Downtown Athens restaurants not in compliance

Health inspection scores reveal that downtown Athens restaurants fail to adhere closely to Clarke County Health Department standards.

The Health Department places food and beverage service establishments into three categories of risk: high, medium, low. The Georgia Department of Community Health defines risk as “the likelihood that an adverse health effect will occur within a population as a result of a hazard in a food.” Officials consider such criteria as food preparation and storage techniques, cleanliness of facilities and instruments and quality and source of ingredients.

The “High Risk” category consists of 10 places with a score of 82 or below or more than one critical violation. Big City Bread was criticized for the poor condition of their utensils. The inspector also found food buildup and mold on the walls. Captain D’s lost points for use of a dirty can opener and dicer.

Almost half are classified as “Medium Risk” with scores of 91 or below or one critical violation. The Buddha Bar was penalized for mold at the bottom of coolers and for their restroom walls being in disrepair. The Grill neglected to repair the hot water in their front hand washing sink, and their potato cutter was dirty.

Slightly more than a third of the restaurants are categorized as “Low Risk,” with scores of 92 and above and no critical violations. The only violation the Max Canada committed was a broken handle on the cooler door. SunO dessert did not post their inspection report at eye level and at a place approachable within one foot, which cost them one point.

Twelve places received a perfect score of 100 with no violations. This group includes such restaurants as Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, the Trappeze Pub and Depalma’s Italian Café.

Twenty-four restaurants committed at least one critical violation. A common infraction is failure to keep food at appropriate temperatures. Cold foods must be kept 41 degrees or below. Hot foods must be kept at 135 degrees or above. Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Pauley’s were among those in violation. Additionally, places like the Mayflower Restaurant and the Sideways Bar were cited for neglecting to keep foods appropriately separated–e.g. raw foods must be separate from ready-to-eat foods. Inspectors observed failure to wash hands at appropriate intervals, such as in between changes of gloves, in places like Doc Chey’s Noodle House and Gyro Wrap.

The worst overall offender in downtown Athens is Pita Pit. Their health score of 70 is one point short of failing and Clarke County’s second lowest. Only Gumby’s Pizza’s score is lower. Pita Pit employees did not wear hair restraints, neglected to wash hands before changing gloves and used a dirty slicer. Drain flies were also found on the premises. Additionally, the person in charge at the time of inspection was unable to answer routine questions regarding the cold holding temperature requirement.

The restaurant’s health score has not prevented James London, 24, from Alpharetta, Ga., from dining there. “I’ve been eating here for a couple of years now,” said London, “I haven’t gotten sick or anything like that, so I don’t really see a reason to stop eating it.”

“I’m not entirely convinced the health score is a completely accurate reflection of the safety of the food,” said Andrew Jaeger, 19, from Roswell, Ga., “I haven’t had any problems with it, anyway.” “It seems like they take off for little stuff sometimes,” Jaeger also remarked.

Low health scores do not necessarily turn loyal customers against restaurants, but Allison Medlock, 21, from Duluth, Ga., is an example of how favorable health scores can win over a customer.

“My friends always tell me how great Mellow Mushroom is, but I never ate there because they used to have a health score of 80 or something,” Medlock said, “When they raised their score, I finally went to try it, and now it’s one of my favorite restaurants.”

Possible Add-ons:

1. A map with dots signifying the 5 downtown restaurants with the lowest health scores and the 5 with the highest health scores

2. A pie chart breaking down the most commonly violated health regulations alongside a chart that details what the violation entails and how many restaurants committed the violation.


Mayor and commission take on Milledge

It was a quick and easy night at the Mayor and Commission meeting on Thursday, March 18, 2010. The relatively short meeting covered several small issues put forth by the commission for consideration for an April 6th meeting to determine each item’s fate.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a night with no public imput,” said Mayor Pro-Temp Kathy Hoard who sat in for Mayor Heidi Davidson.

A great deal of the meeting was dedicated to the Annual Action Plan for Human and Economic Development for the 2011 fiscal year. In the past year, funds were allocated to 21 projects, costing about $315,000. With the county still having to account for budget cuts in an already weak economy, members of the commission questioned how the HED money was being spent and if possible, how little can be used in order to maintain a healthy budget.

“When we’re expecting real diligence on the part of our non-profit partners, would it not be reasonable to say that we should try to spend as few dollars ourselves?” asked Commissioner Kelly Girtz. “Many non-profit directors have asked how they can use their money best and I think we should shine the light on ourselves in the same way.”

