Photo Credit: Thomas Wheatley
Sine Die: The General Assembly wrapped up for the year last Thursday without passing a sweeping gun bill that would have allowed firearms on college campuses. Nor did it pass a bill that environmentalists said would have robbed South Georgians of their water to benefit Florida and metro Atlanta. (See Capitol Impact for more details.)
An ethics bill with a loophole big enough to drive a Brink's truck full of football tickets through did pass the legislature on the session's last day. Brokered by Gov. Nathan Deal—an unlikely arbitrator, given his own well-documented ethical troubles—it includes a $75 lobbyist gift cap that's a compromise between the Senate's $100 cap and the House's total ban. But that $75 cap is per gift—a lobbyist can buy a legislator a $75 breakfast, a $75 lunch and a $75 dinner. Meals for caucuses and committees are exempt. And it doesn't apply to travel expenses, so golf junkets to St. Simons Island are still on. Sweet!
A bill also passed that would let Athens-Clarke County lift a state ban on retail beer and wine sales within 100 yards of the University of Georgia campus, with a Senate revision to ensure it applies only to grocery stores, not package stores. Thanks to our local delegation—namely Ginn and Reps. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville) and Regina Quick (R-Athens)—for setting certain previous legislators' partisanship and anti-Athens sentiment aside. Assuming Deal signs it and the ACC Commission does lift the ban (and it's already passed a resolution in support of the bill), a grocery store could locate in the proposed development in the SunTrust parking lot at Hull and Broad streets.
At press time, the Dope was still sifting through all the dopey things the legislature did, so look for more in the coming weeks.
Kiddie Chateaus: You may have wondered what's going on with the construction on East Broad Street in front of the Multimodal Center. It's Eclipse on Broad, a 32-unit, 128-bed apartment complex that Atlanta-based developer Chance Partners promises will be the "most exclusive student housing" and "the most high-end in the marketplace."
Great, just what we need, more luxury apartments downtown. The developer's description—granite countertops, designer lighting and cabinets, 42-inch flatscreens, surround sound, a freakin' water park—sounds more like a resort than a college crash pad. The rents start "in the $600s per bed, per month," as much as a lot of people's mortgages, and the same amount my roommates and I paid for a five-bedroom house in Oxford, MS, lo these many years ago (11, to be exact).
Granted, the trend of students living closer to downtown and campus, rather than on Barnett Shoals Road or Macon Highway, is good for public safety, the environment, traffic, parking and downtown businesses. That is, assuming they actually do leave their SUVs at home and walk four blocks to campus or the bar and are willing to try something local instead of frequenting the same franchises they have in Cobb County.
But most permanent Athens residents want other kinds of development downtown. When asked "what type of residential development should be encouraged," 44 percent of those surveyed for the downtown master plan said "urban professional." Twenty percent said "family," 19 percent said "workforce," (read: affordable) and 13 percent said "empty nester." Just 3 percent said "student."
At least until students move on to the most new, even most-er high-end thing, developers can make massive profits by renting individual bedrooms to affluent parents at outrageous prices. A big part of the push for a downtown master plan, as well as the discarded river district proposal, was to put in place the kind of development we want before downtown was overrun with nothing but student housing. With Eclipse on Broad joining 909 Broad and The Standard at Thomas and Dougherty streets, is it already too late?
Downtown Director: The search for a new Athens Downtown Development Authority executive director is underway. How transparent that search will be remains to be seen.
The ADDA board has called a meeting for Thursday to go behind closed doors and begin sifting through, at last count, about 85 resumés for the position. About 30 or so of those resumes warrant consideration, search committee chairman Brian Brodrick told the rest of the board last month.
Brodrick would not reveal any information about who has applied, how many applicants are local and how many are from out of town, or what kinds of qualifications they have. And the board hasn't decided whether to make any finalists public before making a decision.
Under state law, the board is allowed to keep the process under wraps, and there are valid privacy concerns with conducting it out in the open. But the public deserves a chance to scrutinize at least the finalists before someone is hired.
Meanwhile, the ADDA board filled the vacant parking director's position by hiring Chuck Horton, a former UGA police chief who'd been doing the job on an interim basis. Horton has been on a booting spree since starting in January in an effort to convince scofflaws to pay their overdue tickets and use a parking deck next time.
"You do some enforcement, but you try to do some teaching, too, to get them to go where you want them to go," he said.
Buena Vista: And so it begins. Just weeks after the ACC Commission approved a Buena Vista Historic District that was smaller than originally proposed, homebuilder Jared York has filed an application to demolish the house at 167 Park Ave., one of the properties that was removed from the district.
Public Art: By the time you're reading this, the Athens-Clarke Commission probably already approved public art for the $1.4 million SPLOST-funded Rocksprings Park pool renovation, scheduled to open in late April.
The Athens Cultural Affairs Commission recommended hiring noted local sculptor Harold Rittenberry (a lifelong Rocksprings resident), working with another respected local artist, Robert Clements, and a group of neighborhood children, to design and install a steel bench and panel on Henderson Extension.
Rittenberry's benches are very cool, and it sure beats hiring an out-of-towner. But still... $9,820 for a bench. After the jail art debacle and all the grumbling over "Nest" at the Classic Center, maybe we should revisit our public art ordinance.