Questions raised about 74 Gateway Coalition

Steve Brown. File Photo.

Is Fairburn still all in on the plan for the 74 Gateway Coalition?

That was the question discussed at last Thursday night’s regular meeting of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners, as a contract between the county and the Georgia Department of Transportation was on the agenda. The county has committed to some $78,000 as a local match for the cost of the project.

But concerns were raised, mainly by Commissioner Steve Brown, that Fairburn has already allowed development along the corridor from I-85 to the Fayette County line to go far afield, and he made clear his desire to find out what the south Fulton city’s priorities are.

The issue was ultimately tabled until Feb. 9 with the directive that a letter from the county be sent to Fairburn officials asking three questions:

  1. What are the city’s future development plans along Hwy. 74?
  2. Will there be any zoning changes, especially to curtail big-box growth?
  3. Will the city be committed to the coalition’s plan moving forward?

There is an option to rework the scope of the coalition to let it only include the portion of the highway within Fayette County. Officials indicated that could be done if no satisfactory answers come from Fairburn, which has had some administrative turnover in recent years along with new city council members coming on board since the project began. In 2015 the Board of Commissioners authorized staff to apply for federal aid through the Atlanta Regional Commission for three planning studies. Two of the applications were approved: a corridor study along Hwy. 74 and a comprehensive path study. A contract for the path project is expected in the near future, according to county officials.

The corridor study is guided by the 74 Gateway Coalition, a group of elected officials and other stakeholders from Fayette County, Peachtree City, Tyrone, Fairburn, the South Fulton Community Improvement District and the ARC. According to a county staff report, the study’s high-level goals are to establish a vision for Hwy. 74 that is supported by the stakeholders and set forth a plan for bringing the vision to reality.

Brown, who has been involved in this project for more than a decade going back to his term as mayor of Peachtree City, noted that Fairburn has in recent years allowed numerous fast-food franchises and big-box structures along the corridor in direct contrast to what the coalition was trying to achieve as far as the look for motorists traveling from I-85 into Fayette County. He said he sees the contract as a waste of money if it is approved before gauging Fairburn’s position on the matter.

Tyrone Mayor Eric Dial, speaking to the board, did not disagree with that assessment but offered that it would not be a good idea to scrap the project or dial it back significantly because of it. Fairburn officials told Dial that they felt their hands were tied in some instances, and the coalition shouldn’t throw out the work done so far just because of some undesirable development that has been allowed.

Dial noted the board’s role in moving things forward, saying his municipality was appreciative of the commitment for the financial match because Tyrone has the “largest linear portion” of the affected area but the smallest government of any of the stakeholders. He added that the South Fulton CID has funded some components of the project with the understanding that Fayette County would fund the matching portion of this study. Commissioner Charles Oddo, whose involvement the past two years has been as board chairman, said the project is good for Fayette regardless of what Fairburn decides to do and should go forward from the county’s perspective.

“We have accomplished a lot,” he said. “A lot of work has been done.”

Vice Chairman Randy Ognio said he was worried that Fairburn has reached the point where it couldn’t follow the coalition’s plan “even if they wanted to.”

An intergovernmental agreement was approved by the board in 2014 on behalf of the coalition but no financial commitment has been made by the county up to this point. Brown’s motion to table and send the letter to Fairburn passed 3-2 with Oddo and Commissioner Charles Rousseau voting against.