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Residents will live, work, play in development

Vidalia — The City of Vidalia’s proposed village center  will be built using the philosophy of “new urbanism,” requiring high density development of retail and residential space.

Conceptual plans for the 65-acre proposal — labeled The Square on Carter — were presented at the Concordia Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon Tuesday.

“It has got commercial, it has retail, it has office, it has residential, community and parks, everything rolled into one, where you can live, shop and dine all in one area,” Concordia Economic Development Director Heather Malone said.

“The way we are going to do it will be eye-catching. (Passers-through) are going to want to stop here, and they are going to have something to stop for.”

Consultant Laurence Leyens said the concept of new urbanism is popular in Europe, where real estate can be scarce.

“The idea is, ‘I live, work and play where I can walk,’” he said.

Cities were traditionally arranged to operate that way, Leyens said, but urban sprawl post-World World II changed that.

Malone said adopting the new master plan that includes The Square on Carter is a “smart growth plan.”

“It is stepping away from what we have done in the past by stepping away from U.S. 84 for development,” she said.

“We know we are going to be built out soon, so we are wanting to make sure we can take advantage of every city acre we can take advantage of. This also opens up more traffic on Logan Sewell Drive, which means we can market it for future growth as well.”

The proposal is meant to help Vidalia further develop its sense of place while best using what real estate is available most effectively, Leyens said, and if it moves forward it will be part of a broader overhaul of Vidalia’s development codes.

“What I’ve found is this place is fantastic and (residents) don’t know it, and they have no zoning to realize it,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody, and they do their own thing.”

Leyens said The Square on Carter is still only in the conceptual stage and is listed step No. 23 in the comprehensive plan.

“I have to do due diligence on the viability of the market to sustain such a development,” Leyens said. “It is just an idea we are working on.”

Malone said the due diligence process for the plan includes approaching the state bond commission about how the project will be financed, working with property owners to see if they are willing to sell and completing engineering studies, among other things.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said consultants have not been hired for the project.

At the close of the presentation, Copeland said recent reports questioning if the proposal is trying to influence the location of Riverland Medical Center are incorrect.

Riverland has commissioned two studies to determine the best course of action for the 50-year-old, parish-owned hospital in future planning. Hospital officials said the first study was not in-depth enough to aid the long-term decision making process, prompting the commissioning of the second study.

Possibilities previously discussed about the future of Riverland — though not finalized — include renovating, rebuilding or relocating the Ferriday campus.

“We will accept anybody coming to Vidalia, we are not going to tell anybody, ‘No,’” Copeland said. “The board of directors (of the hospital) are the ones who will make the decision.”

The plan would also include updating the city’s sign ordinance, codes requiring landscaping and redevelopment of older properties over time, Malone said.

The city’s code was top-of-the-line when it was developed in the 1970s, but it is now outdated and won’t attract new interest, Leyens said.

“Developers want to know, ‘If I build a beautiful, $8 million hotel, will it have tires stacked next to it?’” he said. “Will there be real code enforcement?”