An interested, yet skeptical crowd, many concerned that redevelopment plans along 15th Street were about to displace them from their homes, faced a team of consultants hired to implement Augusta’s new master plan for the area at a Wednesday public meeting.
“I think the citizens have not been informed,” Nick Roberson, an area resident who attended the meeting at T.W. Josey High School, said afterward. “Is it going to be an upscale development that is going to put them out?”
Several in the audience drilled Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh consultant Adam Williamson and city Sustainable Development Manager John Paul Stout about whether the widening of 15th Street would force them from their homes, including homes at Cherry Street Crossing, a housing project on 15th Street, as they’d heard.
“Are people going to have to move?” one said. “That’s what 90 percent of the people are here for.”
Stout acknowledged that neither the housing authority nor Georgia Department of Transportation was represented at the meeting, while GDOT will handle land acquisition for the widening, set to happen by 2019.
The group hosting the meeting Wednesday instead is using a $1.8 million grant to develop green housing initiatives along the route, rewrite Augusta’s development code, develop pedestrian and cycle routes along the way and otherwise perform supplemental engineering in conjunction with the widening, Stout said.
The area’s high level of foot and bike traffic, Williamson told the group, “leverages us for implementation dollars.”
Five subcommittees to oversee various aspects of the plan already have been formed and begun meeting, he said, sparking a question from Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta.
“Explain to the group how that committee process will work,” Howard said, “and who made those appointments.”
Stout said a list was vetted internally by city officials and he reached out to some area colleges, churches, banks and others to appoint members, but that interested individuals might be added.
The meeting was the public’s first glimpse at implementation of Augusta Sustainable Development Agenda, a $500,000 master plan financed by the Augusta Commission in 2009. The plan’s “priority corridor” slated for redevelopment first, is the 15th Street-Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard-Deans Bridge Road corridor that runs from Regency Mall to downtown.
Asked to address residents’ concerns, District 2 Commissioner Corey Johnson said organizers “want to be transparent” while he expected GDOT to use federal relocation guidelines to ensure residents whose homes are taken are adequately compensated.