From new roadways to new developments downtown, as well as major infrastructure upgrades, a new park and a looming surge in population, Villa Rica is teeming with redevelopment plans. So much so, that the city has officially sent out a call for help.
The city has hired a consultant to provide an overview of all the projects being done by city staffers, freeing them to focus on the minute details that will carry those projects to completion.
City leaders say an outsider’s vision is necessary. Not only to prevent tearing up new work to fix mistakes, but to have a plan ready if voters grant the city new redevelopment powers in November.
Earlier this month, the city’s legislative delegation introduced a bill that would allow the city to create Tax Allocation Districts; specific zones in the city in which rising land values would, in effect, pay for the infrastructure needed for the people who live there.
If both legislative houses approve House Bill 846, a referendum would be placed on the November ballot. The city’s voters could then give the city powers which could fundamentally change the downtown area, pulling together a vision of the city outlined two years ago in the so-called “RSVP plan.”
Whether that happens, however, is a matter for the future. The need for some outside perspective on the myriad of plans taking shape for the city is more immediate.
“I can’t wrap my head around everything we’re trying to do,” City Manager Tom Barber told council members at their Feb. 6 monthly meeting. “It’s overwhelming, the scope of it.”
Barber said that while city staff is focusing on individual projects, some sort of oversight was needed to prevent needless and potentially costly mistakes. One example given was tearing up newly paved sidewalks to install sewer and water pipes that should have been placed before the concrete was poured.
“It’s become clear that we’re in danger of throwing good money after bad by potentially doing some things that we would have to un-do as required by future utility improvements,” Barber told the council.
“I’m recommending that we take a step back for a minute and we bring in someone who’s already involved with the city — historically and currently on the land-use plan — to sort of help us, and sort of force us to back up and take a bigger conceptual look at what revitalizing downtown is going to involve.”
The person Barber recommended for that job is Ron Huffman with Amec Foster Wheeler, an Atlanta-based engineering project consultant. The company has already been engaged in updating the city’s land-use plan, and Barber recommended expanding its portfolio.
The council unanimously approved the plan, agreeing to authorize $12,500 in funds so the company can help the city create a unified, conceptual plan for the redevelopment of downtown.
Ward 4 Councilman Gil McDougal said he appreciated that the city was facing up to the issue.
“I think everything we do is going to be big for a long time to come and planning is the big part of it,” McDougal said. “I see this as a great idea.”
In June 2016, the city unveiled a master plan as part of the Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning (RSVP) program. It was the result of a months-long survey of Villa Rica residents who provided input on what they wanted the future of the city to look like.
As such, the plan was more of a distillation of ideas rather than a concrete plan ready for implementation. But in the months since, the city has taken several steps toward making some of the recommended projects a reality.
One of those would be a connecting roadway that would link the area near the Mirror Lake community directly to downtown.
It is that roadway that some city planners have suggested could benefit as a Tax Allocation District, or TAD. If the Legislature approves a redevelopment referendum — and if voters approve it — then the rising property value along the road could pay for city improvements needed in the area.
The first step for cities implementing a TAD is to create a redevelopment plan. City Manager Barber told council members that Huffman’s company could help in that as well.
“What I see happening is (that) the RSVP plan that’s already being done, and the comp(rehensive) plan that’s being worked on (would) result in our redevelopment plan, and that’s what we would move into with the TAD.”