Canton Street business owners ask for delay in road closure, say trust is broken



Roswell wants to partially close the road to cars on summer weekends.

Roswell Mayor Kurt Wilson and Canton Street business owners remain at an impasse on a proposed partial closure of the road to vehicular traffic.

During a second contentious meeting at City Hall, this one on Tuesday, Wilson apologized for not informing the public about an initiative to transform Canton into a pedestrian promenade. He received a gamut of pushback as well as questions about overall transparency.

“Canton Street businesses do not support this project, which jeopardizes millions (of dollars) of our investment in the historic district for no apparent reason,” said business owner Ryan Pernice.

Residents have learned through their own open records requests for city emails that the mayor has been working to close a portion of Canton Street since at least March. Wilson informed the public two weeks ago in a Facebook video that he was considering the road closure.

“The fact that we are in a room ... with people that are unhappy, this constitutes to me a major setback,” Wilson said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The mayor has wanted to close Canton to vehicular traffic from Highway 9/Magnolia Street to East Alley including Elizabeth Way on summer weekends.

Restaurant and shop owners say the district is in need of adequate parking and they worry that closing Canton Street would deter visitors resulting in a decrease in business revenue.

Wilson held Tuesday’s meeting to address parking and public safety concerns. He was joined by City Administrator Randy Knighton and other officials who presented an overview on parking access that would be available for people with disabilities, and ridesharing vehicles.

Police Chief James Conroy said 22 cameras currently located throughout the dining district would continue to assist with public safety.

Restaurant owners figure they would not be able to add outdoor tables in the front of their establishments if Canton Street becomes a pedestrian promenade. Fire Chief Joe Pennino told them that the curb lanes would have to be left open for emergency vehicles.

Some in attendance told Wilson that he broke their trust by leaving the public out of discussions on the proposed road changes and accused the mayor of lacking transparency.

“… You have broken the trust of everyone,” Kelly Smith-Blacha, co-owner of Roswell Provisions said. “If we want to move forward it’s going to take a lot to get there.

“I’m thrilled that you want to discuss it now. You needed to be discussing it for months…its dirty, dirty from the start.”

The mayor said he took issue with the characterization.

“I think I’ve taken ownership. My bad,” Wilson said. “That’s my mistake ... It wasn’t corruptible. It wasn’t like let me get past these guys. Let me outsmart them.”

Individual residents, and separately the Facebook group Roswell Truth, have obtained Wilson’s emails over the past year.

Some of those email documents provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show the mayor or staff has been consulting with a local firm on concepts for the closure, and a second design firm is mentioned. The mayor cc’d Councilmembers Lee Hills, Will Morthland, Christine Hall and Mike Palermo on some of those emails excluding Councilmembers Sarah Beeson and Peter Vanstrom.

Neither Wilson nor staff have provided a response to emailed questions from the AJC regarding possible fees paid to consultants working on the Canton Street closure, and the reason for not keeping all six council members informed.

“It’s frustrating when I’m an elected official just trying to do my job and I find out there’s email communication with a quorum of council members and I’m not included, especially with an issue like this,” Beeson said on Friday.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Jenna Aronowitz, owner of 1920 Tavern, asked for plans for the partial road closure be put on hold until August.

“Let us get through our summer...,” Aronowitz said, adding that August is a slow time for the local businesses. “... Then let’s sit down and make a plan that benefits the city, that benefits the citizens and that benefits the business owners.”

Wilson didn’t say if he would agree to the request, but has said the road closure would have to be voted on by City Council before implemented.

The mayor asked the business owners and residents to attend an informal meeting with the full City Council from 8 a.m.-noon on Friday at East Roswell Park Recreation Center, 9000 Fouts Road.