Critics and supporters of potential Smyrna brewery voice opinions at city hall

Crowd seated in Smyrna City HallSmyrna residents at Town Hall meeting Sunday (photo by Arielle Robinson)

Opinions were split at a public town hall meeting hosted Sunday by Smyrna City Council members Tim Gould and Travis Lindley at which the proposed brewery in downtown Smyrna was discussed. [an earlier version of this article left out Travis Lindley as one of the hosts. We regret the error]

This meeting was filled with more supporters of the brewery compared to Wednesday’s town hall hosted by Council Member Austin Wagner. Only one person spoke in favor of the brewery at the previous meeting.

Before residents voiced their opinions on the brewery, Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton provided a similar explanation he had at Wednesday’s town hall about the city’s progress on working with StillFire Brewing.

To understand some of the background on the brewery, please see last week’s article about the previous town hall.

Norton said the city has not sold any land nor does it have any sort of contract with StillFire. He reiterated that the city is still in the beginning stages of working with StillFire.

Currently, the city has signed a non-binding letter of intent to sell one acre of land for $600,000. Norton said the $600,000 value is acting a placeholder, as the city’s deal with StillFire is not finalized yet.

Norton has also selected a task force made up of council members and city residents, he announced Sunday.

The task force will deal with the technical issues of the downtown project and present their recommendations at a public hearing.

Norton said that he has heard more input on the issue of the brewery more than any other issue.

The mayor also said that he and the council have had two public hearings on the project with around 300-350 people commenting.

The overwhelming majority of people the mayor has heard from are in favor of the brewery and the entire development project, Norton said.

Last month, the council approved in a 5-2 vote to build a three-story 250-space parking deck next to the police station north of the church on Atlanta Road.

Norton said the deck will have free parking.

Council also approved removal of the roundabout, and to install a turn lane and traffic light at the corner of Powder Springs Street and Atlanta Road.

Georgia House Representative for District 42 Teri Anulewicz was also present Sunday, and said she is looking forward to the removal of the roundabout.

She said that when the roundabout is closed, as she said it often is, there is no difference in traffic in the area. Groans could be heard among the audience when she said this.

Anulewicz continued, saying she has supported downtown redevelopment plans for years now and she is thrilled to see it coming to fruition.

“I’m happy that we are eliminating a road and concrete and impermeable surfaces that we don’t need,” Anulewicz said. “I think it’s a huge step forward for Smyrna and I’m really excited about that.”

Sara Lee Parker has lived with her family in Smyrna for over 20 years and said that she is ready for change to come to the city.

“Everytime we add to the downtown environment, it gets better and better for our community,” Parker said. “We appreciate the growth, we appreciate what it’s done for our property values … we love it.”

Parker said she does not understand what critics of the brewery plans mean when they say that the city’s downtown plans have moved quickly.

“These plans have been in the works even prior to this administration,” she said. “It seems like it’s the same 10, 20 people who continuously want to berate the current administration when we voted on this as a community.”

Parker is referring to the residents who have voted in favor of SPLOST, which has funded many of the redevelopment projects.

Nikki Penda said that she has watched how breweries in other metro Atlanta cities have revitalized those areas and brought people into the city.

Penda said that she also strongly supports the parking deck, as she said it is extremely difficult to find parking. She said the lack of parking in Smyrna made her hesitant to move to the city, but the coming change has her excited.

“I just think that this redesign is overdue for the type of city that Smyrna wants to be,” Penda said.

On the other side, Joan Martin said that she does not think the city has been transparent when it comes to downtown plans.

“For instance, my husband is on the email list to get notices about all the public meetings and the council meetings, and he did not get an email about either of the dates that they had the public hearings,” Martin said.

When council members responded by saying that information about public hearings was on the council’s website, Martin said she and others are not constantly checking the website and the city needs to give formal notices about this kind of information.

“Plus, yes, [the project] was rushed through,” Martin said. “The whole country’s been shut down for 15 months, and the first two or three months after it opens up … this is when they put this thing through? It doesn’t make sense.”

Martin says that those who frame critics of the downtown redevelopment as opponents to change are wrong.

She also says she is concerned about traffic and the lack of a traffic study so far.

Norton has previously said that the city is waiting for schools to open back up to assess traffic, as it will provide a more accurate portrait of traffic.

Kathy Omaits said she is concerned about the task force the mayor has appointed.

Additionally, she said she still has more questions about the brewery, such as the design.

“The brewery needs to go in a different location,” Omaits said. “There’s other ways to create revenue from that space and keep ownership.”

When asked if there were alternatives to the brewery, Norton said that two other breweries have approached the council about the land.

As the audience asked if council was willing to hear from the public about their own alternatives to the brewery, Gould said the proposal for the brewery arose from the council listening to the public’s input about the need for more social activities in Smyrna.

After the meeting, Gould said the city is trying to be as transparent as they possibly can, holding town halls like the ones Sunday and Wednesday and taking questions from the audience.

Gould said as time goes forward, the city will have more community dialogue.

He also stated that he is unaware of data showing that the building of the brewery has a negative impact on the environment. He said if anyone has information on the environmental impact he would like to see it.

Gould described the brewery as a potential “economic engine” for the downtown area. It will bring people and jobs to Smyrna, he believes.

“There’s data on other breweries where you have thousands of folks coming to the brewery every month and produce a great deal of foot traffic,” Gould said. “I believe [StillFire] is going to have 20 full-time jobs and a larger number of part-time jobs.”

Norton said after the meeting that he wants people to understand more than anything that the brewery is not a done deal yet. He kept emphasizing that the city is in the beginning stages of the project.

The mayor said his task force will meet for the first time tomorrow.

When asked about opponents of the brewery who fear the mayor appointing residents to the task force may make them biased in favor of the brewery, Norton said he appointed these residents based on of their expertise.

[Correction: Mayor Norton contacted the Courier after the publication of this article to clarify that the task force will take up the roundabout and the parking deck, two projects that have already been voted on by the council, and not the brewery]

“I chose the three citizen representatives that I chose because they have specific expertise in building, landscape, architecture, marketing, those types of things,” Norton said. “You can’t have everybody involved in every single decision.”

Norton said once the task force presents their findings at a public hearing, they will amend their recommendations based on public input.

No decisions will be made by the task force, he clarified.

The land for sale will be conveyed by the city council to the Downtown Development Authority. This transfer will not happen until the city gets an appraisal and have conducted a traffic study, both of which have not been done yet, Norton said.

Norton said there is not a clear timetable for when the downtown project will be completed, but he estimated it may be finished in 2023.

The mayor said he is ecstatic about the project and, like Gould, briefly discussed the economic advantages the brewery can create for the city.

“You’re going to have people who have never experienced Smyrna before, you’re going to have people from Smyrna that have been wanting this,” Norton said. “I think they’re going to be patronizing the restaurants and businesses, I think they’re going to be spending money in our stores…the tax impact on a parcel that’s not taxed right now will be considerable and that will benefit the citizens as well.”

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.