhood market going in where the Kroger is at that same intersection, so that’s a really big positive for the commercial businesses sector up there,” she said.
This year Kaiser Permanente expanded its health center at Town Park adding 78,000 square feet at a cost of $47 million. The expansion, which opened in August, will add 100 new jobs.
Home Depot opened a new national call center at Chastain Meadows in October at a cost of $24 million, adding 700 new jobs.
And the Wash Barn on Canton Road brings an investment of $825,000 to the area which includes building renovations and 10 new jobs, she said.
Residential is also beginning to recover with eight subdivisions under construction in her district totaling more than $124.7 million in construction costs.
All four districts are receiving a number of new sidewalks. Birrell said most of the ones in her district are centered around the schools for safety.
One of the challenges Birrell said she faces is identifying money to develop Mabry Park, the 26 acres of undeveloped rolling pasture and woodlands the county owns. The property is set off from Wesley Chapel Road by two other lots, and while the county has an easement for access, it needs to build a road to the park at an estimated cost of $750,000.
Looking ahead, Birrell said she is excited about plans to build a “diverging diamond” interchange at Wade Green Road in Kennesaw like the one built this year at Ashford-Dunwoody Road over Interstate 285 in DeKalb County.
The $2.6 million diverging diamond is expected to open in late 2014.
“It alleviates traffic and helps the traffic flow getting on and off the interstates,” she said.
Birrell, who was first elected in 2010, said she’s enjoyed serving as a commissioner and intends to run again when her four-year term expires.
“I really enjoy what I do, and I feel like I’m accomplishing a lot in the district, and I hope I have the support of my constituents that think the same and want to keep me there,” she said.