Birrell announced a committee comprising eight people with business or community ties to the Canton Road corridor and six Cobb County officials before a Northeast Cobb Business Association luncheon at Piedmont Church. Birrell said the committee is expected to brainstorm for ideas to revitalize the corridor.
“I think we’ve got a good list of folks that can be a good check and balance to keep us in line with our land-use plan and our zoning laws and everything else,” she said.
The committee will consist of Andy Campbell of Columbia Properties; Carol Brown of Canton Road Neighbors; Chuck Martin of fragrance maker Arylessence; Clarice Spica of Bay Breeze seafood restaurant; Don Westbrook of Elon Salon; Blackwell Elementary School principal Maurine Kozol; Glen Wilkins, public affairs manager for Walmart, which is opening a Neighborhood Market grocery store at Canton and Blackwell roads; and landscaper Frank Wigington, who is also president of the Northeast Cobb Business Association.
Along with Birrell, planning division manager Dana Johnson, zoning manager John Pederson, economic development director Michael Hughes, community development director Rob Hosack and Planning Commissioner Christi Trombetti will represent county government on the committee.
“I think our team is going to have our eyes and ears out there,” she said.
The county has already rebuilt intersections and medians and landscaped the road in the corridor, and working to attract business is the next logical step, Birrell said.
“Now we’ve got to get some businesses there on Canton Road to kind of take away those vacant buildings, eyesores that you see out there,” said Birrell, who recently started her second year representing northeast Cobb on the Board of Commissioners. “We really want this to be the Mecca of District 3 and bring people from all over to Canton Road and create more jobs and keep those businesses going.”
The county recently identified sites that were prime for redevelopment around Cobb. Canton Road had 13 vacant sites, more than any other street. Birrell distributed a map at the meeting showing the redevelopment sites, located along a 4½-mile stretch of Canton Road. Sites on Sandy Plains and Roswell roads in northeast Cobb were also highlighted as sites for possible redevelopment.
Spica said she has first-hand knowledge of redeveloping sites on Canton Road. In 2008, Bay Breeze, where she is general manager, took over a former Ryan’s Steakhouse at 2418 Canton Road that had been abandoned for three years. She can see more businesses coming in the future, she said.
“I think it’s just going to spread outward to the other properties,” she said.
Brown said there have been encouraging signs, especially in the northern part of the corridor. Along with the planned Walmart grocery store, Vespucci’s Italian restaurant recently opened and Sigma Thermal, an industrial heater company, is building its headquarters in the corridor. But she sees problems like abandoned gas stations and people dumping trash behind a vacant development in the southern part of Canton Road.
“Maybe people will see a large corporation like Walmart moving in to the corridor, and that will encourage them to relocate,” Brown said.
Johnson said taking a redevelopment inventory of vacant sites in Cobb was the first step. It focused on finding a variety of different uses for the buildings.
“We understand the impact the undeveloped sites can have on a community,” he told the audience of about 90 people. “It can reduce business prospects for small-business owners in the area. It has a negative consequence on property values for surrounding residential communities. We really wanted to put the focus on that to make sure we do everything we can to help regenerate some areas of Cobb County.”
Birrell said the committee will take off after the county puts the finishing touches on its redevelopment website, which will allow potential developers to search for properties based on factors like size, location and zoning designation.
“It will be a great tool for us to get the word out and for people to shop around to see what’s out there,” she said.
Also expected to help are changes to the county’s development standards that commissioners passed Tuesday. They are designed to help encourage redevelopment of vacant shopping centers and other dilapidated properties.
Candidates for elected office at the meeting included Bill Byrne, Mike Boyce and Larry Savage, the three challengers declared to face Cobb Chairman Tim Lee in the July 31 Republican Primary; JoEllen Smith, a Republican candidate for the state representative; and Marietta City Councilman Van Pearlberg, who is running for Cobb Superior Court judge.
Johnson will give another presentation at Birrell’s town hall meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight at the Mountain View Community Center, 3400 Sandy Plains Road.