- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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May 17

The Brunswick News on development project proposal for St. Simons Island:

Here we are again, quite literally in this case, considering whether the second phase of a development on St. Simons Island fits the character of the residential area surrounding it.

Phase two of the Marshall Building, a mixed-use, condo-hotel situated two doors down from the Mellow Mushroom restaurant on the edge of the Pier Village, is up for discussion again today at the Islands Planning Commission meeting.

It first came up in 2014 when developers wanted to rezone a half-acre lot from village residential to village mixed-use to build office space. That request was approved unanimously by the planning commission in the face of opposition from residential neighbors, only to be unanimously denied by the Glynn County Commission.

Phase one of the project is already coming together.

When completed, the condominium-hotel building will be three stories tall and will contain 42 rooms, according to proposals.

From Kings Way, where it connects with Ocean Boulevard, the building might appear at first glance to fit in, as it is next to another condominium building. A closer look, though, reveals that the Marshall Building is surrounded on its other three sides by residential properties - homes owned by local people who live, work and play in Glynn County.

As a matter of full disclosure, one of those homes belongs to the publisher of The Brunswick News, who has publicly stated opposition to the project.

But who the people are that are living in the residential area around it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they purchased their homes with the expectation they would be living in a residential neighborhood, not a mixed-use development saturated with hotels and businesses.

Should the rezoning be approved, what is to stop mixed use zoning from swallowing up residential neighborhoods all over the more densely developed areas of the island?

Growth and new development is not a bad thing. In fact it is necessary in many cases for a tourist-driven economy to thrive.

But growth-at-any-cost is not what St. Simons Island, or Glynn County as a whole, needs.

The Islands Planning Commission should take the hint county commissioners gave them two years ago and deny the ill-conceived proposal.

Online:

https://www.thebrunswicknews.com

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May 15

The Dalton Daily Citizen on budget rejection by Dalton Board of Education:

Dalton Board of Education members made a good decision last week when they rejected a fiscal 2017 budget that would have contained a property tax increase.

But they could have made a better decision and rejected a second budget that has no tax increase but does contain a nearly $1.5 million deficit.

Board members rejected a proposed $72.5 million spending plan with a half-a-mill increase to property taxes that would have created 27 new positions.

But in a 4-1 vote, with Steve Laird being the sole dissenting voice, board members accepted a $71.7 million budget that is projected to run a deficit of nearly $1.5 million, which will be covered by the school system’s fund balance - currently about $12 million.

The approval of the budget was tentative. Board members will approve the final budget at their June meeting. Fiscal 2017 starts on July 1.

We hope that before board members give final approval to the budget, the school system staff will continue to review the budget and look for further cuts in spending.

But we applaud the board members for rejecting a tax increase. While the worst of the Great Recession is behind us, Dalton still has a long way to go to recover the economic vitality it had before the downturn. Now is not the time for higher taxes.

Online:

https://www.daltondailycitizen.com

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May 15

The Savannah Morning News on constructing new city arena:

Mayor Eddie DeLoach and City Council still have a lot of work to do when it comes to building a new and sorely needed arena and on a separate project to improve a blighted area just west of downtown.

Not long ago, the plan to build a new arena that would replace the existing arena at the Civic Center and to redevelop the so-called Canal District on West Gwinnett Street near Stiles Avenue, were part of a larger, single project. But many citizens, along with the mayor, remain unsold on the idea of building a new arena in this area, and they fear it will be unsuccessful because of crime and other concerns. They also don’t believe the optimistic predictions that investing millions in the arena would trigger a much-needed economic boost.

But the political reality is that citizens were promised a new arena if they approved the sales-tax extension, and city officials must keep their promises and put the arena somewhere. At the same time, they have an obligation to taxpayers to be fiscally responsible when it comes to all aspects of this project, including the siting of the $140-million arena.

After all, this new arena will be around for a long time. It will outlast the current mayor and City Council, much as the current Civic Center outlasted elected officials who were in office when it was built.

So it’s critical to get it right the first time. And there are at least two key questions that need answers: What site makes the most sense in terms of location and use by patrons? How much will everything cost (everything, not just the arena)?

