The Georgia Department of Transportation acknowledges that many residents of Macons Pleasant Hill neighborhood had cause for anger half a century ago when Interstate 75 split their community.
But now, as planners work on widening the interstate -- and mitigating the impact of that project on Pleasant Hill in particular -- state officials say they want to be as sensitive as possible to the community.
Its not the 1960s anymore, said Jeff Dickerson of Enviro-Resolution, a firm working with the state to plan the mitigation. We want to be open, we want to be transparent.
He and state DOT representatives met Monday with The Telegraphs editorial board.
Its always a challenge in Macon to deal with old suspicions in Pleasant Hill, so the DOT is reaching out to area clergy, political figures and longtime residents, seeking their involvement in neighborhood improvements, said Karlene Barron, state DOT communications director.
Altogether about $10 million is going into work in Pleasant Hill, not counting the actual road construction, Dickerson said. How to use that money is being decided in conjunction with the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Improvement Group.
The state plans to move 26 houses to now-vacant lots and renovate them. Owner-occupants can opt to sell out -- in which case the houses will be moved anyway, renovated and resold -- or they can move back into the same houses in a new location, still in Pleasant Hill, Dickerson said.
The state will pay to move those owners out, fully refurbish the houses with new appliances, new systems, all that stuff, pay their rent elsewhere in the meantime, then move them back in, he said.
This would happen at no expense to the occupants, Dickerson said.
Six people are eligible for that offer, said project manager Clinton Ford.
The other 20 houses are rentals, which will be moved and renovated as well, Dickerson said. The state also offers some benefits for current renters who would be displaced, he said.
If owner-occupants opt to sell, theyll get really generous offers of other houses elsewhere in Macon -- probably four or five times the appraised value of Pleasant Hill houses, Dickerson said.
Youre basically talking about an upgrade, he said.
Two new linear parks will serve as buffers between houses and the interstate, and one of those is expected to be the site of a community resource center for the neighborhood, Dickerson said. The state is negotiating to buy the childhood home of Little Richard Penniman, one of the houses slated to be moved, though its not in the widened roads actual path, he said.
Little Richard was born in Macon in 1932, and became a rock pioneer with his classic hit Tutti Frutti, recorded at age 23. For a while he lived in the house at 1540 Fifth Ave., which is now a rental property owned by Andre Coquerel.
Other work in the neighborhood includes replacing the chain-link barrier with solid sound and sight buffers, Dickerson said. Residents can help choose their appearance, he said. The pedestrian bridge over the interstate will be rebuilt, with better lighting and without its sharp corners, Dickerson said. An open culvert will be covered, and streets for blocks around are expected to get new asphalt, sidewalks, landscaping and lighting. Actual road construction isnt scheduled to begin until 2018 at the earliest.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.