Some 30 Romans turned out for a meeting of the Redevelopment Committee of the Rome City Commission today, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. to urge the City Commission to consider a resolution calling for the protection of the Burwell Creek wetlands and the construction of recreational trails connecting Ridge Ferry Park and historic Jackson Hill.
The resolution proposed by CRBI is in response to the continuing threat of a 60-acre retail development on city-owned land adjacent to Riverside Parkway and Ridge Ferry Park. The proposed Citi Center development involves filling some 50 acres of floodplain and destroying some 4 acres of wetlands.
Before receiving a development proposal from Rome-based Ledbetter Properties in 2005, the city had commissioned a study that proposed using the Burwell Creek wetlands, Jackson Hill and Ridge Ferry Park to create “Rome’s Central Park.”
CRBI opposes the retail development on the site but has proposed a compromise in which the developer would set aside about 6 percent of the property to protect critical wetlands and provide for additional natural/recreational corridors through the retail center, connecting the city’s other park areas.
The Committee fell short of taking action on the resolution, but Commissioner Kim Canada requested that Ledbetter Properties and CRBI meet and provide a report to the Committee at its June 26 meeting. This marks the first time that the City Commission has directly requested that Ledbetter Properties meet with CRBI. Previously, the Commission had only encouraged such discussions.
At the meeting, Mayor Evie McNiece chided CRBI for “shirking responsibilities” for what she perceived as CRBI’s failure to engage with Ledbetter Properties.
On the contrary, during the past year, CRBI has contacted Ledbetter Properties on at least four occasions, presenting suggestions for improving the project and requesting opportunities to meet with the firm. Ledbetter Properties has indicated they will consider CRBI’s suggestions.
CRBI is encouraged by the Committee’s direct request for dialogue with Ledbetter Properties and intends to meet with their representatives to further discuss ideas for altering the development plan and intergrate preservation of wetlands into site designs.
Unfortunately, the Commission appears to be continuning a stance in which resolution of the conflict over the Burwell Creek wetlands remains the responsibility of CRBI and Ledbetter Properties.
CRBI believes the City, which must grant final approval of the site plans, should be actively involved in the discussions. More than 1000 individuals who live in, work, or visit Rome have signed a CRBI petition opposing development of the Burwell Creek wetlands, yet the Commission continues to hedge when responding to this opposition. The Commission should be actively seeking a compromise that satisfies the desires of all its constituents
At Wednesday’s meeting, Rome citizens Julie Smith, Georgia Burns, John Reiners and Rex Hussman all spoke in support of CRBI’s resolution. Others rose to spoke but were denied the opportunity by Committee Chairman Canada. Despite the strong attendance from citizens for a work day meeting, Mayor McNiece dismissed the gathered citizens as “meaningless,” suggesting that there were many Romans who supported the Citi Center retail development.
Meaningless? Yes, there are many citizens that support this development, but Mayor McNiece is unwise to take lightly 1000 petition signatures and 30 citizens at a day time meeting.
Rome’s City Commission could best serve this community by responding to the citizens that attended today’s meeting. The resolution remains on the table. The citizens have spoken. They have told commissioners that preserving wetlands and developing recreational trails through natural corridors should be a priority for the community.
In the meantime, CRBI will engage in discussions with Ledbetter Properties and continue our mission of informing and empowering citizens to protect our rivers–including wetlands connected to those rivers. When well-informed, citizens can always be counted on to set things straight.
A FINAL NOTE: If you haven’t checked out the Burwell Creek wetlands recently, they are in their full spring regalia. The wetlands portion of the property has been continuously flooded since Janaury. Ducks are nesting in the area and a walk through the area provides a surprising escape from the nearby hustle and bustle. Click here to view some recent photos of the wetlands on CRBI’s Facebook page.