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City Pages

Local “Occupy” protesters challenged the order of last week’s ACC Mayor and Commission meeting by chanting during an open comment period. Commissioners looked on glumly as a couple of protesters were escorted from the commission chamber by police. They were lectured in the hallway, then allowed to return. Later that night, police demanded the Occupiers remove their neat, side-by-side tents from City Hall grounds, where they had been camped for days; the protesters complied. A county press release said “some persons had set up six tents that blocked sidewalks”—although they were not obviously doing so—and that the decision to evict them had been made before the commission meeting.

Several Occupiers and others spoke during that meeting, questioning “the big-boxification of Athens,” as one Occupier put it, and the possible impact of a downtown Walmart on other businesses. “We have a divided community,” observed Keith Johnson, who is not affiliated with Occupy but also addressed the mayor and commission.

Commissioner Ed Robinson responded to the “accusations” of the occupiers. “This isn’t helping the cause,” he said. “There are laws that define how we run our meetings.” He chastised protesters for demanding meetings about the Selig development, yet not showing up when the development’s impact on the county’s Greenway and rail-trail plans was considered at an earlier meeting.

In a vote at the meeting, commissioners approved construction of a park-and-ride lot on Oconee Street—a project which (like the Multi-Modal Transit Center) represents Washington ideas of alternative transportation. Never a local priority, it was funded with federal “earmark” money by then-Representative Max Burns in 2003. But free money is rarely turned down by local governments, and commissioners have embraced the $2 million parking lot as useful for reducing downtown and UGA traffic, allowing Eastside commuters to park and catch buses instead. The lot will hold 223 cars, will include bicycle lockers, and will allow buses (but no other vehicles) to enter directly from the Loop. It could be finished by year’s end.

Also approved: the Athens Food Cart Festival, to be sponsored by UGA’s College of Environment and Design, which is intended to “demonstrate that there is a strong market demand for mobile food vending”—a little too strong, apparently, for some downtown restaurants, causing the Mar. 31 event to be moved two blocks up College Avenue, away from College Square. “We believe that bringing mobile food vendors downtown will attract more people… benefiting all of downtown, including the business of brick-and-mortar restaurants,” organizers wrote. But those restaurants, so far unconvinced, lobbied the Athens Downtown Development Authority (which supports the festival to the tune of $1,000) to move it away from College Square, and organizers agreed to do so.

And, commissioners approved a “small neighborhood restaurant/bar” to be operated by Hilltop Grille owner Chris Lloyd in an existing house on Milledge Avenue at Five Points. “We have received much more support than opposition” to the proposal, Commissioner Kathy Hoard said, citing Lloyd’s “outstanding track record for renovation.” Trees will be added rather than removed, and to suit concerns of neighbors, the pub will close at midnight.

Neighbor Susan Field objected that Milledge will soon start to “resemble Baxter Street,” but Hoard noted that there are few options along Milledge: neighbors don’t relish living near Greek houses, and also don’t want retail stores or more apartments—and few people can afford to buy the grand houses along Milledge as private homes.