A dozen people, each with a different vision of Franklin Road, spoke to the Marietta City Council Wednesday to give their own urban redevelopment ideas.
The public hearing on possible projects under a $35 million bond had passionate speakers lining up to address the council’s proposal to acquire aging apartment complexes along a mile-and-a-half stretch of Franklin Road.
These buildings would be demolished to begin road projects and sell empty lots to private developers.
Former State Sen. Chuck Clay, who lobbies for Parkway Center, a large business complex off of Franklin Road, said Marietta’s residents should support a long-term commitment by the city council.
Clay told the council there is a window due to cheap property rates and it would be a prime time to invest, which could result in a return on the bond money.
Lance Lamberton, president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, said Marietta property owners need relief, not disregard by a more expansive and intrusive government. He proposed that the free market should dictate resources.
“The bond initiative is an exercise in cronyism, with the economic benefits concentrated in the hands of a few,” said Lamberton, who promised the council his association would fight the ballot measure.
Clay said that Parkway Center has a high amount of space available due to the area’s “reputation of not being safe or an attractive place,” and that businesses need more than a nice building, but a great place to operate.
Clay said that due to the high risk of failure in changing Franklin Road, the effort must come from a private and government partnership.
Heath Garrett, co-founder of the group Revitalize Marietta, which was designed to help combine private and government efforts, said that even though Marietta has great assets, the city is losing its middle class.
Garrett said taxpayers should support a measure that will create a larger taxpayer base by increasing the rate of owner-occupied single-family residences. He said Marietta can no longer withstand the large concentration of a transient population living in dilapidated buildings on Franklin Road.
Bert Reeves, a former Cobb County prosecutor, described Franklin Road as an area with violent crime, with extreme drug use and prostitution. He said crimes in that area require a large level of attention from the court system and the police department.
Opposition to redevelopment
Many long-term residents of Marietta who attended Wednesday’s forum expressed opposition to redeveloping Franklin Road for fear that the crime would move to other areas of the city.
Lamberton said decreasing the number of apartment complexes would increase the rent on residents remaining in the area. He said he was concerned there would be no place for the working poor in Marietta.
“Industry will make money on the backs of the poor people living on Franklin Road,” said Deana Bonner, president of the Cobb County NAACP. “These are the citizens that are not very welcome in the city.”
Robin Montgomery, a resident of Franklin Road, said she has been active with city programs, including working with the Marietta Police Department on Weed and Seed projects to rebuild areas affected by high crime rates.
“On Franklin Road, there is a composite of people that are organizing to improve their lives,” said Montgomery, who added the redevelopment plan would break up a community that is uniting to empower themselves and their children.
Larry Jackson, who said he is a football coach and youth leader, said if the plan is approved, “citizens’ lives are going to be unbalanced. They will need more help.”
Jackson said that he has seen changes as area programs have been established.
“Give Franklin Road a chance to prove itself,” Jackson said.
Charles Levinson, who has announced he is running for mayor in this year’s election, said there are other ways to uplift a community through progressive economic measures, instead of tearing it down with bulldozers.
Levinson said the city council has a history of broken promises, such as plans to build a park after razing Preston Chase apartments on Franklin Road.
“We are better than this,” said Levinson, who called the proposal unfair and callous.
Levinson suggested raising Marietta’s minimum wage, or expanding the Cobb Community Transit bus route to include Sundays.
Changes to the map
Before the public hearing began, Beth Sessoms, acting executive director of the Marietta Redevelopment Corp., presented the city council with changes to the map of the Urban Redevelopment Plan, which shows properties that are considered to be blighted areas based on crime and vacancy rates.
Philip Goldstein was the only opposing vote on adopting the modified plan, focusing on areas of Whitlock Avenue that would fall under the new map.
Goldstein said the shopping centers from Burnt Hickory to Polk Street are viable businesses. He also said the affluent residential area from Marietta Parkway to Kirkpatrick Drive should not receive a “slum” label.
Approval of alcohol sales
In other business, the council unanimously approved the appointment of Hall Rigdon to the Marietta Redevelopment Corporation Board.
Rezoning issues that were unanimously passed included a special land use permit to construct a new telecommunications tower at 2141 Kingston Court and an amendment to allow the sale and consumption of beer and wine in Atherton Square.
Also on the agenda at Wednesday’s meeting was the call to hold Marietta’s general election on Nov. 5, which will include the seven council seats.
With councilman Jim King attending by phone, the council approved this measure, as well as contracting the Board of Education to run the general election.