Meet the New Boss(es): Two new Athens-Clarke commissioners, Allison Wright and Jerry NeSmith, were sworn in last Wednesday, and NeSmith wasted no time getting down to business. The former planning commissioner brokered a compromise between a developer and residents of the Creekside Manor subdivision over a proposed fast-food restaurant at the neighborhood's entrance across Highway 78 from the Caterpillar plant. Well, it won't be a fast-food restaurant anymore. After some confusion that required a brief break, the commission approved a rezoning from residential to commercial, along with a set of restrictions on uses, hours and lighting that all sides said they can live with. It's an auspicious start for NeSmith, who has replaced Ed Robinson representing the Atlanta Highway area. (Wright succeeds Alice Kinman in the Five Points-centric District 4.)
Commissioner Mike Hamby will serve as mayor pro tem this year—helping Mayor Nancy Denson craft the budget, and representing the city and running meetings when she can't be there—after two years of Commissioner Andy Herod serving in that role. "I'm glad the reign of terror is over," Hamby said.
Planning Ahead: Downtown Athens will have about 1,500 more beds in a few years than it does now, most of them likely filled by college students. What will happen to the places where those students live now? Commissioner Kelly Girtz wants answers.
"I think we've all seen the burgeoning development in the downtown core, and, I think, to a large degree, that's a good thing, given that we've got students living in close proximity to the university, so we're seeing environmental benefits," Girtz said. "We're certainly going to see public safety benefits as a result of all this development. But at the same time, we have to ask the question of what does this mean for outlying areas, and what does this mean for existing multi-family-zoned areas?"
It would be nice to see the commission try to get out in front of an issue for once. All too often, especially when it comes to development, ACC is reacting to something that's already in the works, like the Selig development downtown, and so they're behind the eight ball from the beginning. Grappling with what to do with the inevitable vacant suburban apartment complexes now, well before anyone moves into a new building downtown, is a smart move. As commissioners will find if they move forward with the study Girtz has requested, there are plenty of tax and zoning incentives out there for redevelopment.
Go West, Old Man: U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, 66, was among a dozen Republican congressmen to oppose keeping John Boehner as House speaker. Broun cast his vote for Allen West, a one-term Florida Republican who lost his re-election bid in November. (Apparently, speakers don't have to be members of Congress. They can pick any old yahoo off the street!) Broun cited Boehner's failure to get a fiscal cliff deal that cut spending. He did not mention a proclivity the tea party darling West shares with Broun: calling Democrats Nazis and Communists.
Voting against Boehner for speaker would prove very useful if one were to, say, challenge a more moderate GOP senator in a primary. Like—just to throw a name out there—Saxby Chambliss.
But it won't do Broun much good in the House. After the new Congress was sworn in, he reintroduced legislation to ban abortion and audit the Federal Reserve. Guess how far Boehner will let those bills get.
Help Stacey-Marie: Local artist, photographer and musician Stacey-Marie Piotrowski was hit by a pickup truck while riding her bike on Talmadge Drive Dec. 19. The driver, Matthew Brian Andrews, 29, blew slightly over the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.08 percent and was charged with DUI, according to ACC police.
Piotrowski suffered severe injuries, will be out of work for some time and is uninsured, so she needs help with medical bills and living expenses. Her friend Serra Ferguson has set up a page at Youcaring.com to take donations and had raised $2,363 as of press time. (Here's the link.) Ferguson is also looking for a nonprofit to donate a car because Piotrowski won't be able to ride a bike—her primary mode of transportation—for a while due to her injuries.
Pardon Our Progress: Some of you may have noticed that we launched a new version of Flagpole.com over the holidays. It's not quite ready for prime time yet, but when it is, Music Editor Gabe Vodicka and I have lots of cool stuff planned, so stay tuned. If you have any bright ideas (or death threats or whatever) send 'em to email@example.com, tweet me, hit me up on Facebook or, if you're really old-fashioned, pick up the phone. No telegrams, smoke signals or carrier pigeons, please.