BlogIn the LoopNews

Commissioners Tackle Normaltown Parking, Downtown Beautification, Airport Expansion, Leisure Services

Commissioner Jerry NeSmith.

It’s unclear if Athens-Clarke County commissioners can do anything about a parking deck (with a medical office attached) in Normaltown that would triple the traffic on narrow, winding, residential Yonah Avenue. But several of them are pushing to revise zoning and building codes so the situation doesn’t happen again.

About a half-dozen Normaltown and Boulevard residents turned out Tuesday night to ask commissioners to do something to revise plans for the deck to redirect at least some traffic onto Prince Avenue. They asked that county officials consider how 800 cars a day leaving the deck will affect traffic not only on Yonah, but on Park Avenue, with its wonky intersection, and Satula Avenue, which is narrow, often backed up and crowded with parked cars already.

“I don’t understand how we can do a traffic impact analysis and not consider the impact of traffic on neighborhoods. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Commissioner Jerry NeSmith said at the voting meeting. “It’s unfortunate we don’t have the building codes, the zoning codes in place to protect against this sort of thing. 

“I wonder, why won’t the developer listen and collaborate? Why can’t we as elected officials and staff cause the development to proceed in a way that considers its traffic impact on its neighbors?”

Neither residents nor commissioners (nor Flagpole) have been able to get in touch with John Barrett, the developer.

“I have great sympathy for the people on Yonah, and I think it’s outrageous the developer will not speak to the residents,” said Commissioner Andy Herod, who offered to write him a letter urging him to meet with neighbors.

Barrett is under no obligation to negotiate with the neighborhood, since he can build the project by right under the current zoning code.

“If there’s nothing in our code to prevent something like this from moving forward as is, then we need to change our code,” Commissioner Melissa Link said.

ACC is not investing in the infrastructure needed to support growth, such as the pedestrian safety measures recommended by a recent Georgia Department of Transportation safety audit, Link said.

Parking Revenue

The commission also approved a new parking-services contract with the Athens Downtown Development Authority that will pay the ADDA 20 percent of parking revenue to enforce parking laws and run two city-owned decks, up from 15 percent.

The additional $55,000 will be earmarked for revolving loans for small businesses, grants to improve building facades, landscaping, wayfinding signs and public art, said Commissioner Mike Hamby, who also serves on the ADDA board. A list of specific projects will be provided annually.

Leisure Services

Hamby also asked Mayor Nancy Denson to include in her fiscal 2016 budget—set to be released in a few weeks—a plan to split the Leisure Services Department into three departments overseeing recreation, arts and natural resources.

NeSmith, Link, Herod and commissioners Allison Wright, Jared Bailey, Kelly Girtz, Sharyn Dickerson and Diane Bell said they support at least considering the idea. 

Commissioner Harry Sims, though, said splitting up the department—which was combined during unification in 1991—would lead to duplication.

“All of a sudden, we start talking about a lot of people being added to the employment of Athens-Clarke County,” he said.

Airport Expansion

The commission also approved a new commercial terminal at Athens-Ben Epps Airport. The $4.5 million SPLOST-funded terminal was originally supposed to be located off Lexington Road, but was moved to a less visible location on the north side of the airport due to lack of funding and the loss of commercial air service last year.

County officials said they’re in talks with several airlines. If enplanements top 10,000 per year, federal funding will allow ACC to build another commercial terminal on the south side of the airport, with the new terminal repurposed, according to the Airport Authority.

A motion by NeSmith mandated that the ACC Economic Development Department also be involved in efforts to woo an airline, in addition to the Airport Authority.