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Council votes to close section of Walnut Street

    The Statesboro City Council voted to permanently close the section of Walnut Street between Cherry Street and Bulloch Street after a public hearing was held on the matter Tuesday. The vote came as a response to a request made by the First United Methodist Church, which owns the property on both sides of that section of the street.
    Don Marsh, a trustee for FUMC, spoke in favor of the closing. He said the church is growing and putting together a master plan to accommodate that growth, but the only way to come up with a comprehensive plan was to know whether or not the street would be there.
    "We hope that what we would build there would be a big enough asset to the area," said Marsh. "We hope the pros would outweigh the cons."
    H.B. Lanier, owner of a business on West Main Street, spoke against the proposed closing. He said diverting the traffic would cost people business and might hurt the new restaurants in the downtown area.
    "There are only two through streets [running North/South] on that side of town - College and Walnut," said Lanier. "You'll throw that traffic onto 301 or College - both of which are clogged at certain times of the day."
    In the City Engineers report, Maz Elhaj wrote that the police use Walnut as a through street, especially in the event there is an obstruction on South College or South Main. In addition, his summary indicated that a significant number of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists would be negatively impacted by the closure and that the Engineering Department does not endorse the closure at this time.
    At the meeting, Elhaj recommended tabling the decision until more information about FUMC's plans could be gathered.
    Contained in the approved motion was language that would change Cherry Street back into a two-way street. As a result, there will no longer be parallel parking on Cherry Street. In addition, FUMC would bear any and all costs for moving the existing utilities that currently run under Walnut Street and would affect surrounding property owners.
    In other business, the council voted to jointly fund, with Bulloch County, a needs assessment and pre-design study for the Luetta Moore Community Center. The study will be handled by Robert and Company, who  have been in business for 90 years and have extensive experience with community projects.    
    Councilman Gary Lewis said he was happy to see the motion approved.
    "I see this as progress being made," said Lewis. "This is a step in the right direction."
    The Luetta Moore Community Center is located on the westside of Statesboro in Lewis' district. He is running for reelection in District 2 against challenger Nathan Queen, a GSU student.
    The city also announced that the Statesboro Police Department received a $317,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to start up a crime suppression unit. The proposal for the grant was written by Captain Wendell Turner and Detective Robert Bryan.
    Turner said that the police department would use the funds to proactively go after violent crime. This would include person-to-person violent crimes, gambling and prostitution, the drug trade and gang-related activity, he said.
    Turner also said that 20 percent of the money had to be spent on technology that would enable the Statesboro Police Department to better share information with the Justice Department. As a result, some of the grant money will go to update the mobile data units  - laptops in police cruisers. With the improved technology, officers will be able to access information from their vehicles related to stolen cars and merchandise, as well as be able to process incident reports.

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