Smyrna approves feasibility study for nature center, increase in budget for Downtown and South Cobb overhauls, plus more

The exterior of Smyrna City Hall, a red brick building with four large columns

By Arielle Robinson

Every Smyrna City Council seat was filled Monday evening as the mayor and council welcomed the new Ward 2 city council member, Latonia P. Hines. All seven members voted on a number of items during the only regular meeting for July.

City councilors voted unanimously to authorize the municipal runoff election that occurred Tuesday, June 21.

Hines, a prosecutor who has worked in the Cobb County Solicitor’s Office and for the Cobb District Attorney, won with 51.9 percent of the vote. She was sworn in this past Thursday.

“I just want to say thank you so very much to the city staff and to my fellow council,” Hines said. “You’ve been wonderful and welcomed me, and I just hope to do a great job for my citizens in my ward and for the city.”

Hines said she plans on having a town hall for Ward 2 at the end of August.

Smyrna also had its first of three public hearings about the millage rate.

The millage rate will remain at 8.99 mills, but because the rate results in an increase in taxes collected, Georgia law requires the city to advertise it as a tax increase and hold three public hearings.

The other two hearings will be held at 10 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1. A vote and adoption of the millage rate will occur at the 6:45 p.m. meeting that day.

For more information, see Smyrna’s city notice on the millage rate.

Monday evening, Smyrna’s city council also voted unanimously to approve a feasibility study for the development of a nature center and “potential other uses,” City Administrator Joseph Bennett said, at Oakdale Road.

A city issue sheet shows that in addition to the nature center, a police and a fire station may be looked into being developed at the 14.02 acres of undeveloped land at Oakdale Road.

Smyrna’s Parks and Recreation department will pay $14,000 out of budgeted funds for the study to be conducted by Foley Design, based out of Atlanta.

“The scope of the work is limited to basic conceptual site planning to assess the feasibility of the undeveloped property in terms of program element location and grading evaluation,” Bennett said. “Building information shown on the site will be limited to footprint locations. Site improvements indicated will consist of roads, sidewalks, paths, terraces, and patio areas associated with the building.”

As this project is in Ward 7, Councilman Lewis Wheaton spoke about the motion.

“One of the things that is really important to our residents of Ward 7 is having some good facilities for community gathering, for coming together, and this is something I’ve always been passionate about,” Wheaton said. “I’m personally excited about the opportunity to really take time and get community feedback, and kind of lay out a plan of what this site design could look like and what the future of this area could be.”

City council also approved a motion 6-1 to amend the 2022 SPLOST project-length budgets to increase the project-length budget for the Downtown and South Cobb projects and to lower the project-length budget for the Cobb Parkway Pedestrian Bridge near The Battery.

The plan is to increase the Downtown and South Cobb improvement project budgets by $3.4 million, with $1.7 million going to each.

The city wants to decrease the project budget for the Cobb Pedestrian Bridge by $3.4 million.

Basically, the city is transferring budgeted funds of $3.4 million from the Pedestrian Bridge project to the Downtown and South Cobb projects.

“Staff has been working on the greenspace contractor to bring forward a guaranteed not-to-exceed contract. During these contract discussions and recognizing the economic circumstances and their impact on prices, it has come to staff’s attention that to fulfill this vision of the citizens and the Downtown Task Force, additional funding is needed,” Bennett said.

“The initial amount budgeted for the greenspace contract was approximately $2.25 million. The current estimate is approximately $3.79 million. We also are considering some minor change orders on the Site and Roadway contract that need to be considered. Staff is recommending an additional $1.7 million of funding will be needed to complete this project.

“As mentioned above, the intent of Council was to keep Downtown and South Cobb improvements budgets equal, so we also need to add $1.7 million to the South Cobb Improvements budget. The anticipated date for construction on the pedestrian bridge is several years out and we are optimistic that some matching grant funding will come through to assist with that project.”

This project is in Councilman Travis Lindley’s Ward 3. Lindley is also chair of the Downtown Redesign Task Force.

“The Downtown Redesign Task Force is watching expenses very closely, but also keenly aware that we’re in unprecedented inflation times, so we are where we are,” Lindley said.

Councilwoman Susan Wilkinson made the lone vote against this motion.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Derek Norton reminded the audience this his second State of the City address will be Wednesday, July 27, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The address will be hosted for free in person at the Community Center and online.

Those who want to attend in person must register by this Friday at this link.

Those who want to view the event virtually can do so on Smyrna’s Facebook page.