Suwanee residents receive update on 20/20 vision discussions

SUWANEE -- As the meetings and discussions about Suwanee's 20/20 vision reach the home stretch, residents have come with strong opinions, mostly agreements on the city's strengths, and split opinions on only a handful of subjects.

Since June, about 435 residents have been divided into 25 groups to discuss where they want the city to be in eight years. An urban development consultant who the city hired to assist in the project visited this week to give the latest presentation of the findings.

Scott Page, from Interface Studio, made a presentation at Tuesday's City Council meeting and a joint meeting of the facilitator and steering committees on Wednesday. Page said Interface Studio, a Philadelphia-based company, sees its objective as bringing all of the voices together.

The city contracted with Interface Studio for $143,434 to facilitate these discussions over an 11-month timeframe that ends in May. Page's company also is working on similar projects in Wilmington, Del., Detroit and Philadelphia.

The area's residents agree on as strengths of the city were the park system, Town Center and economic development. The most divisive issues were Old Town, public art and the Suwanee Gateway area.

"That's pretty good," Page said. "Usually there's a lot more contention and disagreement. Suwanee is really unique, and that's one of the things we want to emphasize. We want to capitalize about what is distinctive about Suwanee."

Jimmy Spiro, a Suwanee resident, attended Tuesday's council meeting and raised his concern on the lack of discussion about debt reduction, which Page said would be discussed as part of the annual budget process.

"Like any other plan, there's an agenda," Spiro said. "They give you an assignment and an answer to it, and to rank it. Does it give you a vision? Yes. But ... when you came to the very first one, they gave you money, said, 'Here, spend it.' There was not a category to pay down debt."

At Wednesday's meeting, some residents applauded the diversity of their groups; people of all walks of life who have lived in Suwanee for varying lengths of time.

That has given way to input from people of all ages and backgrounds, said resident Dion Jones.

"We have to hang on to some of the great things we have going on here, and try to capitalize on some of the potential the city has moving forward," he said.

Resident Michael Smith said the process has given him a glimpse of the inner workings of the city.

"It's nice to see that on the inside," Smith said. "It's looking at the buildings, and the infrastructure, and bringing the community together, and having a say-so in the future of Suwanee. I think that's what I appreciated about it he most."

Ultimately, the end result will be agreeing to some degree on a list of priorities.

"There will always be varying opinions whenever you bring such a diverse group together," Smith said. "Certainly, there's different motivations that each person brings with them. There will be a lot of spirited debate when it comes to growing a city that has so much character. How do you grow the city, maintain the character and accommodate the growth? That's where most of those friendly debates comes into play."