Other topics included a discussion on a proposed special district overlay for Milledge Ave. which would remove requirements surrounding the fraternities and sororities that own houses along the street. Under current law, the Greek organizations are required to submit special use reviews each year to maintain their property along Milledge. Additions to the houses such as porches and small sheds have to go through a long approval process, costing both time and money.

Tony McGonagle, a member of Phi Kappa Theta, voiced his hopes that the measure would pass with relative ease.

“It’s never been that big of a deal to those of us in the house but I know it does involve a lot of red tape and the less of that we have, the better,” said McGonagle. “I’ve heard of some frats that just wanted to do some minor stuff to the house but ended up having to wait for approval from the government to come through.”

Also addressed was the issue of sidewalk construction along major business corridors in the downtown area. The commission agreed that this issue needed to be dealt with swiftly and even proposed a small addition to a project in order to connect two existing pieces of sidewalk.

Citizens are highly encouraged to attend the meeting on April 6th when these measures will be voted on.


Feral cats not just a local problem

Derrick Thomas

Five million.  According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, up to 5 million U.S. cats are euthanized in shelters each year.

With an estimated population of anywhere from 20,000-50,000 feral cats, this is a problem all too familiar with the Athens area.  The Athens-Clarke county Commission, however, has made an attempt to control the problem when it approved a new method for which to handle such animals.

In a 9-1 vote Tuesday evening, the commission passed legislation supporting the trap-neuter-release method of controlling stray cats, also called TNR.  TNR programs allow citizens to feed, trap and vaccinate feral cats before releasing them back into the wild.  TNR practitioners are now allowed to legally register feral cat colonies, thanks to Tuesday’s vote.

TNR is an alternative to rounding up and euthanizing stray cats.  Both the issue and the proposed solutions have been debated in the community for some time.

“TNR is one component of reducing the population of stray/feral cats within the community,” said Athens Mayor Heidi Davison.  “Will it be successful – I hope so.”

District 7 Commission Kathy Hoard agrees.

“Considering the minimal funds budgeted for humanely dealing with our stray and feral population, a public/private partnership with our government and dedicated volunteers appears appropriate,” said Hoard.

Many, however, do not see TNR programs as a viable solution to the problem.  District 1 Commissioner Doug Lowry was the only member to oppose Tuesday evening’s vote.

“This will not reduce the number of feral cats in the community,” said Lowry.  “We don’t know anything about the scope of this issue.  There is no evidence that (TNR programs such as these) will work.”

Mayor Davison, on the other hand, believes TNR programs have already been proven effective.

“There are colonies in Athens that began with 30+ cats, that are now reduced to… a very small number of cats that are not adoptable,” said Davison.

Some experts say that TNR programs may not be the ultimate solution, but they should help.  Amanda Rodriguez is the owner of Pawtropolis, a local organization devoted to caring for pets and animals.

“We must have stricter spay and neutering laws, and we have to educate the public in addition to these programs.  But to say that (such TNR programs) won’t make a difference is just ignorant,” said Rodriguez.

The Classic City, however, is not the first community divided by this issue.  Feral cats have caused a stir in communities – large and small – throughout the country.

In Jacksonville, FL, First Coast No More Homeless Pets (FCNMHP) runs a program called Feral Freedom.  One of the first of its kind in the nation, the program, in conjunction with the Jacksonville Humane Society, brings stray cats in off the streets to be cared for.  They are vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and given a health check.  Before being released, they are also “micro-chipped,” which enables the cats and their colonies to be monitored in the future.

According to Rick DuCharme of Florida’s Feral Freedom, the program has led to a 26% decrease in shelter intake.  The live release rate has risen from 10% to 50%, and there has been a nearly 60% decrease in the amount of adult feral cats in the community.

Not all such programs in major cities have been well-received, however.

Los Angeles, which has a feral cat population of around 3 million cats, according to the Department of Animal Services, has been dealing with this issue for years.  TNR programs had been promoted and funded by the government, and were the preferred method of controlling feral cats.

In a December 2009 decision, however, a Superior Court judge ruled that the programs – and their funding – be suspended.  The judge ordered that the entire issue be more closely reviewed before the city could continue to support it.

Smaller communities, such as in Evanston, Il, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ and that surrounding Penn State University, have also dealt with growing feral cat communities.  All have used a variety of methods, with varying results.

