By a 4-1 informal voice vote Friday afternoon, Brooklet City Council members said “no” to the Bulloch County government’s plan to extend the paved S&S Greenway hiking and cycling trail into Brooklet along residential West Lane Street.
Eight days earlier, with Councilman Greg Schlierf absent after a death in his family, Brooklet Mayor Joe Grooms III had said a meeting might be held as late as July for a decision on this topic. But Schlierf was back when the mayor and council held a specially called meeting with the trail and two other topics on the agenda at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Meanwhile, Grooms planned to be out of town next week, and Councilman Nicky Gwinnett, the mayor pro tem, reported that he had talked earlier in the week with County Manager Tom Couch, who said the city of Brooklet needed to give the county an answer by July 1. County staff members reportedly face a deadline later in July on a federal grant application for the project.
“Each person on this council does not take this lightly, at all, whether it’s positive or negative to you,” Grooms told residents who filled the council chamber. “I pray that what we do, whether it be for or against, that you’ll please understand that the majority has to be the decision. It’s not what I decide, it’s what y’all decide, and this council…. It’s time now we make a decision.”
No motion and second were offered. Instead, council members took turns stating their positions, concluding with a “yes” or “no,” with the result to be relayed to the county commissioners.
“I’m going to say ‘yes’ to proceed with the grant application because I feel like it’s for the best interest of this town in the future,” Gwinnett said.
After the meeting, he said that Brooklet had in effect turned down “easily $750,000 worth” of infrastructure that would have been free to the town, because the trail would have created a double-width sidewalk and replaced open ditches with a storm sewer.
Four say ‘no’
All of the other council members ended up voting “no.”
“I vote ‘no,’ because the people of this city have told me they don’t want it,” said Councilman William Griffith.
“My personal feeling is ‘yes;’ however, the input I’ve received from so many folks – and it’s not my personal position or opinion that counts, but it’s what they want me to count – so I have to vote ‘no,’” said Councilman Jim Stanoff.
He later added that the opposition he had heard was not to the project overall but to the routing.
Councilman Brad Anderson said he has friends on both sides of the controversy and knew his decision would upset some of them but that this was not his intent.
“I think it’s truly and ultimately a great project for the city,” he said. “I think it helps us in some areas; I think it hurts us in others. But ultimately I can’t agree with that at the expense of the homeowners who it’s got to be directly in front of their house. So ultimately, my vote would be ‘no.’”
But Anderson said he would challenge the city to “address walking patterns” and consider potential sidewalk construction projects for the future.
Schlierf also made a statement that also sounded like a “yes” before concluding with a “no.”
“My general feeling on the path is that it would be a great asset for the infrastructure of Brooklet, but the two things that are making me lean to ‘no’ are first of all the path location, and I’m looking at (West Lane Street resident) Keith Roughton right here. There is absolutely no way that I could support a path that basically bisects his front yard.”
On the way to his final “no,” Schlierf agreed with Gwinnett’s point to some extent.
“The second thing I’ll say to all of you is that in two years or whatever it is, when we propose a two or three millage point tax increase to help supplement the infrastructure of Brooklet, I don’t want to see this room full,” Schlierf said. “You’re going to have to accept that we are giving up close to a million dollars worth of infrastructure improvements for the city by making this decision, and the only way we can improve walking and biking in Brooklet on our own is through the city money.”
Roughton, whom Schlierf mentioned, was one of several Brooklet citizens who wore their “No Trail Here” pins again, as they had to the meeting eight days earlier, and before that, to a forum on the topic the city hosted at a community center. Some also brought signs again.
Before the previous forum, county employees had marked the estimated route with little flags, and it took about 25 feet of Roughton’s yard, rerouting around a drain and a utility pole. He and several other West Lane Street residents had completed a final letter and emailed it to the mayor and council members Thursday night.
“I’m pleased that they listened, they took our input at the town hall meeting and they were receptive to our many letters. …,” Roughton said. “We had a group of West Lane residents that were passionate about this, and I’m thankful that government worked. They listened to their constituents.”
The established S&S Greenway trail starts at Gentilly Road in Statesboro and is about 2.5 miles long. Construction on Phase III is slated to begin in 2024 and take about one year to complete.
With an estimated to cost of $5.6 million from concept through construction, the project as planned would have extended the trail more than four miles southeastward from where it currently ends at the Five Points roundabout to a proposed small trailhead park with restrooms behind the John Wesley Center in Brooklet.
Grooms and Gwinnett said county officials told them the trail would stop at a proposed trailhead at Grimshaw Road if Brooklet said “no.”