Mayor Steve Tumlin faced tough questions for about an hour on the need and use of taxpayer’s money to purchase and demolish properties along Franklin Road in order to parcel together cleared land to entice developers.
Tumlin said the town hall was a chance to learn from different points of view.
“It is their money…. their neighborhood,” Tumlin said.
Edwin Dyer, who lives in the Laurel Springs neighborhood and is a U.S. Air Force veteran from the Korean and Vietnam wars, said he was concerned over the existing empty land in Marietta that has not been developed.
Dyer highlighted city-backed endeavors like the Marietta Redevelopment Corp.’s stalled project along Powder Springs Street, off West Dixie Avenue and Hedges Street, and the numerous federal housing projects the Marietta Housing Authority has torn down, leaving vacant lots in their place.
“I was wondering if you can sell the (existing) properties and leave the $68 million off the heads of people,” Dyer said.
Tumlin, who stood at the lectern in the council chamber of city hall to field questions from the audience, said the examples Dyer used were unrelated to the bond referendum.
Before the meeting, residents examined six large maps detailing the areas to be developed with bond dollars and renderings of the conceptual plans.
If the $68 redevelopment bond passes Nov. 5, $4 million is earmarked for pedestrian and landscape improvements to Whitlock Avenue.
City engineer Jim Wilgus said those improvements would include sidewalks, crosswalks, medians, lighting, repaving Whitlock Avenue, and mounting traffic lights to metal arms, which now hang from wires.
The full City Council did not attend the meeting, but Councilwoman Annette Lewis, Councilman Grif Chalfant, Johnny Walker, a real estate agent running unopposed for Councilman Johnny Sinclair’s seat, and Marshall Dye, who is running against Councilman Andy Morris, were in the audience.
The crime report
Some speakers did question whether the redevelopment bond project was to develop commercial properties or fight crime.
Councilman Philip Goldstein has said some people have exaggerated the crime rate on Franklin Road, instead of recognizing the great people who live in the area that are part of the Marietta community.
Chief Dan Flynn, who has been with the Marietta Police Department for seven years, said Franklin Road has a bad reputation that mainly stems from a problem with population density.
With numerous large apartment complexes side-by-side, and a population of around 14,000 residents along Franklin Road, there are too many people “crammed into a small area,” Flynn said.
Because of this, Flynn said it is misleading to compare the Franklin Road corridor to similar sized areas populated with only single family homes.
“If you measure the number of crimes per thousand people, it is not worse than other areas,” Flynn said.
Based on a report requested by the City Council in March, Flynn said the Marietta Police Department has reduced felony arrests in the Franklin Road area by 25 percent in a 15 year period, with 3,809 in 1998 and 2,845 in 2012.
A large reason for the success, according to Flynn, was the five-year long Weed and Seed program that started in 2007 and was funded by $824,000 in federal grants.
The Weed and Seed project helped rebuild communities with high criminal activity by partnering residents with law enforcement.
Flynn said the added police presence resulted in reductions in robberies, from 86 in 2007 to 57 in 2011, and auto thefts, from 123 in 2007 to 51 in 2011.
The report does show an increase in homicides, from one in 2007 to four in 2011, and rape, from two in 2007 to seven in 2011, the last year the Weed and Seed program was funded.
Flynn said in town hall meetings around Franklin Road, as well as meeting with apartment managers and neighborhood groups, residents have cried out for more prostitution and drug dealing busts.
“Of the serious crime that does occur, most of that is committed by people who do not live on Franklin Road,” Flynn said.
Flynn estimates 70 percent or more of the crimes around Franklin Road are not violent, but if dilapidated apartments were removed there would be less density, and therefore less crime.
“I am going to work to improve quality of life in the area whether the bond passes or not,” Flynn said.