By Joy Bratcher
On Jan. 7, citizens of downtown Athens saw a new pilot program take affect on the street of Prince Avenue. The six-month program focuses on the crosswalk located at Newton Street and Pope Street and places orange flags at each side of the crossing. The flags are to make pedestrians more visible as they cross the street.
“In a few months we are going to do an after study of the success of the flags,” Traffic Engineer Steve Decker said. We will be looking for increased compliance with motorist.”
Kelsey Butler is a student at the University of Georgia and lives near downtown Athens. She describes herself as someone who enjoys walking around downtown as much as she drives through it to go to her hometown. As she crosses Prince Street, she admits she feels silly waving the flags so drivers will supposedly “see her better.”
Butler said that she has seen more close calls in pedestrian accidents than she has cared for especially on the infamous avenue. Yet, she is not sure if the flags will be successful.
“As a pedestrian, I can see the benefit of the flags,” Butler said. “Yet, as a motorists, it is very distracting. I could see how more accidents could be caused by motorists staring at the flags without paying attention to the person carrying the flag.”
Every five years, the Traffic Safety Research and Evaluation Group examines Athens roads to tally up the number of pedestrian and cyclist accidents due to being struck by motorists. In the most recent study released in 2012, one street stood out to researchers- Prince Avenue.
According to the report, while bike crashes are down 46% from the previous five year span complied between years 2003 and 2007, pedestrian crashes are up 160%.
Cities as far as Washington have seen success stories from the new program, but the idea of whether or not this statement is accurate is still being debated in larger cities across the country that carry a high number of pedestrians.
Salt Lake City has been using the flags since 2000. It’s city website states that due to the success of the program, in 2001 the city had to create an Adopt-a-Crosswalk program opening the doors for businesses and individuals to maintain crosswalk flag cites for little or no cost. As of 2013, more than 200 crosswalks were adopted.
Even with the program trying to help pedestrians, some see them as a joke to pull on one another. Looking in the flag pit, one may see a United States Flag, rebel flag, German flag, or Georgia Bulldog flag instead of the orange flags
According to an online article on the Athens Banner Herald website, the cost of replacing each flag costs the city $2. <http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-01-12/prince-avenue-pedestrian-flags-get-mixed-reviews>
Decker is quoted in the article saying, “the occasional loss of a flag would be a small price to pay if the program is effective in improving pedestrian safety.”
When using the flags, pedestrians are not to solely rely on carrying their flag. “It’s just an enhancement” for the crosswalks, and “not a cure-all” for pedestrian safety, Decker said in the article. <http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-01-06/pedestrian-crosswalk-flags-be-tried-prince-avenue>
In June, the city will examine Prince Avenue to see if statics have improved since the start of the project.
“I’m not sure what the results will be from this,” Butler said. “If it works to help make us safer, then it won’t matter any cost or problem it could cause. Even if it saves one life, it will be worth it.”
By Lauren McDonald
Pickle ball, a combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong, was the unexpected topic of discussion at the meeting on how to renovate Bishop Park.
And a new pickle ball court may be one of many changes soon to come to the park.
About 30 Athens citizens participated in a public input session on Wednesday night, to give feedback on the new master plan proposal for renovations to Bishop Park, one of Athens most popular community sites.
“We’re looking at the whole park,” said Kevan Williams, an Athens park planner heading the project. “And making sure that it’s meeting the community’s needs.”
Emily Carr, who comes to Bishop Park regularly to walk and to visit the Athens Farmers Market, completed a survey at the meeting, She said the new master plan seems feasible.
“I thought the changes were realistic,” Carr said. “They weren’t high in the sky, that we don’t have money for. They made some real improvements.”
Major changes proposed include parking lot renovations, an 8,000 square-foot Wellness Center, an expansion of the Gymnastics Center and new rental pavilions.
Park planners also proposed an 18,000 square-foot event pavilion and plaza, which would be the home of the Athens Farmers Market.
Carr, who has lived in Athens for 44 years, remembers visiting the park in 1968, when it was just a fair ground.
Bishop Park, located at 705 Sunset Drive, was built 40 years ago and has undergone no major renovation since the 1970s.
The growing Athens community has since then developed different needs from the park, Williams said. The use of the park and the neighborhood around it have changed significantly.
Also, many of the park’s structures are no longer up to code.
The 33-acre park is relatively small compared to others parks in the community. Trail Creek Park is nearly 100 acres, and Sandy Creek Park is almost 800 acres.
“But this is a very dense park in terms of the scale of activities,” Williams said.
“It gets almost 400,000 visits a year. So this is a big project in terms of its significance, even if it’s not big in terms of its physical footprint.”
