October 9, 2014

Athens-Clarke County Might Reroute the Greenway

Greenway web.jpg

Photo Credit: Blake Aued

The North Oconee River Greenway near College Avenue.

Members of the Oconee Rivers Greenway Commission voted unanimously Tuesday not to build a planned greenway trail thru the River Oaks neighborhood, near the University of Georgia golf course off College Station Road.  

A long-planned extension of the present greenway from Oconee Street southward was slated to follow the river only part of the way anyway toward Whitehall Road, departing from the river to eventually become a roadside path along Milledge Avenue. But a branch of the trail would have continued through the River Oaks subdivision. That plan has upset some residents over the years.

The route was never definite, pending negotiations with property owners, but was expected to be an on-street path rather than running along the river, since the river trail was not popular with adjacent homeowners. Athens-Clarke County has never forced property owners to sell land for a greenway, but depended instead on voluntary negotiations.  

The Greenway Commission's recommendation—which will ultimately be decided by ACC commissioners on Nov. 4—comes at the conclusion of a months-long update of the greenway plans that will guide trail planning and construction for the next decade. Some seven public hearings had been held on those plans in the past two years.  

But at the request of ACC Commissioner Kathy Hoard last month, county staffers reluctantly revised greenway maps to remove the River Oaks trail. Hoard said one River Oaks resident had been "virtually in tears," believing he would lose part of his front yard—despite the fact that no specific routes had been designated and no owner would be forced to sell.  

At last week's "emergency" meeting to consider the change, ACC Commissioner Jerry NeSmith told the Greenway Commission that—if it voted to keep the River Oaks trail in its plans—county commissioners would probably reverse its decision. Greenway Commission members (some of whom believed the neighborhood was generally opposed) said they wanted to see greenway plans move forward without alienating nearby residents.  "It can sidetrack the whole greenway if you don't listen to peoples' concerns," Elizabeth Little told Flagpole.  

Over a dozen miles of new trails remain in the greenway plans

• extending the present Greenway north along the river to Newton Bridge Road.

• building the Firefly Trail along former railroad tracks to Winterville.

• building the first phase of the proposed North Middle Oconee River Greenway, which would extend along that branch of the river in both directions from Ben Burton Park (north to the train trestle and south to historic bridge abutments on the river), plus a side trail through the county's historic 80-acre Beech Haven property off Atlanta Highway.   

Canoe access facilities would also be built on the North Oconee. And several shorter connecting trails (likely to be built first) would run between existing trails or between trails and downtown Athens.