Downtown Deliveries: Athens Downtown Development Authority officials think they've found a solution to the delivery trucks that clog up Clayton and Washington streets because downtown Athens lacks alleys. After hearing from business owners, beer distributors and county officials Tuesday, May 13, they're leaning toward restricting deliveries to 3 a.m.–11 a.m. and setting up loading zones on less-busy Jackson Street and College Avenue for when deliveries have to be made at other times.
The idea of requiring deliveries to be made in the morning has been floated before, but bar owners opposed it because they or their managers would have to wake up just a few hours after closing to accept the deliveries. However, local beer distributors have said they're willing to deliver right after the bars close, according to ADDA Executive Director Pamela Thompson.
No bar owners came to the work session, although Thompson said they were notified. She and parking director Chuck Horton will issue a report in June that Mayor Nancy Denson will then pass along to the Athens-Clarke County Commission. So, bar owners, you might want to take note and go to the next ADDA meeting.
Downtown master plan czar Jack Crowley has suggested a staging area near the Classic Center where trucks could unload onto golf carts to make deliveries, but distributors raised concerns about the time that delivery method would take and the safety of transporting heavy kegs that way. (My advice? Hire Matthew Stafford.)
Downtown Trash: Another perennial issue is downtown's funk, and I ain't talking about The HEAP. Officials think they have an answer for that, too.
ACC Solid Waste currently picks up downtown trash three times a day—once in the afternoon, once after restaurants close and again after bars close. While customers aren't supposed to put trash bags out more than an hour before pickup, they often do, so those bags sit out in the sun leaking an unholy mixture of beer backwash and Lord knows what else onto the sidewalk. As with deliveries, Athens' lack of alleys comes into play here, too—there is nowhere to put rollcarts. Solid Waste proposed "trash corrals" on downtown street corners last year, but commissioners quickly rejected the idea.
Department director Jim Corley is now recommending continuous pickup downtown. He wants to buy two mini-garbage trucks that could easily navigate downtown streets and run them throughout the area constantly. The trucks and two compactors would cost $315,000, which Corley asked commissioners last week to include in ACC's fiscal 2015 budget. (That budget, incidentally, will be discussed at the commission's Thursday, May 22 agenda-setting meeting.)
Of course, bags would still be lying out for some period of time, leading Commissioner Andy Herod to ask whether we should use stronger bags. The ones we use now are very high quality, Corley responded—not that it makes a difference. "When you have a busted beer bottle in the bag, it doesn't matter how strong it is, it'll tear," he said.
Downtown Master Plan: Jack Crowley's master plan calls for infill development on surface parking lots and vacant property. The ADDA is taking the first step toward developing underutilized land by asking developers to submit plans for county-owned land downtown. Crowley has suggested offering developers long-term leases, rather than selling public property outright, which would allow us to be very picky about finding just the right project while also providing a steady revenue stream.
Affordable Housing: The ACC Commission is set to award the Athens Land Trust $274,650 in federal HOME grants to renovate six houses on Waddell Street to rent out to low-income tenants and build another house that will be sold to a first-time homebuyer. Commissioners George Maxwell and Kathy Hoard, who represent that area, praised the land trust for revitalizing a neighborhood scarred by burned-out buildings, vacant lots and vagrants. "The Athens Land Trust is changing the face of that neighborhood for the better," Hoard said.
The grants are also a sign that interim director Rob Trevena is righting the ship at the ACC Housing and Community Development Department. The East Athens Development Corporation, which has had other issues in the past and recently defaulted on a grant, leading to a slap on the wrist from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is no longer an approved recipient for HOME grants. And HCD is finally spending $187,000 in grants that it had been sitting on for years and would lose if they're not committed by July.
Smile!: Another issue the commission will be considering at its Thursday, May 22 agenda-setting meeting is adding more video cameras downtown. Currently, downtown has 16 surveillance cameras that are monitored from 11 p.m.–4 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. The cameras record images 24/7 (the tapes are purged after five days). Since downtown has grown with all the new student housing developments, police want to spend $150,000 on more cameras, which Chief Jack Lumpkin describes as a "force multiplier" that helps identify witnesses and suspects without hiring additional officers. Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous in pretty much every city these days, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone raised privacy issues.
ACCTV: Charter cable is switching to an all-digital format, so effective June 10, the government-access station will be moving from channel 7 to 180. Keep that in mind if you're a fan of watching Mayor Nancy Denson stumble and bumble her way through running meetings. Which commissioner's name will she forget this time? Tune in to find out.