To see Fayette’s future, look to the past

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For the last 30 or so years, if you tell somebody you live in Fayette County, they automatically assume you own a golf cart and ride around the cart paths with your perfect nuclear family.

For years, the county seat of Fayetteville was the heart of activity, but Peachtree City’s planned lifestyle and stringent zoning decisions soon became the face of the county.

But during the last few years, things slowly started to change. The biggest catalyst was the announcement that Pinewood Studios would build a huge movie production center in Fayetteville.

Last year, the Fayetteville City Council signed off on a massive mixed-use development called Pinewood Forest across from the studio that could see thousands of new residents, along with shops, hotels and restaurants. More on that subject later.

Now, Fayetteville is proposing to upsize its downtown with hundreds of apartments and condos, a proposed new city hall, mixed use developments and additional retail and restaurants.

In one of the town meetings on the proposal, project architect Bill Foley said Fayetteville is the only place in the county you could do this because it has the “historic bones” to serve as the backbone for the project.

Foley’s assertion is correct. Fayetteville has had the only downtown in the county for more than 100 years. Peachtree City’s concept of villages refutes the idea of a central gathering place, while Tyrone’s tiny business area is withering on the vine due to the lack of sewer.

On Thursday, another town hall meeting was staged to get Fayetteville resident’s input on the proposal that would reshape the heart of the county. Approximately 60 people showed up, and for the most part seemed eager to see the project move forward. Wandering the room, it was interesting to hear some of the comments.

“If I want anything nice, I have to go to Peachtree City.”

“I want it to be more like Senoia’s downtown.”

“We want something that our kids can move back to after college.”

The project is ambitious and features a new city hall. The current city hall would be converted into a possible black-box theater, and there is also a part being carved out for a live/work artist area. The plan focuses on getting millennials back to the county, but also giving empty-nesters a choice of downsizing to a smaller property, and being able to walk to stores, restaurants, etc.

It was refreshing to see so many people turn out on a cold night to offer input, but the downside was the only city councilman talking to the residents was Scott Stacy. The other council members and Mayor Ed “Town Hall” Johnson had conflicts.

Really? This is the biggest issue to impact the city in years, and a better coordination of calendars could not occur?

This administration came into office pledging to listen to the people more, but for the most part, they were no-shows.

This project is set for one more town hall meeting in March and a vote in April. Let’s hope we have a better attendance rate in March.

Once the project is approved, details will have to be ironed out, such as who will be paying for all these improvements to the area, but I will give kudos to the staff for creating a plan that is outside of the box for development in the county, and that could serve as a catalyst for bringing young people back to the county.

Meanwhile, let’s get back to Pinewood Forest. Last year, after several lengthy discussions about the project, the City Council rezoned it in June. It’s now March, and no dirt has been turned. The clock is ticking, and unless some development starts in three months, the land reverts to its less intense zoning.

The area was promised to be “Seaside on Steroids.” I’ve been to Seaside countless times, and the scruffy area across from the studio still looks like acres of pine trees to me, instead of a mixed-use village.

It’s time to fish or cut bait, guys. These two projects represent the future; let’s not head back to the past with shiny plans that were never built.

[John Thompson has reported news in Fayette, Coweta and metro Atlanta counties since the late 1980s.]