Published Sunday, November 11, 2012
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
A group of graduate students from the Georgia Institute of Technology have been turning their attention to Moreland, and their report will be presented on Tuesday.
The students visited the south Coweta town several times as part of the Blueprints for Successful Communities program, sponsored by the Georgia Conservancy. Mayor Josh Evans said he hopes area residents will attend the meeting at the town hall in the Moreland Mill on Tuesday from 6-7:30 p.m.
“We really want a large group to show up and learn about our plans for the future – and get involved,” Evans said.
The Blueprints proposal will have three basic parts – moving the Erskine Caldwell Birthplace to the God’s Little Acre tract at the south end of town, establishing a tree canopy along Highway 27 and connecting various parts of town with walkways.
Katherine Moore of the Georgia Conservancy and Richard Dagenhart of Georgia Tech, who oversaw the student project, talked about the plans recently with city officials and community leaders.
Moore said community meetings revealed three concerns among people in the area. There was “concern about the community identity” and about “public safety transportation issues around one of your main arteries,” she said.
The future of the central greenspace in town was also a concern.
“We wanted to somewhat save Moreland. We don’t want Moreland to go away. Moreland as a community and as an identity needs to stay,” Moore said.
At a workshop, students brought ideas about how to address those concerns. “Over the course of the summer, we’ve continued to play with those ideas,” Moore said.
She said the Blueprints document will offer some steps “to implement specific projects” – with goals for five years, 10 years and 20 years. All of those goals are guided by “this vision that Moreland needs to remain as is and prosper.”
Moore said it is clear Moreland residents do not want their town to become “another one of the disappeared communities in Georgia.”
The proposals will include “some rough cost estimates,” Moore said.
“Moreland is going to change,” Dagenhart said. The town could simply become a bedroom community with subdivisions “unless the city takes action” to move in another direction, he warned.
The fact that sewer service will likely be installed when an industrial tract at the town’s northern border is developed ensures “something is going to happen,” Dagenhart said.
Before the processes of change begin, “Moreland needs to have a more clear identity to itself,” to make an effort to “get current residents more involved in the city” and to work at “attracting new residents,” Dagenhart said.
In addition, he said a hard look at the zoning regulations is needed. The current regulations allow development “that I think you don’t really want to happen,” Dagenhart said.
Moore talked about the importance of aesthetics – of making the town attractive. “What is it about Moreland that would make people want to stay here?” she asked.
Dagenhart talked about the aspect of the proposal to move the museum birthplace of Caldwell, an internationally known novelist, to “a place that is more suitable and... not sitting on top of a pond every time it rains.”
At God’s Little Acre, the circa 1879 farmhouse could be placed on a new foundation “so it operates as an old house in a farm setting.” Dagenhart said he believes the house could be moved by April of next year.
“That would be a key decision, to get all the projects moving. It’s not one that would take a lot of work,” he said. “You can’t do anything on the town square until the house is moved.”
He said using available money to run sidewalks “as far at the funds will go” would be wise. He said the town could make progress over time by “keeping this process going and going and going.”
The plans include some ideas for crosswalks — perhaps in the shape of a giant footprint – along Highway 27. He said having pedestrian crossing signs will also be important.
“Traffic will slow down” if there is signage, he said.
Moore and Dagenhart talked about a facet of the plan that would seek to involve property owners – particularly those with along along Highway 27 – in planting trees that would create a canopy the notify motorists they are in a town.
Dagenhart suggested starting with about 200 trees early in 2013.
He said four or five species should be used, and estimated the cost at $400-$500 per tree. “Imagine what would happen if you planted 200 trees this winter,” Dagenhart said.
The biggest part of the work would be “getting the property owners’ agreement.” Dagenhart suggested letting “the property owners pick the trees” and looking for grant or sales tax money to buy the trees.
The town would “get publicity just because of the trees,” Dagenhart predicted.
He talked about what happened in Wichita Falls, Texas. The town is on flat terrain in a fairly isolated area. The mayor there came up with the idea “to plant 1,000 trees,” Dagenhart said.
“Now you drive into Wichita Falls, what used to be this barren place, and there are trees everywhere,” he said.
Concepts like the tree planting create community identity both for residents and people passing through. “It’s incredibly easy to do,” Dagenhart said.
Among the species suggested were sugar maple, black gum, sugar magonlia, pecan, willow oak and flowering dogwood. “They’re all native trees,” Dagenhart said.
Moore said the trees would create a vertical visual field that would change with the seasons. The tree planting would be “a legacy project that this council could undertake that’s going to be around for years and years,” she said.
Once the Caldwell home has been moved, there will be “a series of things that need to be done” on the town square, Dagenhart said.
“There’s going to have to be a detailed topographic survey,” Dagenhart said. “Knowing how much water” is going through “that single culvert” at Railroad Street is important, he said.
“Otherwise you do something and it’s just a mistake,” Dagenhart said.
Once the drainage is studied, there needs to be a detailed design of square “that deals with sidewalks around the edge,” Dagenhart said. “That has to be coordinated with what goes on inside the square.”
He said projects on the square could combine funds — Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax - SPLOST, Transportation Enhancement Act funds and tourism grant dollars.
Evans said it is important to “get the community behind” the project as it moves forward. “If we can get the community people behind it,” it will happen, he said. “They’re the ones who elect the council and the mayor.”
He said local residents have already spoken out about the city’s holding of SPLOST funds dating back years. “They want it spent,” Evans stated.
“I think the Blueprints is a good place to start,” he said.
Councilman Dick Ford talked about moving the Caldwell home. “It would open up the green,” he said. “You’ve got to start somewhere.”
Moore said that if the town will start working toward the projects, enthusiasm will build. “It’s going to put some wind in everybody’s sails,” she predicted.
“It’s something we all want to do. The more we get into this, the more we realize it’s going to be baby steps,” Ford said.