The council dropped the former Lemon Street School from its list of bond projects, moving the school’s proposed $1.2 million earmark over to be spent on Whitlock Avenue.
On Nov. 5, Marietta residents may vote on whether to approve a bond that will now specify $4 million for Whitlock Avenue streetscape improvements and $31 million for Franklin Road property acquisition, demolition of blighted businesses and apartments, as well as the construction of roadways.
The original proposal listed $1.5 million for Whitlock Avenue, $32.3 million for Franklin Road and $1.2 million for Lemon Street, home to Marietta’s African-American students prior to the desegregation of schools.
Councilman Andy Morris led the charge to spend more on Whitlock, saying the project should include lamp posts, a bike path and even expanding the road to allow for a middle turn lane.
Councilman Grif Chalfant agreed with the extra attention to Whitlock and said “the road is crumbling into ditches.”
Council decided in a 5-1 vote that its June 12 meeting is when it will make a final decision on whether to place the bond referendum before voters Nov. 5.
Councilman Philip Goldstein opposed, while Councilman Anthony Coleman was absent.
Council members agreed that the bond should specify the amount of funds for each project. They also agreed that left over money would be used to pay off debt.
“If we are telling folks this is what we need the money for and this is what we are asking you to vote on, we need to hold up to that,” Goldstein said.
Councilman Jim King said he wants to be clear on the “pledge we are making to citizens.”
Hearing the public
The meeting began with a public hearing where a majority of speakers, while supporting the bond proposal, had suggestions on how it could be tweaked. Several spoke of the city’s neglect of Whitlock Avenue.
James Nelson, who lives in the Carriage Oaks neighborhood across from Marietta High School, said “not one dime of (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds has gone to Whitlock Avenue.”
Bond funding, Nelson said, which was originally proposed at $1.5 million for Whitlock, should be closer to $5 million for a major thoroughfare to the heart of the city. “We are not asking for sidewalks to the governor’s house, but improvements to the whole street,” he said.
Nelson went on to say that Whitlock Avenue is littered with vacant homes and empty businesses. He specifically asked for improvements at the intersection of Burnt Hickory Road. “If you want to see blight go to that intersection,” he said.
Another resident described how the proposed project could bring changes to his front door.
In February, Hessel Baker moved to an apartment with his two daughters on Franklin Road after purchasing the complex named Dwell at 750, formerly called Notting Hills.
Baker said after being in the real estate business for 20 years, he bought the property because he wanted to help revitalize the area.
“We are committed to see change take place,” he said.
Baker said he does not lease to anyone with a criminal background at his 304-unit complex.
Baker said the bond’s focus should be on buildings with significant structural issues that need to be bulldozed, since the $35 million would not be enough to buy and clear half of the properties in the Franklin Road corridor.
Despite efforts to improve the community, Baker admitted Franklin Road lacks a certain quality of life.
“It is really hard to attract higher end tenants with the loitering that is taking place,” he said.
For instance, he said a gas station with broken pumps in front of his property is little more than a liquor store that serves as a gathering spot for illicit activity.
The restoration of Franklin Road, Baker said, should include a police substation with more patrolling to control loitering.