The Athens Park Planning Department enlisted the help of the University of Georgia’s Center for Community Design and Preservation back in October 2014 to garner public input.
A team of UGA students and faculty conducted online surveys and in-park surveys. They also consulted park planning staff and the Bishop Park workers.
Jarrad Holbrook, a student who worked on the project, said the most glaring renovation needs when he first began were restructuring of the parking lot and updates to buildings.
“First and foremost, that whole parking lot was a mess. It’s set up kind of like a maze, the turns are too sharp,” Holbrook said. “We also saw that there were clearly issues with some buildings. One particular building looked like it had been built temporarily, and then temporary became 15, 20 years.”
The CCDP hosted a public input session last year to get initial suggestions from the community on renovations they’d like to see, and the park planners incorporated many of those suggestions into the new master plan.
“People liked that the park is easy to access, and there’s something for everybody,” Lewis said. “It allows non-traditional uses, like the Farmer’s Market. It’s more than just a sports park. So they liked that it was good for families, and people, whether they’re doing group activities or whether they’re just going solo to run or walk with the dog.”
The public also asked for an indoor aquatics facility and a dog park, but planners did not included those requests into the new plan, due to cost and space requirements.
Park planners aim to ensure that Bishop Park offers “a little bit of everything for all people.”
“If you come here at different times, you’ll see a lot of real diversity of people that use this park,” Carr said. “In Athens in a lot of places, even though we’re a very integrated town, you can live your life with only seeing people that look like you. When you come to parks like this, you see lots of different kinds of folks.”
Once Park Planning Department confirms the master plan, the focus will move to funding for the project. Williams said funds may come from a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) or from donations.
“There’s a lot of interest right now in wellness,” Williams said. “So we’re hoping right now that through partnerships with different organizations we may be able to attract some support for parts of the park that might support those goals.”
The department hasn’t set a timeline for completion yet. The department will move forward with the plan based on the community’s feedback.
So far, the department has received over 500 survey responses, including those received at Wednesday’s session.
“The feedback’s been really good,” Williams said. “It’s always kind of exciting when you put a big idea out there, to see how people are going to take that and what things people will pick up on.”
And Williams said a new pickle ball court will be considered when they begin redrafting the master plan.
“We’ll look at ways to look at their ideas and make sure we’re not leaving anything out,” he said. “That’s sort of the point of doing this – to make sure that everybody has a chance to make sure that their voice is being heard.”
By Luke Dixon
Drinking alcohol in Athens could become less restrictive in the near future, at least the area where you are permitted to do so.
The Athens-Clarke County Commission is set to consider making consumption of alcohol easier and allowing additional outdoor portable signage at sidewalk cafes in Athens.
The original sidewalk café ordinance was adopted by the City of Athens in 1979 and has been amended three times since then in 1994, 2003 and 2011. There are two types of sidewalk cafes as defined by the Legislative Review Committee’s proposal. One is a common area café on College Square, Walker’s which have open space in front of the bar property.
The proposed amendment to the ordinance also states that “cafés attached to the building which are limited to 50% of the sidewalk width and must allow a minimum of 5 feet for a pedestrian path, alcohol is allowed, and dividers are required” according to the commission report and recommendation.
The current ordinance calls for required physical barriers and railings that are placed outside the cafés to mark the territory where patrons can consume alcohol on the sidewalk and patio area.
There are multiple parts to the proposed amendment of the existing ordinance. The first part would allow an option of a physical barrier to be put up or sidewalk cafés no that are not in downtown Athens proper, but rather outside the downtown district. The Legislative Review Committee has proposed two zones– one in downtown, one for the rest of Athens-Clarke County outside of downtown.
The major difference is bars outside downtown wouldn’t require a physical rail boundary. Instead they could use a non-physical marker throughout the sidewalk that would mark where patrons could and could not drink. This would allow sidewalk cafés like Go Bar, which is located on Prince Avenue outside of downtown, to not have to put up a physical barrier on the sidewalk drinking area of their properties since it would fall under the scope of the outside downtown cafés.
The second part of the amendment would allow a place like Creature Comforts Brewery, which is located at the intersection of two streets and has its property on both streets, to be able to apply for a sidewalk café permit on both streets.
The third part of the proposed amendment states that owners of the establishments will be responsible for enforcing the boundary at their particular establishment. This means that any obstruction of the boundary i.e. a person crossing over the boundary could result in a fine to the owner/permit holder of the café. The fourth part of the amendment would eliminate the required pressure washing of the sidewalk by each sidewalk café.
During their discussion, the commissioners agreed with many of the provisions and amendments to the sidewalk café structure in downtown, but some also had some reservation and concerns.