Tuesday night’s vote was the culmination of months of study and debate.  But it certainly is not the end of the issue.

“It’s one piece of a much larger pie of policy,” said District 9 Commission Kelly Girtz.

“I hope the individuals who are managing colonies and those within our scientific community will seize this opportunity to work together to help us evaluate the program so that an informed decision can be made as to its efficacy,” said Davison.  “We will certainly be looking at other strategies, including increased education, knowing that TNR alone will not solve the problem.”

The legislation approved Tuesday night calls for a review process one year into the legislation, at which point the programs will be reevaluated.  The legislation also calls for a review at the three-year point, with new criteria being evaluated at each point.

“I’d be happy to not talk about cats for a couple weeks,” said Girtz, whose idea it was to include the mandatory review in the legislation.  “But we’re already getting experts together for the evaluation process next year.”


Meeting to discuss preservation of Milledge Ave.

Derrick Thomas

Whether it comes from the families that built the homes that line it over a century ago, or the young college students who inhabit those homes today, Milledge Avenue has always been a rich source of history and community in Athens.

And now, it seems, the Mayor and Commission want to keep it that way.

Among other topics, the preservation of Milldge Avenue will be discussed at the Mayor and Commission’s agenda setting session, set for tonight, Thursday March 18th at 7:00 at City Hall.

While it may be hard to notice from a leisurely stroll down the road, the preservation of Milledge Avenue, lying just west of Downtown Athens, is something Athens Mayor Heidi Davison takes very seriously.

“Protecting Milledge Avenue will ensure that its beauty and grandeur will no longer be eroded by improper development,” said Davison.

According to the Historic Preservation Committee, the Milledge Avenue Local Historic District contains both sides of Milledge Avenue, from where it intersects with Broad Street to its intersection with Lumpkin Street.  The street itself runs beyond these points, but since the early 1830’s, this portion of Milledge has been “a principal street in Athens,” according to the committee’s local historic property designation report.

The ensuing decades of development are marked in the varying architectural styles on display on Milledge Avenue.  Much of this had to do with the introduction of the street cars in 1888.  The streetcar line was extended south on Milledge from Baxter St. to Lumpkin St. in 1910, according to the ACC Planning Dept.

Most houses were made of brick or wood, with a few stucco exceptions, but one of the more noticeable features of these predominantly two story homes are the large amounts of space between the homes and the street.  According the designation report, these setbacks are “far greater than [those] seen on the residential side streets developed off of Milledge Avenue.”

“The historic designation and overlay is also meant to encourage new development that is more in keeping with the architectural and other design features of the corridor,” said Davison.  “[This] should translate into an even more beautiful and breathtaking boulevard than what we have now.”

Many of the structures on Milledge remain in their original form, or with some historic alterations.  Newer structures replaced some of the originals as the area changed throughout the years.  During the depression in the 1930’s, many of the occupants of the single-family homes were unable to maintain these properties.  This gave way to more apartments and commercial structures.

Perhaps the most noticeable and noteworthy change, however has involved the Greek organizations affiliated with the University of Georgia, such as Alpha Gamma Delta, Kappa Alpha Theta and Alpha Delta Pi.  A number of these organizations have been a part of this area for over 50 years.  The ACC Commission agenda states that such organizations “have become custodians of not just the large historic homes they maintain, but the historic streetscapes and sense of place that results.”

In August of 2008, a committee consisting of property owners, neighborhood representatives and representatives from UGA and the UGA Greek community was appointed by the mayor.  According to the County Commission Agenda, the committee met for several months to discuss the possible preservation of the area.

The committee expressed a need for both an SDO (special district overlay), as well as desire to designate the area as a local historic district.  In March of 2009, the Mayor and Commission approved these findings.  The Planning Commission was set in charge of developing the special district zoning overlay, while the Historic Preservation Commission was to develop a local historic district.

The Athens-Clarke County Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing on the matter on February 16th of this year.  Individuals from both sides of the issue were given a chance to voice their opinions.  Some were in favor of historic designation for the area, while others were against.  At this meeting, the ACC Historic Preservation Commission unanimously recommended the approval of designating the area in question as the Milledge Avenue Local Historic District.  Design Guidelines and text amendments were included.

A survey questionnaire was sent to property owners and property occupants to gauge the level of support by those affected by the proposal. This was sent along with a notification of the proposed legislation and to alert of upcoming public forums.  While these findings are not binding on the Mayor and Commission, it is noteworthy that only 39 of the 380 questionnaires sent were returned.  Furthermore, of those returned, only 14 were in support of designation.

