Whether you’re a supporter of this project or a detractor, CRBI’s victory is a win for open government, a slam dunk for community involvement and a grand opportunity for local citizens and civic leaders.
CRBI is no stranger to battles over mega-developments. In 2007, the organization appealed permits for a project similar to City Center. Canton Marketplace was planned on the eastern edge of the Canton in Cherokee County and was a linchpin in the city’s master plan. Unfortunately, that development involved destroying a mile of streams that fed Canton Creek that was home to federally protected fish species.
In an effort to protect the health of Canton Creek, CRBI appealed the permits for this project (also on land questionably suited for a massive retail development). When news of our appeal broke, the first person to contact the CRBI office was the mayor of Canton. Like the naysayers here in Rome, he implored us to back off and not stand in the way of important development. Of course, our board of directors stood their ground.
THE END RESULT? Because of CRBI’s vigilance, the developer reduced impacts to streams by 20 percent, paid $500,000 to permanently protect land (and water) upstream of Canton’s water supply AND provided $25,000 to the city for the construction of a public boat ramp on the river (something Canton had on its wish list for years). The development was ultimately built and now provides jobs and tax revenue for the city’s citizens. The developer is still in business.
Among other conservation projects supported by this legal settlement, the funds secured by CRBI have been used by the State of Georgia to protect an additional 469 acres of sensitive land in the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area.
Can similar “win-win” scenarios play out here in Rome? Perhaps. Regulations protecting the important flood and pollution-control functions of the Burwell Creek wetlands may stop the project all together. But should the development proceed, there are ways to develop the property without losing so much of the important environmental, aesthetic and recreational functions the property currently provides for this community.
That can happen only if hometown developer Ledbetter Properties truly has the best interest of this community in mind and only if Rome’s City Commissioners listen to and act upon the desires of the community.
THAT COMMUNITY — and even city leaders — once viewed these wetlands and forests near downtown as potential city parkland — laced with trails, teeming with wildlife and connecting Ridge Ferry Park to historic Jackson Hill. That vision must be incorporated into this project should it move forward — the currently proposed lone 200-foot corridor along Burwell Creek won’t cut it.
Rome’s leaders, who, by the nature of their agreement with Ledbetter Properties, have considerable power over how this property is developed, should bear in mind one simple truth: Developers, even hometown developers with a philanthropic track record, develop to make money. Until forced, they will do the minimum to meet community demands.
Rome’s citizens have steadfastly and forcefully spoken out against this project, signing petitions, talking to their neighbors and writing letters to the editor of this paper. Their demands should not be swept under the 20 feet of fill dirt and concrete that are proposed to carpet the Burwell Creek wetlands. That kind of disregard for Joe Citizen serves to enrich the developer and leave the community with something less than it deserves.
Joe Cook of Rome is executive director and Riverkeeper of the Coosa River Basin Initiative. Readers may contact him at email@example.com.