Most residents and business owners at the meeting shared their ideas for the future Highway 92 Corridor area, which is set to be improved through a regional grant initiative.
But the tea party group, many of whom did not live in Woodstock, asked questions and argued back and forth with project organizers, while recording the meeting on video.
The meeting was a kick-off event for the improvement project, funded through a Livable Centers Initiative grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission, where residents and Woodstock business owners were asked to share their hopes for creating a better area.
But, former Canton T.E.A. Party leader Carolyn Cosby, current Canton T.E.A. Party leader John Hiland and other supporters briefly disrupted the meeting with arguments and accusations.
The group got in a few questions before the crowd overwhelmingly hushed Hiland as he accused project managers of things those in attendance said they had not said.
Many of those in attendance said they wanted better sidewalks, safe places to cross the multi-lane highway and revitalization of empty shopping strips.
The project cost is split between the regional committee and the city, with the ARC paying about 80 percent and the city paying about 20 percent of the costs, said Bill de St. Aubin, the principal-in-charge with the project’s consultant team from Sizemore Group.
Jack Staver questioned how much eminent domain would be used during the project, and Community Development Director Jessica Guinn said the city has no plans to relocate anyone.
“As private investment comes in to the sites to rebuild, that’s when we have this opportunity piece-by-piece,” Guinn said. “That’s really what this process is about, is making that plan.”
Guinn said the city isn’t looking to take land, but rather work with business and land owners, because “that’s how we do it here in Woodstock.”
Hiland then said “the growth of our problems is in proportion to the government taking control of our lives,” and questioned why the city would bring the Atlanta Regional Committee into the project.
St. Aubin responded, saying this was the Woodstock community’s plan, not the government’s plan.
Another member of the group asked if there would be adverse effects on taxes in the county or city, and St. Aubin said no. Mayor Donnie Henriques, also at the meeting, reiterated that this project, funded mostly by a grant, would not adversely impact taxes.
Cosby asked if she can hold Henriques to that, and he said “you can.”
Hiland questioned St. Aubin again, this time accusing the representative of wanting “to reduce the number of cars” on Highway 92. Aubin stopped Hiland and asked “did I ever say that?” The overwhelming majority of the crowd at the meeting replied “no,” or “no he did not.”
Hiland then accused St. Aubin again, saying, “you also want to widen the streets.” St. Aubin interjected and replied, “no I did not,” as the majority crowd again said “no” aloud, as some in the crowd laughed.
St. Aubin said that Highway 92 is a state road that carried 60,000 cars a day, and the improvement plan being looked at for the corridor will not change that.
St. Aubin said his team tries to create places where parents can feel safe about letting their 9-year-old child walk down the sidewalk to get ice cream, while they stay in another store up the street.
Linda Bommicino said she’s been a resident of downtown Woodstock for nine years, and she came to the meeting to share her hope for improved sidewalks.
“I’m very invested in the area,” she said. “I really came tonight to talk about sidewalks, and the existing sidewalks that we have.”
Bommicino said she wanted to hear plans for future sidewalks, but also wanted to point out existing sidewalks that had issues or needed improvements.
“I love to walk,” she said. “I think that’s why so many people are down here, because they really want to walk. I hardly ever get in my car, and that’s the way I like it.”
Bommicino was not alone in wanting more options for walking around the downtown and Highway 92 area, as many others in attendance spoke out during the meeting with similar ideas in favor of improving the area for pedestrians.
Many of the residents chimed in during the meeting and said they wanted safer ways to cross the busy state highway. In some places, Highway 92 stretches eight lanes across.
St. Aubin suggested the possibility of changing the lanes on Highway 92 from 12 to 11 feet wide, to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
“People walk at 200-feet-per-minute. It’s crazy, some of these roads are 200 feet long, and if you’ve got a 30-second crosswalk, you’re dead,” he said.
Another resident, Matt Coulborn, who lives off Neese Road, said “Highway 92 is ugly. I avoid it, if I’m not getting on 575.”
Other attendees agreed. Some wanted incentives to encourage businesses to move into the empty or blighted buildings and shopping strips along the highway.
The second of three planned community meetings to discuss the Highway 92 project is set for Sept. 23. The community will be asked to engage in a hands-on workshop to help design concepts for improving the area.