An upcoming streetscape project will drastically change downtown Athens. You can learn more at a drop-in public forum from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at the Dougherty Street government building.
The first phase of the $7 million SPLOST project will involve replacing water mains, building a stormwater drainage system, repairing sewers and possibly upgrading private utilities like power, cable and Internet as well, according to project manager Derek Doster.
Once the digging is done, sidewalks along Clayton, Jackson and Wall streets will be redone and spruced up with new benches, lighting and plantings.
But based on a presentation at an Athens-Clarke County Commission work session Tuesday night, some of the improvements are bound to be controversial.
The oak and ginko trees along Clayton Street are nearing the end of their lifespan and will not survive the construction, ACC Landscape Management Administrator Roger Cauthen said. They will have to be replaced with four-inch-wide, 10- to 12-foot tall trees of a yet-to-be-determined species, he said.
County officials want to "bump out" street corners to create room for more benches and trash and recycling receptacles. They also want to steepen the angle of parking spaces in order to widen the sidewalks along Clayton Street. That would mean losing 29 on-street parking spaces, which never sits well with downtown merchants.
Solid Waste officials also floated a plan to change how trash and recycling are collected downtown. Rather than simply leave bags on the sidewalk for pickup, businesses would be required to place their bags in roll carts and pull them to enclosures on the bumped-out street corners. Officials said the system would help solve odor and cleanliness problems downtown, but commissioners were skeptical of whether it would work, not to mention the aesthetics.
The commission is scheduled to vote on the streetscape plan in November. Work would start in January and run until August—when it would pause so businesses are not inconvenienced during football season—then pick back up again in January 2015.