Suwanee mayor wants to keep city moving forward

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Suwanee Mayor Jimmy Burnette gives the State of the City address on Wednesday evening at City Hall.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Suwanee Mayor Jimmy Burnette gives the State of the City address on Wednesday evening at City Hall.

SUWANEE -- Remembering his youth, yet looking toward the priorities of the New Year, Mayor Jimmy Burnette outlined the city of Suwanee's plans for 2012 on Wednesday in his first address as mayor.

Burnette's State of the City address at City Hall was sponsored by the Suwanee Business Alliance. While Burnette noted his love of the area during his childhood, from the local Dairy Queen to the Suwanee Grill, the 1974 graduate of Georgia Southern said he always knew he wanted to settle in his hometown.

Burnette, who had served on the city council since 1996, said since he was elected, he's learned more of the day-to-day requests and activities.

While he outlined several priorities for the coming year, Burnette said the 20/20 strategic plan would help finalize ideas after he and the council receives community input.

Burnette said the city is proud that its residents, when surveyed, overwhelmingly enjoyed living here. He also highlighted the recent uptick in the city's credit rating, from AA- to AA+, and that the city's tax rate since 2003 has remained level or decreased.

City Manager Marty Allen said a combination of a strong tax base and land planning allowed the city to make adjustments when the national economy showed signs of weakness.

"We never got addicted to the development bubble," Allen said. "We knew we had a finite amount of land in Suwanee, and it wouldn't last forever. So we didn't bank on it. So when it went away, we weren't as harmed as some other places were."

The main priorities for 2012, Burnette said, are the reconstruction of Buford Highway, the resolution of the historic Pierce's Corner building and the addition of a police substation and training facility on the Suwanee Gateway area.

The Buford Highway project isn't expected to be completed for a few years because of the $3.3 million grant secured through the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Allen said it's important to understand the transformative effect of the project.

Despite groups who want to make Buford Highway "eight lanes from Atlanta to Gainesville," ultimately, Burnette said he wants to preserve the Town Center area.

"We don't need a big four-lane road coming through it," he said. " ... It's a key thing to tie the city together, because if you have a big highway here, that would sort of split it wide open."

Councilman Dick Goodman said the Suwanee residents want to be able to get around town without their cars.

"By this plan for Buford Highway, that will make that more possible, visible to more people," he said.

For Pierce's Corner, Goodman said the goal was to preserve some of the history the city has, while Burnette added that the city didn't want the property to fall into the wrong hands. A transformation of the building by its new ownership, Deming LLC, was announced last month. Goodman said it would be an anchor point for future development.

While Burnette said he hopes people who grow up in Suwanee want to move back and raise their families like he did, Goodman agreed and added that the council wants to continue the growth of the city.

"One of the most important things of a city like Suwanee is it keeps moving forward," Goodman said. "We don't want to rest on our laurels. It's part of an ongoing process, and I share the same vision that Jimmy has."