The ‘T’ in T-SPLOST Stands for ‘Transformative’
From flagpole.com – 13 December 2017
Congratulations to the people of Athens-Clarke County for the overwhelming support of T-SPLOST on the November ballot. Not only did the measure pass by a nearly 3-1 margin, it passed in every precinct in every district. The T-SPLOST vote represents a conscious decision by voters to make a substantial investment in bike/pedestrian infrastructure, which will in and of itself be transformational for Athens-Clarke County. That every project is estimated to be completed within six-and-a-half years means that we will see actual results while we can still remember the vote!
I would like to applaud the T-SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee, the mayor and commissioners, staff and citizens of Athens-Clarke for a job well done; and to also make the point that the transformational aspect can easily be magnified as we move ahead.
During a recent edition of “Athens News Matters,” T-SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee chair Alice Kinman remarked that compiling the project list was made easier by previous efforts from other groups, many of which are public-private partnerships with significant citizen participation, such as Firefly Trail, Inc. and the Rail-Trail Committee, the Oconee River Greenway Commission, the “Athens in Motion” Bike/Ped Master Plan committee and the collaborative group looking at options for the West Broad neighborhood. That the T-SPLOST initiative passed by such a wide margin throughout the county is, in my opinion, directly related to the fact that there was buy-in from the citizens involved in each of these projects, and that the public at large was aware of and/or participated in some aspect of drafting these plans.
Which brings me to how, moving forward, we can magnify the transformation these T-SPLOST projects will bring: Five of the projects included in the T-SPLOST package are “buckets” of funding: for corridor improvements on Lexington Highway, Atlanta Highway and Prince Avenue; implementation of forthcoming recommendations of Athens in Motion; and pedestrian improvements in the West Broad neighborhood. It is imperative that the Mayor and Commission include the public in setting implementation priorities within each of these projects.
Some of these areas have been studied extensively; others have consultants hired or studies underway. Regardless of how or when studies have been conducted, citizens should be included in deciding how spending on these projects should be prioritized.
A community-driven process from start to finish—that will be transformational!
Why Is the Commission Poised to Rezone Land for Another High-Rise?
From flagpole.com – 30 August 2017
Editor’s note: Eubanks sent this email to the Mayor and Commission last week. See City Dope for more information about the proposed Mitchell Street development, which will be up for a vote Sept. 5.
I’m writing in regards to what was listed as Item 15 at last week’s agenda-setting session, the Mitchell Street rezone.
To begin with, why are we even considering rezoning a property into a zoning classification currently under a moratorium when that property will not be subject to any changes made to that classification during the moratorium? Planning Commissioner Maxine Easom’s remarks are on point: Is that fair to current owners of property zoned CD? (Read a recap of the planning commission’s 6-1 vote to deny here.)
After the years and energy spent wrangling over what became The Mark, if the scope of study during the moratorium does not include zoning and design guidelines, this will be our greatest of many missed opportunities in developing a downtown that serves all Athenians. I can’t think of anyone who would say that developments such as The Mark are what our community is, or should be, aspiring to achieve. And yet it was allowed under current guidelines. Of particular concern is the inward focus of the development, the fortress frontage on Wilkerson, excessive parking for downtown living, a narrow 5-foot sidewalk unbuffered from a heavily traveled road. I could go on, but you get the point—our existing guidelines are less than perfect.
Now, again, we seem incapable of incorporating basic urban design lessons of appropriate scale and proportional right-of-way design for such a proposed tower. For the developer and buyers of the townhomes opposite this proposal, a rezone approval here signals that their good-faith investment in property per the county’s designated zoning and at a scale appropriate to the narrow street was misguided at best.
I think we all need to be honest with ourselves and recognize that the proposed Mitchell Street development would be vacation condos for well-heeled UGA fans that will be short-term rentals for the majority of the year. The excessive parking and the “motor court” driveway, the price tag and, of course, the developer’s own words indicate as much.
Would any retirees or young professionals choose to relocate to an expensive condo where few, if any, everyday needs are within walking distance? The only things within walking distance are Sanford Stadium and downtown bars and restaurants. These vacation homes would actually limit our ability to address workforce housing shortages by driving prices higher and taking from a limited supply of available land.
After watching the tape of this discussion at Tuesday’s agenda-setting session, I decided to go back and watch the full meeting, and was struck by how the arguments being made against item 14, the rezone request for Epps Bridge and Timothy roads, applied as well to item 15, but were not mentioned. What a difference 30 minutes made! I was particularly taken by how Planning Commissioner Alice Kinman’s comments were stressed in arguing against No. 14 (lack of a cohesive plan, spot zoning), but ignored in arguing for No. 15. And I agree with Commissioner Melissa Link’s take and appreciate her reference to numerous studies your discussion failed to take into account.
The most important point to be made is to ask what are we, as a community, getting in exchange for giving millions of dollars in benefits to the developers? Does this development move us closer to sustainability? Does it move us closer to having a greater inventory of workforce housing? Again, the excessive parking spaces and the price tag of the units preclude this from being an antidote to urban sprawl.
This property has been vacant for years because of the owners’ unrealistic expectations that do not match zoning, and at least previously didn’t meet community expectation either (see the earlier, very similar rezoning attempt). Why the sudden the rush to rezone?
We always hear that we’re not business friendly. At least a part of the anti-business argument stems from the fact that we don’t have a clear vision of what we want (insert any area in town here) to look like in the next 10 years. So when a developer presents a project that fits within code, if not zoning, we say, “Well, that’s not it,” and ask them to start over. Do-overs are costly for everybody.
We should not make a hasty decision on this rezone until after we have a clear idea of what we want downtown to look like and modify downtown design guidelines to get us there, so that developers can design accordingly from the start.
Online comments about this development can be made here.
My name is Tony Eubanks and I’m running for ACC District 3 Commissioner. I’ve spent my 38 years in Athens working a wide variety of jobs – some paid, even more as a volunteer. All were aimed at making a better tomorrow for our town and its people.
My dream job, and mainstay, has been teaching Accounting at the college level. Teaching requires me to do my homework as there’s nothing more embarrassing than being unprepared when you’re in the spotlight. Teaching requires an understanding that others might be approaching the subject from a perspective different than yours, where I have to work to find common ground from where we can start to progress together. And teaching requires me to occasionally say that I don’t know the answer. But I work hard to find one when I don’t.
I want to represent District 3 because I think we need to ask some difficult questions about where we’re going and how we should get there. There will be differing perspectives and we’re going to have to work hard – together – to find common ground. And there will be times when we have to admit that we don’t know the answer and work even harder to find one.
My goals as commissioner are to help us:
Recognize that land use and transportation are inextricably linked, and to help build a system for planning of both. We’ll need to work together to reconcile development pressures with the demand for affordable housing while providing safe transportation choices.
Recognize that to have a truly stable community we must provide housing and economic opportunities for all Athenians.
Recognize that we must work together towards a proactive government that understands that commercial development can and should serve and enhance adjacent residential areas.
Recognize that our historic resources deserve celebration and protection.
We’re constantly fighting little battles when we should be deciding what we want and implementing policies to make that happen. Change is about listening to and working with you.
Let’s work to bring Athens together.