This comes as little surprise to the mayor.

“There will always be individuals to complain about government restrictions
on their ability to make alterations to their property,” said Davison. “But those who appreciate Athens, and the importance of these buildings and corridors and what makes it special, usually agree with the effort to put protections in place, knowing that their ownership is not forever.”

Concerned citizens are encouraged to voice their opinions at tonight’s meeting at City Hall at 7:00.

Issues concerning the Public Utilities Dept. Services Delivery Plan will also be discussed at the meeting.  Specifically, the addition of sewer lines in the Sandy Creek area will be discussed.  This is important because Athens-Clarke County gets drinking water from this watershed.


Fresh Look at Downtown Athens

By Tina Romero

“Look At That! Fresh Approaches in Urban Redevelopment for Athens” is a one-day seminar offered by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation. The event is set for 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 27, at Ciné, 234 W. Hancock Ave. in downtown Athens. Amy Kissane, executive director of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation says, “this event is about celebrating what we have and inspiring commitment to a vision of downtown Athens that embraces all that makes Athens unique.”  The main topics discussed will be landscape architecture and transportation with a few exhibits in art and film. The broad-based community discussion will engage those interested in downtown Athens and what the future could hold.

According to their website, the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation’s goal is to be a proactive force in developing community-wide understanding of the value of historic buildings, neighborhoods, and heritage. The purpose of the all day event will support Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation’s goal by broadening audiences’ visions of what could be accomplished in Athens and will in turn inspire action.

“We want to provoke some deep and creative thinking about the future of our downtown. We’ll be showing and talking about examples of successful urban revitalization in other cities, in Georgia and across the world,” says Kissane.

Nina Butler of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and BikeAthens will talk on the many levels of transportation. “We are expecting a large turnout of people who are concerned and interested in alternative transportation options,” says Butler. “I was asked to participate in this event as a representative of BikeAthens. The main reason for my participation in this event is to promote transportation and land-use policies that improve alternative modes of transportation, including pedestrian, cycling, and public transit options. The mission of our organization is to make alternative transportation a practical, convenient, and safe option for all citizens of Athens-Clarke County.”

“As a lover of cities, I believe strongly in making informed decisions about development in general.  In my opinion, the provision for all modes of transportation – walking, cycling, transit, and automobile – helps communities thrive by connecting people to the places they need or want to go. It’s important to continually educate us as citizens about the kinds of transportation policies and projects that can enhance the way all of these residents and visitors experience our community. My plan is to focus my presentation on these issues,” says Butler.

Other issues that will be discussed by local academics and professionals are principles of vital, livable urban spaces, and examples of creative cities and public spaces.  Together, these important issues will encourage participants to focus on ways to reshape their communities and to think optimistically about the future for downtown Athens.

Registration for “Fresh Approaches” includes a $15 fee, which will include lunch and coffee breaks. For more information, call 706-353-1801 or visit http://www.achfonline.org. Space is limited, and RSVPs are requested by March 23.


Athens food bank operating above board

by Chari Sutherland

There was a bevy of activity at the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia last Wednesday- a busy day at the food bank since mid-week is usually the time food pantries restock their shelves, said Tonya Pass, Programs Coordinator.

The parking lot was full of vans and trucks, all from agencies that provide services in the community, such as emergency shelters or food pantries.  Large, hand trucks piled high with boxes of food were being loaded into vans.  Inside the warehouse, other “shoppers” (representatives from the agencies) were picking out food from bins and lower levels of the warehouse shelves. 

The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia is non-profit and serves a 14-county area.  It is located in Athens on Newton Bridge Road.  It is one of nine food banks in Georgia according to the Department of Human Resources website.  In total, the food bank supplies food to 240 partner agencies, all of which are nonprofit.  Sixty-five of those agencies are within the Athens-Clarke County area, including the Salvation Army and the Athens Homeless Shelter.  Documents and interviews indicated the food bank is operating well in the area they serve, with some minor problems.

Some findings were:

  • About 12% of  partner agencies are not completing required reports to the food bank in timely fashion
  • The food bank’s 2008 tax report was not accessible to the public
  • Oversight agencies and the food bank itself weren’t forthcoming with reports, sighting confidentiality or being unaware of compliance reports requested

Depending on the product, the food bank reports the use of the product and how many families served.  The food bank sends required monthly reports to the Department of Human Resources of the State of Georgia, the USDA and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).  By doing so, they are able to get more food items. 

