Ron Fennel, Ward 7 City Council member, said he thinks Smyrna is well positioned to bounce back from the impacts of a sluggish economy. Residents of Bennett Woods and the surrounding neighborhoods brought their concerns and questions to Fennel at a neighborhood meeting Tuesday, Feb. 28 at City Hall.
“We have a better positioning for the city of Smyrna than many of our competitive cities in Metro Atlanta to come out of these economic doldrums that we’re in,” he said. “I’m excited about the position we are in as Smyrna. We’re very business friendly. We welcome small businesses locating and relocating here or trying to help them grow.”
Fennel explained that City Council members, four of whom are serving their first terms, mapped out priorities for Smyrna at a recent retreat. Business retention was at the top of the list. Council members are planning a small business roundtable in the coming weeks where they can hear thoughts and concerns from local business owners.
Fennel also noted that Smyrna is growing at a fast pace. The city’s population grew by 25 percent since the 2000 U.S. Census and is now just 5,300 residents behind Marietta.
“So we’ve kind of grown up from being the little sleepy small town that we saw ourselves as and we’re starting to deal with some of the bigger issues that larger communities deal with,” he said.
One issue that comes with a growing population is increased traffic. Fennel said he’d like to increase awareness about pedestrian safety, who was struck by a vehicle while crossing Atlanta Road.
“Shouldn’t you be able to walk out of your home, jump on your bike and get on Silver Comet without risking your life?” Fennel said “I think so. So we’re going to take a closer look. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take some cooperation. These seven lane roads that we don’t own as Smyrna, they’re managed by the Department of Transportation or Cobb County. So we have a partnership opportunity that we’re going to look at down the road.”
Fennel also said he planned to hold a town hall meeting about the upcoming Transportation Investment Act referendum. Voters go to the polls July 31 to decide whether to impose a one-cent sales tax collected over 10 years that would fund a list of transportation projects created by the Atlanta Regional Roundtable
“Right now I think there are a lot of people who still have a lot of questions,” he said. “And we want to make sure that the people who are advocating for it and against it get a chance to articulate their views so we can make an informed decision here in Smyrna because there’s a lot of money at stake at either end of the spectrum whether you like it or not.”
Traffic was also a concern for Bennett Woods residents. Several people chimed in to ask whether the city planned to make the Concord Road exit a left-only turn by constructing a raised median. While Fennel didn’t know of any specific plans to modify the intersection he was aware that city officials were monitoring the area closely.
“Trust me, already the traffic management team is looking at how that property has performed in the first 60 days because this is a high-demand driver for the region now,” Fennel said “We’re going to have to contend with the beast that is from now on.”
Another resident asked Fennel about the status of the Hickory Lake project. The city purchased Hickory Lake apartments in 2010 and is completing demolition of the site.
“The city has hired a firm to market the property,” Fennel said. “We ’re excited about the prospects of it because it’s so well-positioned because it has some natural amenities and some proximity amenities that various groups have expressed interest in. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the very near future we had someone express public interest in that property. We’ve just continued to market it."
Smyrna Fire Chief Jason Lanyon, who was also at the meeting, told Bennett Woods residents that they were already positively impacted by the city’s purchase of Hickory Lakes.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize is that sometimes as much as 20 percent of the calls coming out of the station that serves your neighborhood (Fire Station No. 2) were going to Hickory Lake. You say, ‘Why is that important?’ Well, if we’re at Hickory Lake and you need us in your neighborhood, the next truck has to come from downtown. So you want your neighborhood fire truck to be home as much as possible so it’s home when you need it. That’s a good thing.”
Fennel also offered his perspective on the Jonquil Village development located at the intersection of Atlanta Road and Concord/Spring roads. Branch Properties, the site’s developer, originally submitted a mixed use site plan in December 2011. at a February Smyrna City Council meeting with the intention of presenting a retail only plan in the coming weeks.
“There are options that exist and as you probably saw at the most recent council meeting where they withdrew their application and are resubmitting it,” he said. “That’s coming. We’re eager to see what they come up with. I don’t know if it’s going to be as detailed as the earlier plan that was adopted so we’ll just listen. Council wants to make sure that we get this right because that will be for the next 30 or 40 years what is approved to be built. So we’re trying to be cautious and patient. We want to do the right thing. And being in a hurry isn’t always necessary.”