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Social Circle approves redesign to invigorate downtown area
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The citizens and business owners and Social Circle approved a new design direction for their downtown yesterday at the second public downtown revitalization meeting.

The redesign, provided by the Urban Collage company that has done work in Atlanta, Savannah and many other cities, is attempting to make the downtown more inviting to visitors and to help bring more revenue to the local businesses.

"This is about creating a sense of identity that is unique to Social Circle," said Eric Bosman, associate principal and planner with Urban Collage.

Urban Collage took the opinions offered by Social Circle residents after the last meeting and used them to create a final proposal that satisfied as many of the publics concerns as possible. They also incorporated the ideas that the citizens had expressed a desire for, and had done away with the ideas that were met with resistance.

The need for a central space for events, such as concerts or the city Christmas tree, were upheld, and a large area in the center of the downtown was placed. It would be in a different paving pattern to visually enhance the downtown, and could be slightly raised to be at the same level as the sidewalks. It would also incorporate the well and be in a circular shape – making the community area a true "social circle."

Gone are any notions of parallel parking. All parking places along Cherokee St. and W. Hightower Trail will be 45 degree angled spaces.

The decision last time to make one side of the sidewalk larger than the other was kept, and it was decided that the east side of the street would be wider to capitalize on the availability of shade, access to closer parking and by virtue of being on the same side of the street as the Blue Willow Inn.

The sidewalks and streets will also be adjusted so that there are no stairs, and that all accesses are ramps to assist those on walkers or in wheelchairs. Public opinion was very clear that since the majority of visitors are seniors, all stores and streets needed to be as accessible as possible.

It was also agreed that pass-throughs should be erected in the center of the block in order to allow access to more parking behind the buildings, as well as to offer a place for in the installation of public restrooms. These pass-throughs would empty out into the center community area.

Not all of the points of the final proposal were met with no resistance.

Residents were still wary of the planting of trees, worried that they would block the view of the signage of their shops and hurt business. Residents also voiced concerns that the grooves in the bricks and other sidewalk patterns might make it arduous for those on walkers or in wheelchairs to navigate.

The general layout was approved by the citizens with an unofficial show of hands.

The next step for Urban Collage and the city will be to establish a final design, and would approximate the costs of the project, as well as a schedule for tasks to be completed.

Bosman stated that the main concern would be waiting for the bypass to be completed before construction could be finished, and that it would be done in segments as the funds became available. The GDOT expects the bypass to be finished by 2012.

"We would need to make the schedule in financial bytes, not based on time bytes," Bosman said. "I couldn’t tell you an exact date of completion."

A final public meeting will be held once the financial research has been completed. No specific date for this meeting has been determined at this time.