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Garden City charts a new course

Subheadline: 
Community’s 20-year comprehensive plan calls for balance of residential, commercial growth

If there’s one common goal city leaders and community volunteers would like to accomplish in Garden City in the next decade or two, it’s balance.
 
Longtime Garden City residents and entrepreneurs have watched the landscape of the sleepy Savannah suburb morph from a blend of homes and businesses, mostly in response to growth in the city’s single largest industry: the Port of Savannah. The port’s Garden City terminal has allowed for business and industry in the west Chatham town to take off, but the number of full-time residents has stayed relatively stagnant, and now the scales are starting to tip toward one side.
 
“We know that Garden City is a hub for commercial and industrialization,” said the Rev. Gary Monroe, an active member of the Garden City community. “It has grown exponentially here in the last couple of decades. Where we have run into issues, is the residential has not caught up with that pace. ... People are being crammed out.”
 
Last year, Monroe and several other active Garden City stakeholders were appointed to the steering committee charged with aiding the Coastal Regional Commission in developing a new 20-year strategic plan for the city.
 
During the past several months, the group has worked with city staff and stakeholders to hash out the plan, which is meant to chart a course for balanced growth through 2036. Last Monday, Garden City council members voted to transmit the document to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for review. Final adoption is slated for Oct. 17.
 
Upon approval, the new comprehensive plan will be the second the city has developed. But the first, approved by the council in 2008, wasn’t really put to regular use, said Garden City Mayor Don Bethune.
 
“The past comp plan that we had, I’ve been on council six years and we very seldom ever looked at it,” the mayor said. “As we moved forward with our new comp plan, we found out a lot of things we talked about with the previous one, we talked about again.”
 
A three-part vision
 
According to the draft of the comprehensive plan posted now on the city’s website, the vision for Garden City is that it be “a safe, family-oriented and business friendly city.”
 
To accomplish all three aspects of the plan’s vision, the document calls for the promotion of light commercial and retail businesses, implementation of the city’s previously adopted urban redevelopment plan, and an update to the city’s code of ordinances.
 
It says Garden City should implement measures to protect its residential neighborhoods from the port’s more adverse effects and create guidelines for development along certain commercial corridors. The city should also work to brand itself, the plan says, through strategic marketing.
 
All of these goals for accomplishing the city’s broader vision are then broken down into a more bite-sized short-term work program, which outlines a proposed time frame for smaller tasks.
 
“I feel like they have a sketch, a vision of what it should be, and a direction the city should go through,” said steering committee member Sharon Bethune, who is also a part of the Garden City Housing Team and the wife of the mayor. “It’s anywhere from correcting a zoning that’s maybe outdated, to our road systems and transportation in the area to allow more quality of life for our residents.
 
“It’s housing, bringing in more residents to the area, rehabbing those (residences) that we do have or in-filling areas within the city ... and working with the commercial areas in Garden City. The comp plan covered so many different areas. It’s a large vision, and I’m excited about it.”
 
Time for action
 
Now that months-long process to get the plan developed is nearly over, those involved in its creation have a final request for city officials — use it.
 
Garden City is a vital part of the economic development and sustainable growth in west Chatham, Rev. Monroe said, so the plan needs to be a priority.
 
Before the Garden City council’s vote last week to transmit the draft comprehensive plan to the state, Sharon Bethune took to the podium to make a public appeal to the council to keep the plan on the table.
 
“I charged the council and staff ... to not let it sit on a shelf — that we wanted to put this in place and work on it, little by little,” she said. “I know that we have a great city, and we just want to enhance it for the lives (of the residents) and for the businesses. It’s steps, and they’ve already started working on these steps.”
 
Garden City Manager Ron Feldner said that the city is bringing in a new staffer to tackle a lot of the tasks in the short-term work program. One of the many tasks of the new special projects manager, who starts next week, will be assisting the city in attracting new light commercial and retail businesses.
 
“I know one of the criticisms of the local governments is we develop plans and big ideas and then we often fall short on the implementation side,” Feldner said. “(The) special projects coordinator ... will focus on moving all these projects and activities in a forward direction,”
 
For its part, Feldner said, the council is trying to make the work easier. Council members earlier this year voted to put a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot for the Sunday package sales of beer and wine, which, if approved by voters, should even the playing field for Garden City in its quest to bring in more grocery stores.
 
In addition, he said, Sharon Bethune and the Housing Team recently received a $300,000 grant to put toward revitalization of neighborhoods west of Ga. 21.
 
The mayor said he plans to request that the city manager provide periodic updates on the city’s progress with the plan so that the council stays accountable.
 
“As long as I’m mayor, we’re going to work on those things. We’re going to develop checklists to see what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “I’m excited about the new comp plan we have. It was put together with input from a lot of our residents and business owners. ... I can’t say enough about thanks to those who participated in it. This will chart the city for the next 10 years, 20 years.”
 
A draft of Garden City’s new comprehensive plan can be found online at www.gardencity-ga.gov.
 
GET INVOLVED
The Garden City Housing Team is hosting a community meeting to provide information about the nonprofit’s Housing Rehabilitation Program at 6 p.m., Aug. 30 at the Cooper Center, 700 Davis Ave. For more information about the program, call Sharon Bethune at 912-228-1905.

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