Regarding the required monthly reports partner agencies have to give the food bank, George McGrady, Agency Relations Coordinator, said via email that reports are required by these government agencies to show who receives the food (income levels, age of recipients, employed/unemployed, etc).  Also, a temperature log is required to show prevention in loss of food and food safety.  Agencies must also keep a monthly meal calendar to help keep track of how many meals they served and which meals contained USDA products. 

McGrady said about 88% of the partner agencies are reporting on time and about another 5% are doing things properly and according to regulations.  There are a few agencies that are not complying by sending in their reports.  “We are trying to weed (them) out,” McGrady said. “We’re trying to find out if they want to continue to remain active and if so to make sure they get everything in order and keep it that way.”

Pass said the food bank reports to Feeding America, a national agency which oversees food banks, shelters and pantries that disburse food.  Calls to that agency for more information were unsuccessful.  The Feeding America communications representative, Keisha Miller, responded to queries via email that Feeding America could not comment on the operations of Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.   She wrote, “Feeding America’s information in regard to food bank ratings is confidential.”

Feeding America’ website did provide some information on numbers served, counties served and the like.  This information, however, was similar to all the information in the food bank’s 2009 annual report.  The pounds of food and the numbers of persons served are the same as listed in their tax report. 

The 2007 income tax statement was the most recent posted to the food bank’s website.  It lists their direct public support as over $7 million, government contributions (which includes grants) at over $34 thousand and total revenue at a little over $8 million.

The food bank has a regular staff of 18.   The number of Volunteers vary at the food bank.  Cynthia Griffith, Checkout Manager, said, “We could have at least 20 to 30 in a day.” 

Griffith, who has worked at the food bank for six years, said the food bank is able to help feed people who are in need at a better price.  They are able to shop for less money, she said.  As example, she pulled out a purchase order completed that morning.  The agency (unnamed for confidentiality) bought 97 pounds of food at a retail price of $145, but  only paid $14.22.  That was a savings of $131.28. 

In the smaller warehouse, connected to the main building which houses the administration offices, as well, shoppers come in to “shop”.  The food donated is sorted in the salvage room by category and expiration dates.  Then it is moved to the small warehouse in bins and boxes.  Representatives from agencies such as homeless shelters or food pantries come in any day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.   If they have a large order or don’t have time to pick out the food, agencies can order food online.  Online orders are processed in the large warehouse.  Orders must be picked up within 24 hours of the order being placed. 

The food bank also has special food programs offered to the community.  Food 2 Kids benefits school children.  “Counselors work with us, giving us the names of kids in need,” Griffith said.  “Every Thursday, volunteers come pack bags of food—enough for three meals.  The bags are given to the kids on Friday at school.”  In 2009, this program distributed 44,098 pounds of food.

The Brown Bag Program is for senior citizens.  Seniors can come in and sign up for this program.  It allows them one large, brown paper bag of food per week.  Senior participants can come pick the food up, or have it delivered to them by volunteers.  This program reportedly distributed 49,663 pounds of food. 

The food bank’s 2009 annual report states that 2,267,709 pounds of food was distributed (including total meals of 1,757,914) in Clarke County at a value of over three million dollars.  Their community outreach increased by 1.1 million pounds of food over the last year. 

Lisa Gillespie, of New Beginnings Ministry, praised the food bank.  “I don’t know how we would do it without them.”  New Beginnings feeds and shelters 60 women in Martin, Georgia.  “They have our order ready on time and it’s accurate with very little spoilage.”  Gillespie said the only problem she’s seen is the food bank’s ability to provide food in the winter.  “They hardly have anything and this seems to be consistent.”

Pastor Earl Delmarter of Healing Place in Athens, a men’s shelter, also feels the food bank does a good job.  “They authentically want to see hunger removed from our community,” he said.  He said the food bank’s training on how to distribute food is helpful.  The food bank helps Healing Place feed dozens of men throughout the year, Delmarter said. 

END


Planning Commission allows Milledge Avenue overlay to proceed

                                                                                                           

The March 4 meeting of the Athens Clarke County Planning Commission began with business as usual. At 7:00 p.m. commission members and citizens alike assembled into the gray room of the government building on Dougherty Street, and sat in their respective seats. All members were counted present, the rules on public commentary were stated, and the meeting was motioned to begin.

