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Proposed trail behind homes is safety concern to residents

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2007

A proposed greenway project along Euchee Creek has some residents in the Stratford subdivision seeing red.

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About 50 Stratford homeowners met Jan. 11 with county officials and trail planners, expressing their displeasure with a possible route of the proposed trail.

The master plan for the Euchee Creek greenway project calls for a biking and walking trail to stretch several miles from Chamblin Road near Interstate 20 north to Riverside Park on Hardy McManus Road. County leaders want to build a portion of the trail on a narrow skirt of county-owned land between the creek and dozens of homes along Barnsley Drive.

At the meeting, nearly every resident who spoke said they did not want the trail so close to their homes for fear it might invite crime and harm the environment.

Amy Anderson, a Barnsley Drive resident and mother of two, said her home is only 38 feet from the water's edge, and with state law requiring a 25-foot wetlands buffer, a trail behind her home would be within 13 feet of her back door.

"I won't let my children play in a yard with a path that might link registered sex offenders to my back yard," she said.

Others in attendance agreed with Anderson, saying the trail would invite vandalism and sexual predators into a neighborhood they say is virtually crime-free. Some residents said they doubted the Columbia County Sheriff's Office could devote enough resources to guarantee the safety of their children or protect property were the trail built.

Representatives of The Jaeger Co., a Gainesville, Ga. firm tapped to design the project, cited 1995-96 FBI statistics that show greenways tend to have low crime rates. Greenways, they said, can increase property values and also rank high as an amenity with prospective home buyers surveyed by the National Association of Realtors and Homebuilders.

Some homeowners, however, said the crime statistics were dated and increased property values were trumped by their children's safety.

Barry Smith, the community and leisure services director for the county, said the greenway is in its preliminary stages and planners will consider all possible routes for the trail.

"We want y'all to be happy, and we want y'all to embrace this greenway," Smith said.

Preston Duffie, the county's forester and coordinator of greenspace, said a completed master plan is still several months away with construction as many as 15 years down the road.



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