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Smart Growth in Columbus.

Lady Celeste

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Columbus has recently been getting some attention on the statewide level. Housing starts are blazing, the military has continued it's relationship with the metro and the job market is heating up tremendously. My question to those in the Columbus area is what are local officials doing to make this growth smart and sustainable for the long run? Columbus has so much potential. It's in the great position for continued growth. I would hate to see it's outlying counties to gain more momentum as is witnessed in Macon (Warner Robbins) and Augusta (Evans).

Is public transportation being pushed?

Is affordable housing being stressed?

Are there saftey nets to prevent uncontrolled sprawl?

Are there incentives for city proper development?

I eagerly wait the input of those of in the know for the Columbus area.

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Technically, I am still an Atlantan, as I am only at my Columbus house on weekends. But for what its worth

1. There is a public bus line. I am not sure how much it is used and, as far as I know, there are no plans to expand it. There was a proposal to build a lite rail (trolley) line from the main CSU campus (the near-in suburbs) to the new developing campus DT. However, that proved to be too expensive. So now the proposal is to turn the line into hiking/bike trail. I suppose that at some point when gas becomes prohibitively expensive the trail could then be converted to lite rail. At least it will be preserved for that option. It is ideally located, as it runs from the far suburbs (near Flatrock Park) thru the CSU campus, past the rapidly developing medical center area into DT.

I also believe that there is a plan for expanded (but limited) trolly service in and around DT, connected with the Streetscape Project and opening the old 14th St bridge for pedestrian use to the developing Phenix City riverfront area. That proposal may be tied into the whitewater project and getting more "feet on the street" in DT.

Otherwise, the focus appears to be on roads. There is not a real "traffic problem" yet (but I have an Atlanta perspective). Rush "hour" is actually rush "1/4 hour." The main focus (I feel) should be on connecting to the outside world (new interstate-standard roads) especially east-west (Macon-Mongomery) and south (Tallahassee). Inside the city (and this is a personal peeve) I wish the lights were synchronized and were self-regulating to adjust to traffic flow (some lights stay red forever even tho there is no another car in sight)

2. Having just been in the real estate market, I was somewhat surprised at the cost of in-town houses. Not that much cheaper than Atlanta. Avg > $100 sf. , with some houses >$200/300 sf. I heard a report (unverified) of a group of houses going up at > $500 sf.

However, I also think that new housing starts will be in the affordable range, as the target buyers will be military. Land costs are a worry, as Muscogee is a small county (even smaller when Ft Benning is taken into account) However, there is still relatively cheap land closeby in Russell, Lee AL and Chattahoochee, Marion and Talbot GA. Harris County is a special case. They have a 2-acre lot minimum, which keeps out the low end cookie cutter developments. It will undoubedly remain the upscale suburban site (no danger of it becoming another Columbia/Houston County) whereas, the more affordable housing will continue to be elsewhere (primarily Lee Co which has the convenience of being close by, available riverfront property with lower taxes)

3.. Unfortunately sprawl is here -- the Columbus X-ing area is (in my opinion) about as as bad as any I have ever seen. It has wonderful shops, but is a car-oriented sprawling mess that looks and feels like some throwback to the 1950's. I am not sure whether there is any plan to put a stop to this. I get the sense that Columbus has been lagging for so long that it takes any sign of development (even if tacky, environmentally toxic) as "progress." I wish that we could have progress that was well-thought out. The "problem" is that often (as with Columbus X-ing) the developers are not local and are just in it for a quick buck -- easier to clearcut and throw up a glorified strip mall than to build a community-oriented development. Maybe a corner was turned recently when the city did pass a "big box" ordinance requiring that certain centers be landscaped and add more "green" in with the concrete. The provisions even apply when an existing big box expands or renovates -- like the Sam's Club/Walmart on Airport Thruway. However, I am not optimistic that Columbus will avoid the curse of sprawl -- certainly not entirely.

4. There are some incentives. There is a new Mid-Town Development group (where I live) that is trying very hard to get that area cleaned up, add new parks, new neighborhood shops, cafes, etc. There are several designated historic areas thru out the city (my house is in the Park District) in which a home owner can get up to $5000 interest free loan to fix up exterior/facade of a dwelling. The UpTown group does an amazing job in the DT area to promote the redevelopment of that part of town. Bradley Co. is also instrumental in redevelopment of the DT area (like new condos at the old mill).

All in all I get the sense that there is a growing interest in the older, traditional neighborhoods in the city, and that regentrification is occurring with more folks returning and fixing up areas which had become rundown.

In summary I dont think (but it may be wishful thinking) that Columbus will ever sprawl like Macon or Augusta. Harris County (on the north) is "safe" and a buffer for the reasons I mentioned. Ft Benning (on the south) will be a buffer for sprawl in that direction. Marion and Talbot Counties (on the east) are small rural and

lack infrastructure (water/sewer) and jobs (no airforce base or major employer) to support development on a large-scale. That leaves AL. Russell County is generally accessible only thru DT -- the only other bridge is north of DT and, altho it is in Russell County, it really provides a more convenient access to and from Lee County (Auburn/Opelika). Therefore, if I had to bet, I would put money on sprawl occurring (actually, continuing to occur) along the 4-lane (431/280) connecting N. Columbus (Allen Bypass) and Auburburn/Opelika. Also, the area of N. Muscogee Countynorth of the Allen Bypass upto the Harris County line.

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