Jay McAfee and F. Faison Middleton IV (from right) inspect plans for the proposed Forrester Parkway and Westover Boulevard Extensions in Lee County, while Bob Alexander, county director of planning and engineering looks on. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
LEESBURG — Lee County residents got their first look at proposed extensions to Forrester Parkway and Westover Boulevard at an open forum held at the Opal Cannon Auditorium in downtown Leesburg Thursday night.
The proposed Forrester Parkway project will begin at the intersection of Glendale Road and Creekside Drive and extend west to Oakland Library on U.S. Highway 82, creating a new, five-mile corridor that will connect U.S. Highway 82 to U.S. Highway 19. When completed, the expansion will join the part of Forrester Parkway currently open to traffic, thus creating a 10-mile connection between Philema Road and U.S. 82.
The Westover Boulevard extension will connect the current Westover Road project from Ledo Road to Fussell Road, then Fussell Road to Forrester Parkway.
Thursday night’s forum was designed to allow area residents and other interested parties an opportunity to view plan maps and direct questions to project engineers from EMC Engineering, Inc. along with Lee County planning and engineering director Bob Alexander.
“This is designed to allow folks to see what’s being proposed, ask questions and voice their concerns,” said EMC engineer and branch manager Matthew Inman. “We hope to get feedback.”
Project planners say the two road projects are designed to meet current and future traffic needs while also providing transportation for future development in the area.
“This will be a great area for future residential and commercial development,” said Inman. “It will greatly reduce travel for people throughout the county, like those who live in the Hickory Grove area and those in the Oakland area.”
Despite creating the potential for future development, the project has also created concern for residents and landowners who will be impacted by the expansions.
Jay McAfee, whose family owns Fowltown Farms which lies on the western side of the Kinchafoonee Creek, said he was concerned not only about the impact this will have on the farming operation, but also how it will impact the environment.
According to McAfee, the portion of the project that will run through his property could damage what he calls, “critical habitat and wildlife.”
“There’s imminent wetland destruction with the route they’ve proposed,” said McAfee. “There’s a lot of environmental issues. They have to prove to me that it’s environmentally and fiscally responsible (to do this). So far, they haven’t.”
According to the proposed plan, once the extension crosses the Kinchafoonee to the east, it will connect to Glendale Road, which was originally designed with an 80 foot right of way so it could serve as a potential traffic collection point for future expansions.
Residents who currently live along that road and also those who live on Creekside Drive, which runs along the creek, voiced their concerns about impact to their neighborhood. Those along Glendale, already concerned about traffic and speeding, were adamant that once Forrester crosses the Kinchafoonee and connects to the existing road, things will only get worse.
“We’ve already got a racetrack. Now we’re getting a super speedway,” said one resident who asked to remain unnamed. “We’re going from Bristol to Talladega.”
Residents on Creekside voiced additional concerns about noise and pollution, as well as the potential for crime brought by transients who might loiter under the proposed bridge.
“If you look at every bridge around here you see vagrants,” said one concerned resident. “I don’t want vagrants in my back yard.”
When faced with the concerns of the different parties, Inman, who is a Lee County resident, said it was a difficult task to try and balance the positive benefits of the project against the negative.
“The hardest part of this is that there are real concerns,” Inman said. “We understand there’s concerns. There’s no way we can make it suitable for everyone. Unfortunately, the road has to go somewhere.”
At this stage the project has not been finalized and the Lee County Board of Commissioners still has to vote to approve it. Officials are planning a second public forum before they proceed with a vote.
A date has not yet been set for the next forum. The next scheduled commission meeting is set for Nov. 12 at 6 pm.