Commissioner Jerry NeSmith was wary about the new boundary requirements outside of downtown. He questioned who would be held liable for any misteps and making sure patrons would be made aware of the new boundary. NeSmith requested the city manager and others proposing the amendment clarify the exact boundary requirements for those cafés.
“I wonder if we should require a sign that tells [patrons] because otherwise if no one tells them, then they’re just not going to know,” NeSmith said.
Commissioner Andy Herod shared the same concern and asked Athens-Clarke Attorney, William Berryman, about the enforcement of the proposed policy.
“I still believe if the patron steps out on the sidewalk, with an open container, that patron is going to have full responsibility,” Berryman said in response. “The government might be able to take an administrative action against the owner of the establishment for not giving the warning, but it won’t change the responsibility of the person with the actual open container.”
From a business standpoint, Jake Fisher, the manager of The Cabin Room, formerly known as The Bury, thinks the physical barriers are necessary to most bars downtown. He said that more space could allow for a less restricting barrier and that if a café has the space, like Creature Comforts Brewery for example, to allow freer roaming drinking space, they should do so.
“I think it has its pros and cons as far as clearing up some sidewalk space and allow some of these bars to expand out for the people who do like to go outside and drink a beer,” Fisher said.
Customers and in particular University of Georgia students would favor expanded drinking space, especially in the warmer months, according to UGA students Brandon Estroff and Logan Booker.
Estroff, said the idea of having more space is great even though it likely won’t effect him following graduation in May.
Booker on the other hand was ecstatic to hear of the possible expansion.
“I think it would just be a more lively atmosphere,” Booker said. “Just being outside in general is more of a festive drinking, not just drinking, but more of a social setting. In spring and fall in Athens, it’s nice to be outside.”
The proposed change in the sign ordinance calls for wall mounted board signs and additional sign allowance for all Athens sidewalk cafés.
These are signs that include menus and drink specials among other information, according to the Legislative Review Committee’s (LRC) report. The LRC is recommending that sidewalk cafes be permitted to use mounted wall signs to display menus and specials outside that are currently on portable signs that are placed outside during a businesses operating hours.
Presently, the ordinance does not allow for mounted wall signs that do not count against a café’s allowed signage space. If the mayor and commission approved the proposed amendment to signage ordinance, the mounted wall signs would not count against sidewalk cafés allowed signage space. The mounted wall signs would be restricted to one per business, two per property if the businesses are stacked on top of each other like Taco Stand and Blue Sky was the example Girtz described during discussion. Each sign would not be able to exceed six square feet.
During the discussion, three commissioners raised concerns about the proposed sign ordinance proposal. Link wanted to clarify the difference between signs and posters under the sign ordinance citing many of the downtown business owners concern of not wanting to further hinder their business’ signage and display, with more upcoming construction in the downtown area.
“I’m hoping that we can tweak our ordinances or at least clarify what constitutes art and what constitutes a sign in the very near future because we are going to be seeing some big giant retaining walls popping up in our downtown area and I know that it would be nice if we had the opportunity to brighten them up a little bit without jumping through a bunch of hoops,” Link said.
Herod was concerned that the change in the downtown sign ordinance could affect the proposed café boundary or hinder the marking of the boundary and Girtz was concerned about the content neutrality of the signs.
“Legally speaking, if they allow one type of signage, they have to allow all type of signage in the public space because we have to have content neutral approach,” Girtz said.
The additional signage allowance would be welcomed by sidewalk café businesses, according to Fisher.
“Having a hanging sign would alleviate some of the problems because when it does get busy, sometimes those signs can get trampled and get in the way,” Fisher said. “It’s happened before where I’ve been to other places where it happens. I’ve seen it happen at our bar, other bars.”
If the commission approves these measures at their montly April meetin, it will allow sidewalk cafes with the space and ability outside of downtown additional space in the outdoor and patio area of their establishments. All bars will be able to hang additional signage without hindering the walkway. It will also give more freedom for their customers to enjoy an alcoholic beverage outdoors just as spring fully arrives in downtown Athens.
Both amendments to the ordinance were tabled for further discussion at the Mayor and Commission’s March 17 agenda setting meeting. They will continue to discuss the proposal during their April monthly meeting.
By: Aaron Conley
This is Athens Restaurant Week, when special menus and lower prices are driving diners into the downtown area.
It’s a project of the Chamber of Commerce, which is worried about a dwindling number of people shopping and eating downtown.
Leaders in the Athens-Clarke County government believe that the blame for this trend can be traced back to the increase of online shopping, as well as the pull of large malls in other towns.
By: Patrick Adcock
It is broad daylight and Charles Bond is assessing the situation in front of him; he’s been here before. Four trash containers sit against the back wall of the parking lot behind a local grocery store. Four chances to hit the jackpot.
