Improvement projects lagging

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Long-term planning for capital improvements in Columbia County has temporarily derailed some short-term projects meant to beautify shopping districts in Martinez.

County officials, however, say they intend to renew efforts to improve parts of Washington and Columbia roads.

Though $2.5 million from a 2006 general obligation bond was earmarked for streetscape and transportation improvements, as suggested in the 2004 Central Martinez Area Study, the area surrounding Washington Road between Bobby Jones Expressway and Davis Road looks much as it did before the study.

"We haven't had a chance to move forward with that," County Construction and Maintenance Services Director Scott Herring said of the project.

Little progress also has been made on streetscape enhancements at Columbia and Belair roads, though the county commission approved spending $400,000 to improve landscaping and add decorative lighting and sidewalks to the area in September 2007.

"I think it may have slipped a bit," Mr. Herring said of that project.

Of late, Mr. Herring said, his staff has been preoccupied with developing a list of projects for a proposed 1-cent sales tax referendum going to voters in November. Now that county commissioners have set the list of tax projects, construction and maintenance officials will resume work on designing the streetscape improvements, Mr. Herring said.

Such improvements often inspire business owners to improve the facades of their own structures, as was the case in Harlem, said county Commissioner, former Harlem Mayor and Harlem business owner Scott Dean.

"Aesthetically, it's beautiful," said Mr. Dean, who co-owns Red Oak Manor Inn on North Louisville Street, the same street that was the target of streetscape improvements last year.

"It's been an encouragement to our business community," Mr. Dean said of the improvements funded with $1.1 million in transportation enhancement grants from the state Transportation Department. "It's made folks want to clean up their properties and start reinvesting money so they start looking good."

City officials hope to continue such improvements on U.S. Highway 78, the other primary thoroughfare through downtown Harlem, should they receive more grant funding, Mr. Dean said.

In Grovetown, a group of business owners is taking the lead for a revitalization effort on Wrightsboro Road and Robinson Avenue -- the city's main arteries.

Last year, the Grovetown Merchants Association developed the Grovetown 2010 Initiative, a comprehensive plan detailing streetscape improvements and zoning changes.

The intent is to create a downtown, pedestrian-friendly environment in the city's center by adding sidewalks, reducing setbacks for businesses, landscaping and streetlight improvements and more, said Sonny McDowell, a Grovetown business owner and president of the association.

"One of the things we're trying to do is make Grovetown a destination city for people to shop and get the things they need," Mr. McDowell said. "In order to do that, you have to attract businesses. In order to attract businesses, you have to have an attractive business environment."

Next month, a committee of nine business and city leaders will meet for the first time to start drafting commercial zones for the city's proposed enhancements.

More than just throwing taxpayer money at the county's more homely shopping districts, Mr. Dean said the kind of leadership shown by the Grovetown business community is needed to truly beautify the area.

"We need to encourage businesses to work within themselves and with others to do the same kinds of things," he said. "We can't do it all. The county has to work with business owners to take pride in their community."

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.


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