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State of City highlights accomplishments in 2013

After being sworn in for his fifth term in office Thursday night, Conyers Mayor Randy Mills delivers the 2013 State of the City Address at Cherokee Run Golf Club (Staff photo: Alice Queen)

After being sworn in for his fifth term in office Thursday night, Conyers Mayor Randy Mills delivers the 2013 State of the City Address at Cherokee Run Golf Club (Staff photo: Alice Queen)

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Conyers Police Department Sgt. Greg Carson, left, and Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson, right, stand with Cpl. Shyra Hardwick, who was honored during Thursday’s State of the City Address for her work with CPD’s Shop with a Cop program. Shop with a Cop in Conyers was first headed up by Carson, who passed the reins to Hardwick when he was deployed to serve with the military overseas. (Staff photo: Alice Queen)

CONYERS — In its 160-year history, Conyers has maintained its tradition of being a place where people want to live, work and play, said city leaders during the annual State of City Address.

At the event held Thursday night at Cherokee Run Golf Club, Mayor Randy Mills spoke on the theme, “Grounded in Tradition, Growing for Generations,” pointing out that on Feb. 16, the city of Conyers will mark its 160th year.

“Many things have changed over time,” he said. “Grocery stores and brothels no longer line the streets of Olde Town Conyers. Instead, you see antique stores, restaurants, attorney’s offices and hair salons.”

Olde Town has also become a magnet for the television and film industry. As a result of the filming of the television show, “The Originals,” which is a spin-off of the show “Vampire Diaries,” Olde Town now has the look of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

The filming of the television show and other feature films prompted the city this year to adopt a film policy.

“The policy sets the tone for working with industry representatives that have a desire to film in our community,” said Councilman Vince Evans during his report on the work done in 2013 by the Economic Development and Arts committees.

Olde Town was once the only commercial district in Conyers, but with the construction of Interstate 20, the city now has about 10 economic development nodes, including West Avenue, Ga. Highway 138, Salem Gate shopping center and Dogwood Drive, the mayor said.

Proactive zoning laws are crucial for continued growth in the city, said Councilman John Fountain in his remarks summarizing the work of the Community Development Committee that he chairs.

Fountain said that while many developers do a lot of good work and most businesses add value to the community, there are some who are only interested in making a “quick buck” or are magnets for criminal activity.

Zoning laws, he said, are “the first line of defense to keep Conyers a place people want to live, work and play.”

Fountain outlined some of the development activity that took place in the city in 2013, including the approval of the 308-acre mixed-use Four A International development that will break ground in the area of Flat Shoals Road, Johnson Road and Iris Drive, near the current Corner Market development on Flat Shoals and Parker roads.

He pointed out that the city has updated development standards that regulate the exterior aesthetics of buildings. In addition, the city has taken steps to expedite the issuance of business licenses to customers and to adjust code enforcement hours to include weekends and evenings.

Fountain said more amendments will be made in 2014 to the Olde Town Overlay District.

The Georgia International Horse Park continued to be a draw to the community in 2013, said Chris Bowen, who chairs the horse park committee for the City Council. In addition to its normal slate of festivals, like the Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival and Big Haynes Creek Wildlife Festival, the horse park was the site for the Great Bull Run and the Great Miller Lite Chili and BBQ Cook-Off this fall. The North Georgia Live Steamers also celebrated its grand opening by opening its 2 miles of train tracks for children to ride through the horse park.

Councilman Gerald Hinesley pointed out that the city continued to work within the annual budget. In a move to save on expenses, the city transferred residential and commercial sanitation services to Pratt Recycling in September, moving some of the city’s staff to become employees of Pratt.

Special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, dollars were used for some roads projects, including the Sarasota Parkway and East Park Drive intersection. The widening of Railroad Street and improvements to Irwin Bridge Road are expected to be completed in 2014, he said.

Keeping roads and citizens safe continued to be a top priority for the city’s law enforcement, said Councilman Cleveland Stroud. He said the installation of a new camera system from Iron Sky has been “invaluable in helping the city place cameras in parking areas and on businesses in the Dogwood Drive corridor,” he said.

Stroud added that some people raised concerns that the cameras were like “Big Brother” watching.

“Big Brother is watching you to keep ‘Little Brother’ from robbing you,” he quipped.

Stroud also pointed out that the Conyers Police Department has mounted a license plate reader on a patrol car that has helped officers locate missing or wanted persons and stolen vehicles, and has stepped up enforcement of its curfew ordinance.

Mayor Mills wrapped up the State of the City Address by pointing out the hard work city employees and officials do each day.

“We recognize that fine print details could mean the difference between a family relocating here or moving elsewhere, or the difference between a corporation passing us by or choosing to invest and expand operations in this community,” he said.