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Posted: October 16, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Porterdale to hold public hearing on preliminary comprehensive plan

At Tuesday night’s Porterdale work session, consultant Chris McGahee presented council members with an outline of a 25-year comprehensive plan.

While the plan aims to preserve the historical character of the town, it also takes giant leaps toward creative residential solutions.

"Porterdale was really created as one of the first live, work, play communities," McGahee said.

The mill provided Porterdale with everything from schools to a movie theater. McGahee said that newer development models have returned to a mixed-use model, such as seen recently in Suwannee.

McGahee said maintaining the historic identity of Porterdale was essential to any future growth because it sets the town apart from others.

"This is not Anywhere, America," McGahee said. "This is Porterdale."

He said that the city should focus on renovating its current residential and commercial properties while maintaining their architectural integrity as well as creating places that people can gather and that outsiders would want to visit as well.

McGahee pointed to the gym and river access projects as tools for attracting visitors as well as potential residents and also as a way to brand the city. He strongly encouraged the council to find money for a splash pad, which have become extremely popular over community pools in the metro area.

"It would be the best $60,000 to $70,000 you ever spent," McGahee said.

When the bottom fell out of the housing market, Porterdale had 1,200 approved residential units for construction. These units would have been in the form of traditional neighborhoods on the ground and are now nothing more than "PVC farms." McGahee encouraged the council to look up.

High rise residential, said McGahee, can support the same amount of residential units while conserving precious green space for the community. Other benefits of high rise residential include spending less on public safety because police and fire departments cover a concentrated area rather than a broad space and because it is easier to create a sense of community in a shared space.

"A 20-story building may scare some people," said Tom Fox, city manager.

McGahee responded by saying that a 10 or 20-story building should not be built within the current "village area," but along the highway corridors on the outskirts of the city limits where the land is undeveloped. He compared the height of a potential building to the mill’s old smoke stack, noting that from most areas of the town, it was not visible. He also mentioned that from the upper floors of such a building, a beautiful view of Stone Mountain would be possible.

All council members received a copy of a high-rise residential ordinance adopted by Gwinnett County. At the time of the ordinance’s adoption in 2005, Gwinnett had no buildings taller than seven stories.

McGahee said the council not only had to be proactive in attracting positive future growth but also had to put strong ordinances in place to keep developers from taking advantage of the city in better economic times.

"Everything coming to a screeching halt saved Porterdale from being swallowed up into mediocrity," McGahee said.

Mayor Bobby Hamby echoed the sentiment as well and said he had no problem with high rise residential units if they were constructed thoughtfully.

"I think it’s forward thinking," said Hamby, "and we’ve got this opportunity to sit back and take a breath and make the future better than what we were planning at the time [of the beginning of the recession]."

The council will hold a public hearing on the comprehensive plan at their regular monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 2. The council must hold a hearing before approving a resolution to submit the plan to the state.

The Georgia Planning Act of 1989 requires all cities and counties in the state to adopt comprehensive plans and update them every 10 years. The adoption and revisiting of such plans make cities and counties eligible for grants distributed by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

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