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ARC brings regional, citizen forum to Stockbridge

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Henry and Clayton residents will have the opportunity to express their hopes for the region's future next month, during a citizen forum hosted by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).

ARC recently partnered with the Atlanta-based Civic League to put on various "Neighborhood Forums" throughout the metro-Atlanta region. The forums - to be held over the next two years - have been designed to solicit residents' input on various issues. The partnership will hold its second of 18 such gatherings on Sept. 11, at the Merle Manders Conference Center in Stockbridge.

"The primary purpose of it is to enable citizens to have input on the future planning for this region, up to a 50-year time frame," said Dana Lemon, a Georgia Department of Transportation board member. The forum is a part of the ARC's regional visioning initiative, known as the Fifty Forward Initiative.

Lemon, who represents the 13th Congressional District on the DOT board, said the upcoming forum will serve as a sort of road map for the ARC in making future land-use plans. The ARC's 50-year plans are expected to be completed by early 2010.

"It's a visionary meeting so that the citizens can be directly involved with future planning projects," she said. "You want to do community-specific planning."

The Stockbridge forum will focus primarily on the topics of growth and environment. Future forums, in other parts of the region, will focus on topics such as diversity, health care, transportation, water, jobs, green space and education.

Feedback received from the meetings will be integral in developing future land-use plans for the region, so future development can be cost-effective.

"Morrow [Ga.], for example, has put together a land-use development plan that is centered around a commuter rail station," Lemon added. "They've already got their foundation in place so that they won't have to spend a lot of money or effort in future development."

She said the ARC and conjoining agencies would use the land-use plan to determine zoning processes and laws that might help local governments ease the burden of creating or regulating development of commercial, residential, or green spaces. "That's what 50-year planning does for you," she continued. "If you don't put those things in place, the cost would be so significant, you wouldn't be able to add those [spaces] cost-effectively. That's the value of planning."

Lemon said the forums could also help increasingly populated areas like Henry County be better able to control growth and manage infrastructure. "There is also a direct relationship between land-use planning and congestion," she added. "If a different type of planning had been done 50 years ago for Henry, we might not be experiencing the same congestion we have today. But even with the best amount of planning, I'm not sure we would have been prepared for this."

In the forum, participants will be asked to work together in small groups to discuss their ideas before coming to a rough consensus of what they would like their community to look like in the future. The ideas will, according Otis White of the Civic League, will be recorded and catalogued for use in developing the ARC's plan.

He said a report on the forum will be sent to participants, and will be available online at the Civic League web site.

"We promise that participants will find these Neighborhood Forums to be respectful, forward-looking, meaningful experiences," said Andrew Feiler, chair of the Civic League for Regional Atlanta. "There's almost nothing that the Atlanta region can't achieve if it knows where it is going. This is both a critical and exciting time in our history, when the citizens can paint a 50-year vision for our region."

The next forum will be in Roswell on Sept. 16, and will focus on growth, environment, and sustainability. Future forums in East Cobb County, Clarkston, and East Atlanta, will focus on demographic change and diversity. The upcoming Stockbridge forum will be open to the public. The site of the meeting, the Merle Manders Conference Center, is located at 111 Davis Road in Stockbridge.

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On the net:

Civic League: www.civic-strategies.com/forums

Fifty Forward: www.atlantafiftyforward.com