The Athens-Clarke County Commission voted to table a proposal for a multi-use path along Barber Street at its Feb. 7 meeting.
Commissioners Allison Wright, Mike Hamby and Ovita Thornton said there has not been enough opportunity for public comment, because the plans have changed since the commission sent them back for revisions in 2021. They also wanted to wait until a new District 2 commissioner is in place before voting.
Hamby also said that it was hard to justify $7 million for Barber Street when his constituents in Five Points are asking for sidewalks. The Athens in Motion citizens advisory group identified Barber as a top priority, along with Prince Avenue, Jefferson River Road, Cherokee Road and Riverbend Road.
Commissioners John Culpepper, Tiffany Taylor and Dexter Fisher also voted to table the plans indefinitely, but did not give a reason.
Before the vote, two ex-commissioners spoke from behind the podium. Melissa Link, who is running for the District 2 seat, urged her former colleagues to move forward with three phases while holding off on the segment between Prince Avenue and Boulevard. There has been plenty of opportunity for public input in the four years since the project was first proposed, Russell Edwards said, and the commission should go ahead with the entire project concept so that kids can safely ride their bikes.
Before the 6–3 vote to table, Mayor Kelly Girtz implored the commission to approve the project concept, which involves three-laning the four-lane portion of Barber and removing on-street parking to create space for a 12-foot separated path for foot and bike traffic. The multi-use path emerged as the most popular option after an online survey, and doorknockers were hung at and postcards mailed to residences along the street, along with postcards mailed to landlords. The response rate was 30%, far higher than the typical 5%, according to ACC Manager Blaine Williams.
Girtz said the Barber Street project would create “a web of connectivity” between Prince Avenue and the rapidly growing Chase Street/Newton Bridge Road area, where new developments are popping up around the Chase Park Warehouses, and adaptive reuse projects like Southern Mills and General Time are turning abandoned factories into housing and entertainment districts.
Although several commissioners said they wanted more public input, tabling the project actually shuts down further opportunity to hear from the public, because staff will stop working on it. If the commission had approved the project concept, the public would have had more opportunities to comment as it moved to the engineering stage. However, the commission could have another crack at it if Girtz puts the project back on the agenda after the Mar. 21 special election.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.