The first item of business, according to the agenda, was old business involving the proposed Milledge Avenue overlay and text amendments. The commission voted a unanimous yes on this item, which allows the proposed overlay to proceed. The next step for the proposed overlay is a presentation to the Mayor and Commission at their April 6 meeting at City Hall.

Brad Griffin, a staff member of the Planning Commission, was present at the meeting to answer any questions the commission members had about the proposed overlay. He conducted one final presentation using props such as a large-scale map, and a projector, to visually illustrate the exact area of land that the proposed overlay would cover.

Griffin spoke again of the importance of this proposed overlay and its pairing with the historical document, which, has already been approved. “The historical document does not cover parking or tree conservation,” said Griffin, “and tree canopy is a significant part of the character of Milledge Avenue.” Griffin noted that the objective of the proposed overlay was to reduce parking requirements by 30%, increase bicycle parking, and promote alternate transportation.

Upon completion of the presentation, the approximately 20 citizens in attendance, including Athens mayor Heidi Davison, were asked to step forward to the wooden podium if they wished to comment on the matter. No one stepped forward, so the members of the commission began their discussion.      

As the members discussed the item seated at the two rectangular tables facing each other, most seemed in agreement that the overlay should be approved and presented to the Mayor and Commissioners.

However, a slight bump in the road arose, when wording in the part of the report referring to bicycle spaces appeared to cause some confusion.

The exact section in the report causing the problem was the following, “Fraternities, sororities, semi-public halls, clubs, and lodges shall provide four on-site bicycle spaces for every 20 required auto parking spaces. Fractional spaces shall be rounded up to the next whole space.” The source of the confusion was the phrase “fractional spaces.” Commission members were unsure if this meant bicycle or automobile spaces, and they were unsure of the specific measurements of a fractional space.

As comments and suggestions went back and forth between the two tables, commission members joked that “it[the parking language issue] could be something for the Mayor and Commission to figure out,” which produced a chuckle out of Mayor Davison.

About 20 minutes later an agreement was made to change the phrase to a more specific “bicycle spaces” and to determine that fractional meant anything less than a regulation size parking space. Following the agreement, a motion for adoption of the text amendments with the language change was voted on, to which the members of the commission voted a unanimous yes.

So how do residents of Milledge Avenue feel about the vote allowing the proposed overlay to proceed?

According to Lennie Cole, a Milledge Avenue resident and president of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority at the University of Georgia, many of the Milledge Avenue residents, including her, are happy about it. “Our[the Alpha Gamma Delta] house has already been granted historic status, so we [members of Alpha Gamma Delta] are excited about the possibility of all of Milledge Avenue being able to achieve this status as well,” said Cole.       

“Milledge Avenue is such a special and important part of Athens and the University. We need to make sure that we do all that we can to ensure that it is preserved and protected. I have spoken to leaders of the other Greek organizations with houses on Milledge Avenue and they all agree. We want to be supportive of this and make sure that it happens.”

Due to the lack of negative commentary at the meeting, it seems that most Milledge Avenue residents feel the proposed overlay would be a positive thing for Athens. With support from the Planning Commission and members of the Greek organizations it seems certain that the proposed overlay will proceed successfully, and go on to be approved by the Mayor and Commission.

In other news, land developer Thomas Dekle’s request to amend binding requirements for his land off Barnett Shoals Road was not approved, and Frankie Gatrell’s request to use his Lavender Road property as a personal care home was unanimously approved by the board.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be on April 1 at 7:00 p.m.


Committee Considers New Street Vending Policies

Rumen sells hot dogs on the corner of College Avenue and Broad Street in downtown Athens. His location is prime; there is a plenty of foot traffic thanks to an active college night life.

“I'll be out here as long as there are people,” said Rumen in his thick Bulgarian accent. “Probably until 3 or 3:30.”

The Legislative Review Committee met in City Hall on Tuesday and discussed how street merchants will operate in the future, since many of them are not as lucky as Rumen.

There are currently 25 assigned locations for vending downtown, three of which had to be relocated after the Georgia Theater fire eliminated sidewalk space on Lumpkin Street. But the lack of pedestrian traffic in certain areas makes relocating difficult, and when permits for vacant spaces are given by the Central Services Department every four months, there are always more applicants than spaces.

“I've seen people spending the night in line for vacant spots,” said Central Services Director David Fluck.

