For decades, it was Lithonia’s raison d’etre and the 83-acre quarry area could once again be an economic engine for the south DeKalb city.
“Since the quarry was the economic heart of Lithonia and the reason why the city was here, we propose bringing it back to be the driver of economic growth again,” said Allison Bane, one of a group of Georgia Tech students working with Blueprints for Successful Communities, a program of the Georgia Conservancy that helps communities promote growth.
The concept for the revitalized quarry is a mixed-use development with guided tours showcasing the history and nature of the site, and a network of walking and bicycling paths connecting proposed parks. The ideas include residential developments overlooking the quarry, community gardens, dog parks and an inn.
“I think everybody is stunned,” said Mary Ann Cowan, a fifth generation Lithonian, who has lived there for 74 years. “To us Lithonians, it’s just a big rock.”
Most of the residents at the meeting said they had never been to the now-closed quarry, which is just a short walk from the city’s downtown area.
The re-purposed quarry was one the ideas put forth by the Blueprints group during a community meeting on Nov. 21.
One of the goals of the students was to “find some things that are already here, especially those things that are unique to Lithonia that would turn it into a destination,” said Katherine Moore, program manager of the Blueprints for Successful Communities program.
And the quarry fits that bill, she said.
“It’s a really significant asset…as a redevelopment tool,” Moore said.
Since July, the Georgia Tech team, under the direction of Georgia Tech professor of architecture and urban design Ellen Dunham-Jones, has been walking around town with notepads and cameras, studying the town. Their work is a part of Blueprints, which has a $50,000 price tag that was paid by funds from a community development block grant, the Arabia Mountain Heritage Alliance and the city of Lithonia.
“We can now see the fruits of the efforts of the students,” said Deborah Jackson, Lithonia’s mayor-elect.
In addition to the quarry redevelopment, the Blueprints group presented a concept for an improved downtown Lithonia area.
“It has a lot of really good bones to it,” said Georgia Tech student Phil Schaeffing. “There are some great old buildings there.”
But the area also has some problems, most notably the Lithonia Plaza in the center of the city. Once it was a pedestrian-friendly street grid with several buildings, including a fire station, churches and the train depot. Now the plaza, considered an eyesore to many residents, is home to a Wayfield Foods grocery store and several retail stores. A large part of the plaza is owned by the city of Lithonia and contains vacant, rundown buildings.
To reinvigorate downtown Lithonia, the Blueprints group suggested tearing down part of the plaza, establishing a farmers market fed by a community farm in the plaza, and moving the Lithonia City Hall to the center. The group suggested extending Stone Mountain Street to Main Street to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.
“Lithonia has the potential to be a very vibrant, very active downtown,” Schaeffing said.
While all these concepts have no associated development funds now, Lithonia residents will soon get some tangible examples of what some of the improvements would be like. The Georgia Tech students will make Main Street more bicycle-friendly by painting temporary bike signs on the road to direct cyclists and remind drivers to share the road.
Temporary historical markers, story-telling benches and outdoor cafes will also be set up by the students in the next couple of weeks, said Georgia Tech student Jacob Davis.
“We’ve been looking at what we can do right now,” Davis said.
Moore said that when the final community master plan is developed and released to Lithonia residents by February, the process will not be over.
“The real hard work begins then,” Moore said. “Then it’s time for them to become real and for the community to put its sweat and time and energy and effort into [implanting the plans].”