The plans culminated from an intense, weeklong planning session organized by the county's planning agency and the Mableton Improvement Coalition that allowed residents to offer their input. The designs were created by Miami-based design firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co.
The firm, selected through a formal Request for Proposal by the county, puts special emphasis on what it calls "New Urbanism."
Cobb County Planning Manager Dana Johnson said, with New Urbanism, planners look at an area from several different levels, leaving the most natural and rural areas on the outskirts and planning for more development as the area reaches its core, or town center. Johnson said New Urbanism allows for a more community-focused design.
"This is both senior and youth-friendly, with some steps coming at five years, some coming at 10 and some even at 50 years from now. But this offers a distinct framework for policy and changes. It's a different way of considering how zoning should be done - from an overall community design," Johnson said.
Johnson said DPZ is "one of the pre-eminent experts in suburban design, focusing on walkable and positive community aspects." According to its website, the firm has designed more than 300 new and existing communities across the world, including Seaside, Fla., which was named one of the 10 "Best of the Decade" achievements in the field of design by Time Magazine.
The design firm brought eight designers to Mableton Elementary School to work on the project since Tuesday, and subcontracted three other local firms - the Sizemore Group, Whole Town Solutions and Pond & Company - to bring more local transportation and planning knowledge to the table, Johnson said.
Johnson said redevelopment of Mableton Elementary School would be the first step in the process, as the project has already been approved in the Cobb County School District's SPLOST fund. Dirt is expected to be turning in 2012, Johnson said.
Johnson stressed that eminent domain cannot be used for economic development improvements on private property, after Planning Commission member Mike Terry said several residents had concerns the plans would demolish their homes.
From here, Johnson said the county staff will be working toward getting a master plan approved by the Board of Commissioners, with finalized drafts completed by October.
Galina Tachieva, partner and director of town planning for DPZ, presented the final design concepts Tuesday night. Tachieva is an award-winning urban planner, and has authored several books and manuals dealing with New Urbanism.
"There are certain choices you are constantly making that shape the character of Mableton, and you can grow in the old ways or choose a slightly different way of developing," Tachieva said.
Some of the main principles to consider when designing in the long-run include a five-minute walking distance within mixed-use areas; connectivity within a smaller network that also preserves the historic factors of the town; creating all parking areas in the back of retail and residential areas, making more of a store-front appearance along roads and sidewalks; and forming a civic space, or town center area.
Tachieva illustrated various ideas for creating these spaces within a 500-acre core of Mableton, mainly where the railroad, Veterans Memorial Highway, Clay Road and Floyd Road all intersect. She also emphasized the positive impact that making the existing railroad a commuter rail would have on the community.
Johnson said the turnout of residents throughout the week was "very positive," and that designers were working sometimes more than 12 hours a day to develop the plans. The study cost between $220,000 and $250,000, Johnson said, and was paid for through an almost $1 million grant given to the South Cobb Development Authority by then-Gov. Roy Barnes to be used solely for south Cobb redevelopment efforts.
Vice Chair and longtime Mableton resident Woody Thompson said the rest of the money would be used for further planning efforts in Mableton, as well as a similar look at redevelopment ideas along Six Flags Drive. Once the infrastructure is put in place where the county has a strong zoning code for an area, as is being developed now in Mableton, the developers will come along and build accordingly, Thompson said.
One attendee, Eddy Barber, was on the Authority for 11 years and has a long family history in Mableton, dating back to the 1800s when his great-grandfather was a railway agent during the railway opening on Christmas Eve in 1881. Barber said these types of out-of-the-box ideas are just what Mableton needs right now.
"I would love to see them really preserve the history of Mableton, and begin to mark it, as she suggested. To hold on to the old, but also bring in the new so that it is attractive to both young and old residents," Barber said. "There is a lot of heritage there, but we also have to think about creating a new heritage for the future."
Thompson said: "It can be hard to wrap your head around some of the ideas, but then you think about Seaside and what an amazing community that is, you really have to think that way. I love the idea of being able to walk out of your house and walk to work or to dinner. I really feel the excitement around this, so stay tuned."