Richmond County master plan to be unveiled today

Augusta unveils its new master plan today, a massive, $500,000 document detailing $1.5 billion in development projects across Richmond County, known as the Augusta Sustainable Development Agenda.


Before the public had a first look at the finalized agenda, plan author John Shields shopped for buy-in Wednesday at one of the plan's epicenters, Paine College.

Paine is located along the proposed "Augusta Way," a strategic corridor connecting Augusta's downtown medical community with the proposed Rocky Creek Mixed-Use Park, a radical reconfiguration of the debilitated Regency Mall area.

"It's hard to imagine this being the grand boulevard of Augusta," Shields told area pastors, school representatives and other stakeholders gathered in the Paine president's board room.

The agenda proposes -- as its priority plan of action -- to expand Augusta's downtown core south, redeveloping neighborhoods, beautifying roads and refurbishing defunct shopping centers all the way from 15th Street to Regency Mall.

The agenda, subtitled "Realizing the Garden City," hopes to piggyback on a Georgia Department of Transportation road-widening project along the route, but do much more, Shields said.

"Fifteenth represents a really good opportunity," Shields said during a recent interview. "It's where Augusta can grow."

To become the "grand" approach for all visitors from the south, Augusta Way will feature landscaped medians, pedestrian and bike routes and multimodal transit stops, such as the agenda recommends at several of its other prototype project sites.

Farther south along Augusta Way, the agenda proposes a complete overhaul of neighborhoods from T.W. Josey High School to MLK Boulevard to Deans Bridge Road, in a project known as the Oates Creek Neighborhood Revitalization.

Tied to the reconstruction of Cherry Tree Crossing and Dogwood Terrace public housing developments, the project proposes the addition of more than 700 new low-income and market-rate housing units.

Farther south, the agenda's planned Rocky Creek Regional Mixed-Use Center is its costliest proposal, at nearly $200 million, including $56.5 million in public infrastructure and funds.

This development also piggybacks on a project already in the works, Augusta's planned flood control project along Rocky Creek.

The plan intends to transform the area, located at the near-geographic center of Augusta-Richmond County, into an "employment-focused destination" complete with a recreational water feature made from the flood control project.

Stretching from Deans Bridge Road along Gordon Highway north of Milledgeville Road and serving as the southern anchor of Augusta's urban core, the development includes the addition of more than 200,000 square feet of commercial, office and light manufacturing and more than 3,000 residential units.

The proposal doesn't touch the vacant Regency Mall, owned by New York-based Cardinal Entities.

"When the Regency Mall wants to join with that community, it can," Shields said.

Most of the agenda's 11 initiatives are located on the city's south side, with the exception of an Upper Broad Street Neighborhood Revitalization, the Sand Bar Ferry "Garden City Gateway" project and the proposed Belair Town Center.

The upper Broad project proposes to create an attractive "Garden City Boulevard" approach to downtown through rezoning and landscaping, and to restore and expand Olmstead Park, creating a high-end high-rise residential area overlooking Lake Olmstead.

Belair Town Center includes the addition of 190,000 square feet of retail and office space at the high-traffic arterial gateway from Fort Gordon and Columbia County at Interstate 20.

The agenda includes two prototypes for Augusta's rural southern quarter.

One is the Spirit Creek Rural Hamlet, which plans to cluster businesses and a creekside park with a nearby conservation subdivision.

The other is a proposed repositioning of a Blythe farm, to create "rural lifestyle" housing and scenic agricultural views for incoming visitors.

Augusta commissioners, who voted in the city's newest master plan partly in reaction to the success of the Westobou downtown Augusta-North Augusta plan also drafted by Shields, were ambivalent as it neared delivery.

"I don't think much of what's in that plan the government is going to do," remarked Commissioner Joe Bowles, who voted against commissioning the plan last year.

The agenda calls for 75 to 80 percent of project funds to come from private sources, but needs public support for the rest, according to Shields.

"I have not seen it, so I'm not in any position to comment on it," Commissioner J.R. Hatney said.

Commissioner Corey Johnson was enthusiastic about most of the agenda, although he questioned its Augusta Way proposal, saying its impact on adjoining property owners might be insurmountable.

"Some things are unrealistic," he said.

If you go

The Augusta Commission has invited the public to the unveiling of the Augusta Sustainable Development Agenda today at 6:30 p.m. in Augusta Tech Auditorium, 3200 Augusta Tech Drive.