Mayor DeLoach suggested Thursday that the city consider building the new arena at the Civic Center site instead of the selected location west of the Historic District. That’s an idea that has been floated in the past, but curiously, not seriously examined.

On the plus side, the city owns this property and won’t have to bear land acquisition costs. There’s parking near the site and it’s in a fairly safe neighborhood and within easy walking distance of the city’s nightlife and other amenities, which means it should help nearby businesses.

But building it there also can be viewed as a missed opportunity to trigger investment in other struggling neighborhoods. Hence, years ago, city leaders tied the construction of a new arena to the Canal District project, which has generated some excitement over the years but not enough to erase concerns about the arena location.

The mayor isn’t the only elected official who wants to talk about building the new arena on the existing site of the old arena. Aldermen Bill Durrence, Brian Foster and Julian Miller said building on the existing site was worth looking into. A consultant’s endorsement was not enough to convince them to support the plan to build an arena west of the Historic District.

The mayor’s recommendation came after he and other council members had raised concerns about a lack of funding for aspects of the plan outside the $140 million for the arena.

“We don’t have the money, and I’m not going to create a debt to get there,” Mr. DeLoach said.

The construction costs are expected to be covered by about $140 million in anticipated sales-tax revenue designated for the project. Sources for other funding have not been identified, a major omission.

It’s irresponsible to buy something when you don’t know how you are going to pay for it. In this case, about $54 million more is needed to cover additional work, including $37 million to demolish the Civic Center arena and to restore the Johnny Mercer Theatre.

Also, City Manager Stephanie Cutter said staff have no estimates for the costs of the parks and infrastructure surrounding the arena necessary for the proposed Canal District. The arena was touted as an extension of the Historic District that will spur economic growth in the community, but most of the council agreed the Canal District needed to be developed for the project to be a success.

“There was a lot of excitement in the canal plan,” Mr. Miller noted. “I don’t see that in this.”

He’s right. And if officials aren’t excited, then they shouldn’t expect citizens go get excited.

Mr. DeLoach said he still supported investing in other aspects of the canal plan to help revitalize that area, such as restoring the city’s historic waterworks building for multi-purpose use and developing recreational facilities. Potential savings from the new location could help fund those improvements, he said, which would be another reason to keep the arena where it’s at.

Alderwoman Carol Bell said that she is open to investigating the existing site, but she is more interested in getting information about the costs of the canal district development.

“We have a fiscal responsibility to make sure it is possible,” she said.

Getting cost projections is critical because city taxpayers can’t afford to throw money at a project without knowing what it’s buying and what the property will be used for.

Sadly, the city has made this mistake in the past when it bought an old shopping center on Waters Avenue, an old but historic pharmacy on MLK Boulevard and vacant land for a new cultural arts center.

While agreeing a funding plan needed to be put in place, Aldermen John Hall, Van Johnson, Tony Thomas and Alderwoman Estella Shabazz said they remained committed to the selected site. The community had been promised the arena when the city had sought their support for two previous tax referendums to fund the project, Mr. Johnson said.

“The area has been separated by systemic racism with heavy industrial uses abutting black communities,” he added. “This is an opportunity to correct that.”

Mr. Johnson is being unduly harsh and divisive. City Council may influence planning and zoning decisions, but it doesn’t tell industries where to build their plants. While he’s right that many poorer neighborhoods tend to be made up of black residents, and that city officials must acknowledge Savannah’s diversity when it comes to making public investments, he’s wrong to seem to make this a race issue in this case. It accomplishes nothing.

Meanwhile, the city’s paid consultant, Barrett Sports Group, praised the arena, which is no surprise, as few consultants run down a project if they expect to get paid their fee. However, a master plan around the arena is critical to a successful venue, said Dan Barrett, the firm’s owner.

He’s right. The “dead zone” around Atlanta’s Turner Field, which the Atlanta Braves are abandoning for a new stadium on Atlanta’s northside, is the perfect example of what can happen when a city doesn’t have a master plan around an arena.

Mr. DeLoach wants the consultant to examine the feasibility of building at the existing site, something the council would have to vote on. “I just want the council to do the right thing,” he said.

So do all future patrons of the new, $140 million arena and all the Savannah taxpayers who are paying for it. Do it right, and the excitement will follow.

Online:

https://www.savannahnow.com

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