Vacant spaces are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Aside from the assigned locations, the Central Services Department allows temporary permits for up to 21 days. Retail or wholesale businesses can conduct sidewalk sales once per trimester, and vendors are permitted within special events like Twilight and AthFest. The current ordinance prohibits vendors from going into parking lots.

“Restrictions on the type of street seems the most sensible way of doing things,” said District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod. “Let the vendors find locations then come to the county for approval.”

Some simply vend without approval. These so-called “gypsy vendors” usually appear on Georgia football game days, then leave the next day.

To sell prepared food, a vendor has to get a certificate from the Health Department. Despite health officials patrolling during home games, enforcement has been a concern of Mayor Heidi Davidson's.

“We have to manage permits so vendors can happen in a legal way,” said Davidson. “The main issue is how we can expand entrepreneurial activity. We want to encourage. How can we do that with food carts?”

Food carts make up the bulk of local street vendors. Of the 25 street merchant locations, 12 sell food, six sell jewelry, three sell art, three sell bulldog memorabilia and one sells perfume.

The current ordinance for street vending was written in 1995. There were 41 assigned locations then- 15 downtown, 15 on Baxter Street, 2 on Baldwin Street and 9 on Jackson Street. But Baxter Street's reconstruction in 2000 eliminated all of its assigned locations, and one location on Baldwin was removed after reconstruction in 2002. The dwindling number of possible cart locations is a concern for small businesses and entrepreneurial hopefuls.

“We want to allow for more opportunities county-wide for vendors. If we want to expand opportunities outside the urbanized core, we need an inventory of spaces available,” said District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby. “We have to define areas we think would be acceptable.”

Hamby suggested the campus of Athens Technical College as a possible future option for street vendors.  

Olivia Sargeant is the general manager of Farm 255, a staple organic restaurant on Washington Street that grows all of their own ingredients. She would like to see more open street vending policies downtown.

Farm 255 has a cart on the patio in front of the restaurant. It is about six by ten feet, but the current ordinance only allows carts of four by six feet on sidewalks. One Farm bartender says Sargeant would like to see carts everywhere in Athens, rendering the town a veritable farmers’ market. In the 25 permitted locations, the current ordinance only allows a given company one cart per block.  

While Sargeant was unavailable for comment, Davidson spoke on her behalf at the Legislative Review.

“Olivia wanted to park it on the street and take multiple parking spots,” said Davidson. “But the ordinance is still pretty restricted.”

Davidson also described how some businesses downtown don't like hot dog vendors. This is mostly because of the smells emanating from carts into brick and mortar establishments. But one anonymous restaurateur complained to her about customers being taken by food stands, Davidson said.

“There's always going to be competition,” said Davidson. “That's what you want.”

Rumen's hot dog cart is near The Grill, which is open 24 hours.

“Everything is ups and downs,” he said. “It's a college town. If it was steady, there would be vendors all over the street.”

But under the current ordinance, that would be illegal. Rumen's corner has the most assigned street merchant locations- four are allowed on the corners of College Avenue and Broad Street according to the Athens-Clarke County Special Sales Code. With a proposed relaxation of location, future competition may get even stiffer.

“The next logical step is to see what other cities are doing,” said District 7 Commissioner Kathy Hoard. “No need to reinvent the wheel.”

Herod's “restrictions better than locations” approach to street vending may catch on at the next Legislative Review session, since a more open policy could alleviate the gypsy cart issue while helping small businesses. If so, Rumen will be waiting.

“It sounds good,” he said. “Everyone would like to expand. If you can choose, you can choose. You barely can pick and choose all things in real life.”


Upcoming meeting to discuss design changes

The Historic Preservation Commission, part of the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department, is holding a public meeting on Wednesday, March 17.  The meeting will be held at the Planning Department Auditorium at 120 W. Dougherty Street at 5:30 p.m.

The main concern is construction in residential historic districts. There are three items on the agenda that will be up for voting.

The first is the appropriateness of the new construction of a single-family residential home located in the Boulevard Historic District. The second is whether or not a rear addition and detached garage in the Cloverhurst/Springdale Historic District is suitable, and the third item is to vote if a detached carport in the Woodlawn district is appropriate.

According to the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department, there are 10 historic districts in Athens and 41 individual landmark properties that are designated as historic.

The commission will vote if these requests for construction agree with the historic design guidelines.

