Residents voice views on Project Jackson online with petitions

  • Saturday, March 9, 2013

Project Jackson's backers and detractors have a new forum for expressing their views on the riverside development proposal, by way of the Internet.
Petitions that can be "signed" or anonymously endorsed are at www.ipetitions.com/petition/project-jackson (for the "pro" side) and www.ipetitions.com/petition/no-baseball-stadium-along-the-river/signatures (for the "con" side). Signers also have the option of leaving a comment.
As of Monday afternoon, the petition in support of Project Jackson had 292 endorsements. The opposition had 44.
For some commenters, the center of attention has been a proposal for a $28 million stadium, a possible home for the GreenJackets, at the point where Georgia Avenue becomes the James U. Jackson Bridge.
Proposed investments include $60 million for a resort-quality hotel, with a City-funded conference center costing about $4 million, along with a 900-space parking garage costing about $10.8 million.
Also proposed are 75 town-home units costing $15 million and 40,000 square feet of office space, at $10.5 million.
The petition against Project Jackson was begun by Scott Gudith, a semi-retired Shoreline Drive resident who manages and rents properties around the CSRA. He declined a request to address the topic.
Gudith's endorsement was affixed Jan. 4, and among its early signers was Tom Fisher, a retired food-service representative who lives on River Club Lane.
Fisher described himself as struggling with the fact that North Augusta City Council already has a "signed, sealed and delivered document for development" in the proposed area and yet has also classified the area as "blighted."
Classification as "blighted," meaning that no one would otherwise be wiling to build on the land in question, is required in order to move ahead with tax-increment financing.
One opponent of the proposal, addressing the petition via computer, wrote, "As a former resident now living in Aiken and as a conservationist with the Sierra Club, I oppose this project and the damage it would create."
Another wrote, "I am fully opposed to using our green space for parking and an empty stadium."
Another entry, with two names attached, noted, "We agree with the wording of the petition totally."
Brett Brannon, the managing partner at Jackson Square, started the petition in support of the development proposal. His petition began Feb. 22.
Referring to Project Jackson, he said, "I just think it's the largest economic development project that's been proposed in a long time, if not ever, for the City."
He added, "It's not about a hotel. It's not about a baseball field. It's not about individual pieces. This project has been proposed as a whole, and it will either be approved in total or none of the pieces will happen."
Most of the petition's 200-plus signers did not leave a comment. Some left a brief remark, such as "Build this" or "Very much in favor."
Others went into more details. One wrote, "Strongly support this project! If it does not pass, NA will be a retirement community with no growth within the next 10 years."
Another wrote, "I have said for many years that I wish North Augusta had more options for dining and shopping. I would love to see folks coming here instead of us driving to Augusta, Aiken, or even Columbia. This is a great opportunity to see controlled growth in this area."
Brannon said, "I just felt like there needed to be a widely available method for people to support the project if they were inclined to do so, and it's been strictly word of mouth. It literally started with my email list and has just spread via social media and people passing the thing from email to email."
Signers are endorsing an appeal for local government to approve the project and a claim that "the $150 million public-private investment in Project Jackson will benefit the citizens of North Augusta."
Benefits, according to the petition, would include "creating a vibrant downtown and riverfront entertainment district," creating 2,700 construction jobs and about 1,030 permanent jobs and "significantly expanding the tax base both in the remaining area of Hammond's Ferry and throughout the downtown development corridor."
On the opposite side of the issue, petitions are asking City leaders "to preserve the general environment of the Savannah riverfront and develop it as an area integrating the river and its genteel surroundings with structures and activities that complement the birds, animals and aquatic life along the riparian areas of the city."
The petition adds, "We hereby charge the city council and the mayor to reject all requests for development, including sports stadiums and arenas, which would bring thousands of people into these ecologically-sensitive areas, because the noise, lights, parking, petroleum pollutants and traffic are not conducive for preserving the natural habitat for plants, animals or humans. We would welcome baseball in North Augusta but in a less sensitive area than anywhere along the riverfront."
Fisher noted that voters around the county, in 2010, rejected a proposed tax hike to fund substantial improvements in local schools. Now the proposal is for a 30-year bond to fund a stadium that would be in service for 20 years "if everything works out perfect."
He added, "I just don't see how education's being served by building a baseball field. I think this kind of money should come with a vote of the whole county. I can't see where we're doing justice to the voters on this."
Mayor Lark Jones, who has generally supported Project Jackson, referred to the petitions during Monday's North Augusta City Council meeting, when asked about a comment he had made about the TIF proposal being "overwhelmingly favored" by North Augusta residents.
Jones noted that the petition favoring the proposal had significantly more supporters than the petition against it.
"I would say it's run at least 5-to-1 in favor of it," he said. "For the first time in any issue ... I've had people call me and say, 'What can I do to help the City make this happen?'"
Such feedback, he said, has come mainly from "young people - the 25- to 35-year-olds that want to see these things in the city."
The mayor also cited a North Augusta Chamber of Commerce survey that showed more than three-fourths of respondents favoring Project Jackson, including the stadium.
The proposal was unveiled to the public in mid-December, putting a variety of boosters and detractors into action, with questions of funding, safety, traffic, parking and environmental protection among those being raised.

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