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Decatur City Commission approves downtown master plan

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Decatur City Commission approves downtown master plan

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: People gather in the Square for the city of Decatur’s annual fireworks display on Sunday, July 4, 2021. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission voted unanimously to approve a new downtown master plan at their regular meeting on June 20.

The plan will expand walkability and make modifications to Decatur Square, including replacing the gazebo with a pavilion that can be used as a stage. It is the first time the city has revised its original downtown master plan, which was adopted in 1982.

Luis Calvo, an urban planner with MKSK Studios, said that the plan was called “Downtown Master Plan 2.0” because it’s a revision and expansion of the original downtown master plan.

“We don’t recommend letting 40 years go by between master plans,” Calvo said while acknowledging that the first plan had been very successful. 

In addition to a redesign of parts of the Square, which includes adding a splash pad for children to play in, the plan calls for improving the approach from the bus terminal and expanding pedestrian-only areas. Shade plantings and other improvements to the walkability of the downtown area, in general, are also included.

Calvo recommended creating a downtown ambassador program to help visitors, improve safety, and connect homeless residents to services.

The city can expand the historic character of downtown by nominating newly identified buildings to the National Register of Historic Places.

Calvo said that the new plan incorporated many recommendations from residents, including support for a full-service grocery store.

Mary Karwosky of Downtown Decatur Neighbors called the plan “aspirational and exciting” in some aspects, especially economic development. However, she said that her organization found it lacking in quality of life improvements for residents of downtown. 

Commissioner George Dusenbury acknowledged the need to address quality-of-life issues but said there were other ways to get at them.

“I think it’s important to recognize the ways that we can address those quality of life issues outside of the plan,” Dusenbury said.

Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers said that he was a high school senior when the first plan was adopted in 1982, and without it, he might not be sitting on the commission contemplating a new master plan.  

“If you weren’t here in 1982, you have no idea,” Powers said.

Forty years ago, after offices closed at 5 p.m., downtown Decatur was virtually deserted.

“It was a very different place,” Powers said. He went on to praise the new master plan, saying that it would set the stage for the next generation of leaders. “It is a great foundational piece for what our next city is.”

Commissioner Lesa Mayer said, “This is a beautiful plan. It’s something that we can be proud of, but there are things that concern me.”

Mayer said that she saw much discussion of housing, but not enough about socioeconomic diversity. She added that accessibility doesn’t just mean accommodating different types of transportation, but inclusivity.

“I don’t want to be an elitist city. I never have, and I never will,” Mayer said. She went on to say that the city has a responsibility to align the plan with the city’s values.

Mayor Patti Garrett said that many of the things that make Decatur’s downtown attractive and lively are economically accessible. Garrett praised the work that went into the new downtown master plan and the thoughtful commentary from commissioners and residents.

Zoe Seiler contributed reporting to this story.

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