Business and property owners along Lafayette Road are uniting in their opposition against streetscape improvements proposed for the corridor.
Following an open house at Fort Oglethorpe City Hall earlier this month that revealed the latest designs for the 1-mile project, the concerned proprietors met at Park Place Restaurant Aug. 13 to brainstorm how best to combat the raised medians shown in the proposal.
The medians, drawn as landscaped islands along the middle of the road to separate opposing lanes of traffic, are meant to boost safety and efficiency by preventing drivers from making potentially accident-causing left turns in the middle of highly trafficked city blocks, planners from the Georgia Department of Transportation say. But business owners fear the medians will also weaken their customer base by preventing drivers from turning onto their property.
"[Local customers] know the back ways, but the tourists that we're going after — the million people that are visiting [Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park] every year that we're catering to with this project, supposedly — don't know the back ways," said Jack Goodlet, who owns Park Place Restaurant and the strip mall that houses neighboring businesses Save-A-Lot and Battlefield Outdoors.
Though some of the 15 business owners in attendance brought up other various concerns they had with the proposal, such as the traffic signals planned for certain intersections and the portions of their property that might be taken to build sidewalks and bike lanes, they agreed to focus their efforts on the raised medians, which they identified as their "biggest threat."
Attendees said they felt "blindsided" by the proposal, though conceptual designs released by GDOT during a public input session in 2015, when the project was initially revealed, also showed raised medians along the road.
Moving forward, the group plans to rally other business owners along the corridor who have previously verbalized their opposition, then "bombard" city and state officials with "consistent objection" against the medians to ensure all the businesses are speaking in a "unified voice."
"Our strength's going to be standing together," said Jason Thomas, spokesperson for the group and lead pastor at First Baptist Church of Fort Oglethorpe, whose main entrance will be blocked by the medians.
If planners indicate that the project can't be constructed or would not receive funding without the medians, the group agreed that they would cast their vote for scrapping the $3 million project in its entirety.
"We want it, but we want it done right," Goodlet said.
The business and property owners also indicated that they may pursue collective legal action if the current designs are finalized in spite of their objections.
"We wouldn't want to have to react that way. We'd rather do what we're doing now and deal with it on the front end," said Thomas, adding, "I think they will listen to our collective voice. I'm optimistic that they'll pivot if we raise a strong enough collective voice."
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