Controversy brews over proposed downtown Smyrna redevelopment

Smyrna residents, some holding signs opposing Smyrna redevelopment planSmyra residents pack town hall meeting (photo by Arielle Robinson)

by Arielle Robinson

Smyrna residents crowded a town hall held at Fire Station No. 3 Wednesday evening, most opposing city council’s redevelopment plans, which potentially includes selling downtown land to a brewery company.

Council member Austin Wagner hosted the town hall, where city officials and Mayor Derek Norton addressed the crowd and took questions from concerned residents.

Most of the people at the town hall oppose the city council vote to get rid of a roundabout in front of Smyrna Community Center and selling land on Atlanta Road to StillFire Brewing to build a three-story brewery.

Citizens opposed to the brewery are concerned about numerous issues if the brewery is built.

Some of the concerns raised were about the lack of a traffic study so far, losing the green space that the potential brewery would go and potential public intoxication and drunk driving stemming from the creation of the brewery.

When Norton spoke, he told the room that he hopes the city can bring in more “energy” and business to downtown Smyrna. He said current business environment is stale.

Norton said that plans to remove the roundabout, installing a turn lane and traffic light at the corner of Powder Springs Street and Atlanta Road and the construction of a three-story 250-space parking deck next to the police station in the area have already been approved by the council last month.

This plan was approved 5-2.

The mayor also said that the city hopes to replace the roundabout and the fountain and make it a green space.

Norton said that city council has heard multitudes of public comments about these proposals and that public hearings were also conducted to make the city’s plans well-known.

The city’s next step in this particular plan is appointing a task force comprised of council members and residents to work out the technical issues of this project. Once the task force works these issues out, they will then propose their recommendations at a public hearing.

Norton then addressed the potential brewery, saying that there is a lot of misinformation and half-truths being spread about it.

“We don’t have a contract with the brewery, we are in the very beginning stages of this and I want to make no mistake, I am excited about the possibility that [StillFire] is coming,” Norton said.

StillFire approached the city about building a downtown brewery, Norton said.

Norton visited the StillFire brewery in Suwanee and recommended that people visit the location there to get an idea of what the brewery is like.

The mayor described the company as family-friendly and something that will bring people of all walks of life together. In particular, the mayor mentioned StillFire listening to community residents in Suwanee and improving a playground that the company originally decided to get rid of.

With regard to the land in Smyrna, Norton said the city has entered a non-binding letter of intent to sell an acre of land for $600,000, which opponents say is a low price.

The funding comes from SPLOST funds.

“We did that $600,000 an acre because we just bought five and a half acres down by the Reed House for $600,000 an acre,” Norton said. “It makes a lot of sense, we’re so close.”

Norton said StillFire was not sure that their proposal was going to be a full acre.

The mayor said the deal with StillFire was handled at an executive session, which are meetings not open to the public or press, often used when discussing real estate negotiations, and allowable under the state’s Open Records Act.

Norton once again clarified that the city’s agreement with StillFire is not binding and that the appraisal and traffic studies are pending.

All of the economic developments dealing with the brewery will be handled through the Downtown Development Authority.

Because the DDA is handling the situation, the mayor said there was no need for a bid for the brewery.

Norton also said that all of the steps going into the brewery will be handled at public meetings.

“I think there’s a lot of misperception about what a brewery is,” Norton said. “I think some folks think it’s a dive bar.”

The first level of the brewery would be a family-friendly space, the second an event space and the third a sort of rooftop bar.

Norton said that what is left out of the conversations about the brewery is the new park that will be near there.

The brewery would be facing Powder Springs Street while the area near Village Green Circle would be where the park will be.

The proceeds from selling the land would go towards funding the park, where a playground, pet-friendly area, a small stage, green space and other city activities would be.

After Norton spoke, he and other elected officials took questions and comments from the audience.

Wilda Brown, a former public defender and Smyrna resident who has been living in the city for over a decade said that she was worried about a rise in DUIs stemming from the potential brewery.

She said that despite the mayor and brewery owners depicting the brewery as family-friendly, she does not think so.

“I would prefer to see maybe a little theater … or a children’s park there rather than a brewery,” Brown said. “I just don’t think that’s the image that Smyrna wants to project.”

Ray Vito, an engineer, said he lives close to the roundabout and is concerned about how much traffic will increase with the downtown developments.

Vito asked Norton if any traffic studies have been conducted yet, to which the mayor said the city is currently working on.

Norton said that the city is waiting for schools to open back up to get a proper assessment of traffic through the downtown area.

“[The redevelopment] is gonna change the way people drive through,” Vito said. “There are way too many people driving through … downtown Smyrna.”

Norton responded by saying that the city is eliminating the roundabout to try and reduce the traffic downtown.

Jenny Barten said she felt there was a lack of transparency from the mayor and city council about the brewery.

“It’s the sale without having an environmental study or traffic study,” Barten said, listing the issues she had with the brewery. “It’s a sale without having competing bids, it’s been done in privacy. How in the world is brewery in the public interest?”

Jim Davis, who handed out green flyers reading “Save Our Space,” said he felt Wednesday’s meeting was a bit productive and that he learned new information.

Davis said he was concerned about the task force the mayor mentioned.

“If it’s gonna be someone that the mayor selects, then we know their findings are going to be tilted toward the brewery,” Davis said. “We don’t want the brewery.”

Outside of the brewery, Davis said his main concern was the sale of the land, which Davis says belongs to the people.

“To take something right in our city center and sell it to a private concern is what I’m against,” Davis said.

Only one resident in the crowd at the town hall spoke in favor of the brewery.

John Magnin, a parent in his early thirties, said he and his wife have visited other Atlanta suburbs and was impressed by the green spaces other cities have.

He is looking forward to the potential park that would be near the brewery, as he sees it as place where he can take his young family.

“We are a fan of breweries because we like being able to take our dogs someplace where we can sit down, have one or two drinks, let our dogs get petted by everybody that comes in and be able to go home,” Magnin said. “That’s what most people do, they’re not going there to drink for hours and hours.”

Those opposed to the brewery will be hosting and attending more events about the redevelopment in the coming days.

On Sunday at 4:30, Councilmember Tim Gould will be having a town hall at the community center.

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.