Augusta gets development plan but no assistance

Although authored by the same John Shields and intended to pick up where the Westobou Vision for downtown Augusta and North Augusta left off, the city's new Sustainable Development Agenda differs from its predecessor.

 

Most notably, Westobou Vision was commissioned by an outside entity, Augusta Tomorrow, whose members contributed thousands toward their plan's costs and who now serve on implementation teams responsible for pushing the plan's initiatives along.

The Agenda, on the other hand, was commissioned 20 months ago by the city itself, without buy-in from developers or any agency resembling the nonprofit Augusta Tomorrow that might serve to execute the new plan's hundreds of pages of objectives, goals and prototype projects.

"Today, Augusta does not have the in-house capability to oversee execution of this Agenda," said a final draft of the new master plan.

Shields nixes the thought that Augusta's Redevelopment Authority, Downtown Development Authority or Development Authority of Richmond County -- or a city department such as Planning and Zoning or Housing and Community Development -- might be sufficiently staffed, funded and organized to undertake implementation of the plan.

"We're suggesting the establishment of a sister group (to Augusta Tomorrow) for the rest of the city," Shields said. "It would be a new group, but it would be as high-powered a group as we could get."

Clay Boardman, who leads implementation teams for Westobou's Harrisburg and medical village development projects, said having the teams put Westobou ahead of Augusta's earlier master plans.

"The masterful part of the plan is we formed implementation teams, as opposed to the past, when we just put the plan out there and hoped somebody grabbed a part of it," he said.

The second master plan recommends the creation of a fully funded office of implementation, a new organization called Sustainable Augusta, similar to Augusta Tomorrow, in addition to the private sector entity -- Augusta Civic Realty Trust -- to provide front-end financial and development resources.

The Civic Realty Trust might accumulate tracts of land to sell to developers and build up seed money, Shields said.

In his weekly message to constituents, Mayor Deke Copenhaver thanked Shields, Agenda steering committee chairman Terry Elam and others involved in its formulation.

"I firmly believe that the plan can and will be implemented over time and that Augusta will become a model city for our sustainable development efforts," Copenhaver said.

Beyond its estimated $500,000 price tag for drafting, the Agenda calls for more than $1 billion in investment, some 20 to 25 percent of which is public funds.

Commissioner Joe Bowles, last year the sole vote against commissioning the new master plan, said that implemented by Augusta Planning Commission, it could be useful as a measure against which the city could base zoning decisions, but doubted government would finance anything close to $250 million over the next 20 years.