January 16, 2013

City Pages

Downtown Master Plan Progressing

A date hasn't been set yet, but the writers of a master plan for downtown Athens are scheduling another town hall meeting next month to gather input on specific ideas.

Jack Crowley, a University of Georgia College of Environment and Design professor who is overseeing the downtown master plan, and his team of graduate students are "looking at open space, connectivity, walkability," he told the Athens Downtown Development Authority last week. Among the ideas they're tossing around: A new street grid configuration, a park in place of a stormwater detention pond at the Multimodal Transportation Center and restoring the Murmur trestle along Firefly Trail. Currently, Athens-Clarke and state Department of Transportation officials plan to bypass the trestle when they build a rails-to-trails project near Dudley Park, leaving the half-demolished landmark to further decay. 

Crowley said he will run those concepts past the master plan's steering committee for approval later this month. Then, the February town hall meeting is intended to win public support for such "big ideas," he said.

Crowley is meeting with the developers of downtown projects that are in the works or under construction, such as Selig Enterprises' Oconee Street mixed-use proposal, The Standard student apartments at Thomas Street and North Avenue, and the unnamed development slated for the SunTrust property at Broad and Hull streets. 

"I'm coordinating the downtown plan with what's been proposed, so it all meshes together nicely," he said.

The team has surveyed about 1,800 so far regarding how they want to see downtown grow and change and hopes to contact 2,000 to 3,000 people before the process is complete, Crowley said. "No other master plan that I'm aware of contacted that many people personally," he said.

In public hearings and on survey forms, Athens residents have said that a lack of greenspace and transportation options are two major challenges facing downtown. When asked at a November town hall meeting where new greenspace should be located, 33 percent of about 200 attendees said Jackson Street near Lay Park, 27 percent said City Hall, 23 percent said Firefly Trail and 10 percent said a new location, such as the Multimodal Center. Numerous people have also neglected the closing of city blocks to make way for Urban Renewal projects in the 1960s, the UGA Special Collections Library and, most recently, the Classic Center expansion.

The ADDA board also appointed members Erica Cascio and Brian Brodrick to review the job descriptions for a new executive director and parking director. Current Executive Director Kathryn Lookofsky is leaving when her contract expires in June, and Parking Director Laura Miller has also resigned. Cascio, the board's chairwoman for the past two years, said she hopes to hire a replacement for Lookofsky by May 1 to give that person time to put in notice at his current job and in case Lookofsky finds work before her contract expires. "I'd like to get it done sooner rather than later," Cascio said.

The board also elected lawyer Bill Overend as the new chairman and real estate broker Chris Blackmon as vice chairman starting in February.