 The meeting will be comprised of seven people that have been appointed by the Mayor and Commission. The public can speak for or against an application but they are not allowed to vote.

What is the Historic Preservation Commission?

According to Amber Eskew, preservation planner for the Historic Preservation Commission, the commission is a volunteer board that strongly feels preservation of the historic character of Athens is the right thing for the city. They are willing to give their time in this effort.

“They try very hard to work with applicants for a successful project and are often able to compromise in such a way that a design can be made appropriate while still meeting the applicant’s needs,” Eskew stated.

According to the Downtown Historic District Design Guidelines, “The Historic Preservation Commission is charged with promoting, protecting and preserving the historic, cultural and aesthetic heritage of designated historic areas”.

Normally, an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness is submitted to the Historic Preservation Planner and is up for review to determine if projected exterior changes on historic properties are appropriate in design and materials. If during the meeting, the commission approves the application, the certificate is issued.

In order for the commission to decide if applications are appropriate, design guidelines are used to explain what is suitable for a given historic district or property. Eskew explains that they look at things such as scale, massing, height, the amount of window openings, and building materials used.

Why is it important to preserve historic districts?

According to the ACC Planning Department, a neighborhood sample study shows economic benefits of preservation. Woodlawn and Boulevard are two historic districts that were sampled for the study.

 The findings mention that both neighborhoods are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and are locally designated.  The study states that “the analysis of these neighborhoods, when comparing dollars adjusted for inflation, shows an impressive increase. Over a twenty-year period, beginning in 1976, the 94 property assessment values sampled in this area rose at a rate of 47.75 percent.”

“Retaining community character provides a sense of place for residents, new and old, it is a source of pride and of tourism dollars,” Eskew said.

In addition, the study reveals that the upkeep of these properties have resulted in an increase of temporary local jobs, permit revenue and tax dollars to the community compared to non-designated neighborhoods.

Where to get more information:

 For detailed information on guidelines, studies, and applications, please visit the historic preservation page on the ACC Department of Planning website at http://www.accplanning.com/historic.php.


Repaving meeting low in attendance

It was a quiet and empty meeting at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department Auditorium on Tuesday, March 16.

The Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study, also known as MACORTS, held its public information meeting for local citizens to review and comment upon the addition of the Jobs for Main Street Act Amendment to the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

The TIP includes all of the projects that will receive federal funding during the next four fiscal years. The document is updated annually to reflect changes that occur to projects.

The latest project added to the Transportation Improvement Plan is to resurface US 441/SR 15 from SR Loop 10 to about 0.2 miles south of CR 478/Newton Bridge Road.

Sherry Moore, transportation planner for MACORTS, and Iris Cleveland, associate transportation planner, were available to answer questions at the casual two-hour meeting.

Moore explained that the meeting was an open forum. There was not a formal presentation planned, only tables set up displaying posters of the resurfacing project, documents detailing the plan, and sheets for the public to provide their input.

A number of factors explain why the meeting had low attendance.

Moore explains that more people are sending questions and comments through e-mail rather than taking out the time to attend a meeting. She has seen a decrease in public attendance in the past five years.

This specific project has received little public feedback.

Also, the nature of the project, which is only to repave a stretch of US 441, will have minimal effects on its surroundings.

Although this part of the US 441 is busy, the project will not be difficult. Moore said it would be different if it was a road-widening project.

Local citizens usually start calling the department after construction has started.

“People are generally not plugged into the planning side,” Moore said. “They don’t say something until the bulldozers are in their face.”

She adds that the commute will be bumpy for a few months and will be surprising for some people at first.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) chose this project, along with many others across the state to complete. However, completion is only possible if federal funds become available for use. The project has 90 days to get into contract.

However, when and if the project will take place depends on whether the Jobs for Main Street Act becomes law. The bill has passed in the House, but not in the Senate.

The bill will provide states an estimated $75 billion to generate jobs with targeted investments for transit and other important factors that will help the economy grow.

MACORTS, which only uses federal funds, hopes to use the money from this bill to complete the project. The estimated cost of the project is $2,291,000.

If the bill does not pass, there will be another meeting to announce that the amendment is being taken out of the TIP. The project will then go back to the state level as something that will be completed later. 

The Georgia DOT chose this project to complete because of its quick and easy nature. This project will take less than six months to complete.

Citizens can continue to send their questions and comments via email to macorts@co.clarke.ga.us until April 09, 2010. A copy of the draft is also available for review at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department.