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Vidalia retail growth eyed

VIDALIA — When Robert Barber drives along Carter Street in Vidalia, he doesn’t like what he sees.

“When I come through Vidalia, I see a highway, and I go through,” Barber said Thursday afternoon during a town hall meeting at Vidalia City Hall.

The City of Vidalia paid Urban Development Toolbox $15,000 to enhance economic development planning and prepare the city for commercial and retail growth, Concordia Parish Economic Director Heather Malone said.

Barber, a municipal planner and partner at Orion Planning Group, is working with the project.

Barber said Vidalia could improve economic development by streamlining a master plan approved by Vidalia aldermen in 2011.

“We did move on with some of the projects we knew we were already going to be doing,” Malone said. “As far as strengthening our ordinances or restrictions, all of that has not been done.”

Barber said realizing benefits from successful city planning was a slow process, one that could take 20 years or more. The city must work along a defined timeline and include practical goals, he said, adding that he did not see those in the existing plan.

He suggested scrapping impractical goals, including the creation of an extreme sports park or splash park.

He encouraged city leaders to focus on creating visually pleasing entrances to the city along Carter Street’s east and west ends and updating code guidelines that date back to the 1970s to reflect higher standards for construction and renovation.

To illustrate his point, Barber showed slides illustrating small-town success stories that featured upgrades to gas stations, dollar stores and small restaurants that featured basic landscaping, pitched roofs and regulated color schemes.

Barber also said new protocols impact existing structures that fall below new standards.

“You can’t build to the lowest common denominator of a community,” he said.

“By implementing these guidelines, you increase property values and bring up the whole value of an area.”

Barber said the code changes he is suggesting add minimal costs to construction projects.

He said Vidalia is in a unique situation to act on its master plan because many residents own their houses, and the median income is $45,982 for the city’s population of 4,299 residents.

Mayor Hyram Copeland spoke to the group following Barber’s remarks, expressing support and enthusiasm about the city’s future.

“This has been the most informative two hours I have been a part of in a long time,” he said. “It will be hard to accomplish, but what separates us is the hard-working community we have.”

Copeland said he is ready to work with the city’s planning and code enforcement departments to implement the standards discussed this week.

He said the city is in the process of securing grant funding to build sidewalks from the bridge to the city’s municipal complex.

Copeland identified Carter Street as a priority and pointed to recent neighborhood construction that included buried power lines as an example of Vidalia’s growth that is aesthetically pleasing and comes with the benefit of creating greater value.