City DopeNews

Could the Grinch Steal the Parade of Lights?

Say what you want about the murky circumstances surrounding the de facto firing of Kathryn Lookofsky, the popular former director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority. No one can accuse new director Pamela Thompson of easing into the job.

After two months, Thompson has already set to work updating a database of downtown businesses, proposed a ticket amnesty period (keep reading for details), revamped the fee scale for game day parking, bought new parking-deck payment software, revised the ADDA’s budget and helped the downtown brewery Creature Comforts apply for a Georgia Cities Foundation revolving loan.

One agenda item at the ADDA’s Aug. 20 meeting illustrated just how tough the job can be, dealing with competing interests and personalities, red tape and issues that might seem petty to an outside observer.

The planters on College Square have been the ADDA’s bete noir since Rusty Heery’s days as chairman. After years of being unsatisfied with Athens-Clarke County’s upkeep and bickering over how to make the planters (on the same block as Heery’s dress shop) more attractive, the authority finally signed a contract with a private landscaping company to provide additional services.

That contract mysteriously expired in February, two months after the board declined to renew Lookofsky’s contract. Now Thompson will have to negotiate another intergovernmental agreement with ACC and put the contract out for bid again. “That sounds like a lot of bureaucratic mess to me,” ADDA board member and Commissioner Mike Hamby said. 

Another board member, state Rep. Regina Quick, asked whether the moss growing on the sidewalk in front of her office was part of the county’s greenspace program. It must not be, because if it were, the conservative Quick would surely fight it herself.

In spite of the progress on some fronts, not everything is running smoothly. Remember when the Athens-Clarke County Commission got rid of Fourth of July fireworks in a pique of budget cuts? Keep an eye on the ADDA’s Community Events Program.

That $60,000 pot helps to fund downtown events like the Twilight Criterium and the Hot Corner Festival. $4,000 annually goes to the Parade of Lights—which Thompson said is against the ADDA’s guidelines, because the ACC government isn’t a 501(c3) nonprofit.

Hamby and Mayor Nancy Denson, who said she “can’t think of anything that’s more worth funding,” saved the Parade of Lights for now. “They’re counting on this money, or we might be the grinch who stole the Christmas parade,” board member Brian Brodrick said.

But the board left open the possibility of defunding it next year.

Ticket Amnesty: Got any unpaid parking tickets piling up in your glovebox? Next month might be the time to take care of them.

Thompson is proposing a ticket amnesty period Sept. 9-20. During that time, people will be able to pay off their delinquent tickets without any late fees.

Once the amnesty period ends, parking officials will resume booting vehicles for unpaid tickets, a practice that was suspended after County Attorney Bill Berryman raised due-process concerns. Vehicles could be subject to booting after five unpaid tickets or $200 worth of unpaid fines.  

Drivers will have another option to get their cars un-trapped. You’ll also be able to sign a summons to Municipal Court to contest the fines. But you’d be running the risk of having to pay the fines anyway, plus additional court costs.

The ADDA board tentatively approved the amnesty period last week, and the Athens-Clarke County Commission is scheduled to vote on it Sept. 3. 

Community Gardens: The commission is also poised to allow neighborhood residents to start their own community gardens and sell some of the produce at local farmers markets.

Right now, community gardens are mainly restricted to property owned by churches, nonprofits and schools. That’s because local zoning laws prohibit commercial agriculture (as opposed to personal gardens) in most residential areas.

But the growing popularity of community gardens spurred commissioners to look at easing those restrictions. “I think there is a lot more interest than ever in community gardens,” said Kathy Hoard, who chairs the commission’s Government Operations Committee.

That committee recommended allowing gardens of up to one acre in neighborhoods across Athens. Setbacks and a ban on livestock will be in place to protect neighbors.

No one objected to the changes last Thursday, which means the commission is likely to vote Sept. 3 to instruct the county planning commission to develop an ordinance. So don’t break out your spades just yet.

“I’m sure it’s going to be massaged before it gets back to us,” Hoard said.

Historic Districts: Another GOC recommendation the full commission is considering would add another public hearing to the process for designating a historic district.

“What we found in the last designation [for the Buena Vista Heights neighborhood] was there was a lot of misinformation in the community,” Hoard said.

So before the Historic Preservation Commission even takes up a designation, planners would host a town hall meeting to distribute information about what a historic district does and does not entail. Ideally, we’ll be able to avoid the lies, distortions, threats and general un-neighborliness that accompanied the Buena Vista district—but I’m not holding my breath.

Classic Center: Commissioners Allison Wright and Jerry NeSmith had previously raised questions about Paul Cramer’s ability to pay back $5.4 million he wants to spend to buy bleachers, a scoreboard and ice equipment to start hosting arena-style events, as well as add about 200 parking spaces. Both commissioners said last Thursday they are getting the answers they wanted, paving the way for passage Sept. 3.

Broun Rowndup: Athens progressives Michael Smith and Caroline Ramsey are forming a political group called “Crush” to, well, crush Paul Broun’s U.S. Senate chances. The group will “use civil discourse and neighbor-to-neighbor conversations with swing voters statewide to counter Congressman Broun’s extremist messages and political tactics.”

An organizational meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28 at Pulaski Heights BBQ (owned by Caroline’s husband, Chuck). If agitating against Broun isn’t enough to get you out of the house, there will be a happy hour at 6 p.m., as well as drink and dinner specials.