Bond has spoken with the employees of this particular store before. They would prefer that any scavenging take place after dusk, when there are fewer customers coming and going and so that day-to-day operations aren’t disturbed. It’s not dusk, but there aren’t too many people around either.
Unperturbed, Bond hops up onto the nearest container. The results are disappointing; the bin is empty.
Bond moves on to the next bin. He pulls back the lid and is immediately hit with the smell of rotting vegetables. This bin is obviously a no-go. It’s not a surprising situation; sometimes one has to go home empty-handed.
The third bin is opened to reveal more vegetables – fresh this time.
This is the experience of Freegans, a subset of people who “look outside of capitalistic systems” to obtain their food according to the movement’s website. This can include growing their own vegetables in gardens, but most commonly it means digging through trash thrown out by grocery stores.
Grocery stores have an obligation to sell fresh food to customers. The result is that a lot of food gets thrown out, either because it was damaged in shipping or has passed its legal sell-by date. A lot of this food is still edible or can be used for other purposes.
Freegans see this situation as an opportunity. Dumpster diving is not a new phenomenon; however, this is the first time divers have been part of a larger movement. For them, supporting Freeganism has a moral element.
According to the official website of the movement, “After years of trying to boycott products from unethical corporations, we found that no matter what we bought we ended up supporting something deplorable.”
Many have thus turned to diving in order to obtain the necessary food supplies while in turn not spending money on companies that they feel don’t have the customers’ best interests at heart.
A problem comes with diving, however. The legality around the practice is a murky at best. For example, there is no federal law that labels diving as illegal. At the same time, state laws can sometimes prohibit the action.
In the case of Georgia, diving is not illegal. Trespassing and entering private property, however, will result in a fine for the offender. Even diving in unmarked bins could result in being questioned by police.
University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson is careful not to condone diving, but also acknowledges that nothing can be done about it.
“It’s legal in Athens, but a lot of problems can still come from it.”
There are also serious health and safety issues, the least of which can be broken glass shards littered on the bottom of some trash bins.
These are the issues facing Charles Bond as he rummages through the bins of the back parking lot of a local grocer.
Bond is a 21-year-old student of bioengineering at UGA. He lives off-campus on a plot of land that he helps to farm as part of an agriculture group. Chickens wander his backyard where he also grows his own vegetables. Bond plays drums for several local bands.
About once a month, Bond goes diving. He has a few hotspots, such as the Earthfare on Milledge and the Kroger on Baxter. These places, he says, are relatively nice to divers and will allow them to take refuse as long as they don’t disturb daytime operations.
“Earthfare is the best,” says Bond. “I’ve heard about Trader Joe’s but I’ve never been there to look.”
Bond goes diving about once a month and has so far never been caught by either management or curious police officers. Store managers for Earthfare referred this writer to the PR department for comment on this story; however, the department never returned any emails or phone calls.
Some stores will put up signs prohibiting diving, which will result in trouble for offenders. There are also others methods for to stores hoping to deter people digging through their trash.
“In a block of buildings, because it’s not easy to get around to the back, it makes it feel more sketchy,” said Bond.
A good piece of advice for all divers is to ask someone in the store about their policies around the practice before engaging. It’s ultimately the store’s prerogative to allow or disallow diving into their own trash containers.
Bond doesn’t care much for any stigma associated with people who dive. Many people assume that Dumpster divers physically dive headfirst into trash. Bond has a technique of balancing against the side of the container so that he can reach inside without actually entering the Dumpster.
“If you are adventurous and you like free stuff, then diving is for you,” said Bond.
Bond does not eat anything that he obtains from diving, however. He uses the vegetables he obtains to feed his chickens. He is also not too enamored with the term “Freegan.”
“It sounds like a mixture of foodie, animal rights, pseudo-Marxist kind of stuff,” said Bond. “I went to Occupy, so I’m kind of tired of people using that rhetoric and not really doing anything about it.”
He hasn’t seen any evidence of the Freegan movement arriving in force in Athens, either.
“You just put a name on it and then people will attribute more value to it than there actually is,” said Bond. He is a supporter of urban gardening, but for him that is far different from a loose movement of Dumpster divers.
Bond says that the Freegan movement can gain publicity by advertising their label but it would be more meaningful if the movement was actually accomplishing something tangible.
Despite all this, Bond says he will definitely be diving again soon.
“Dig deep, don’t be afraid to get dirty, but try to stay physically outside of the trash container.”
Though he may be young, Brennan Mancil has no short list of responsibilities. A delegate to the Georgia GOP Convention, an active member of Athens GOP, and the Vice President of the University of Georgia College Republicans, Mancil is working hard to prepare for the next election cycle.
Eager to speak about Republican politics, Mancil talked openly about the upcoming Georgia GOP Convention. “Everyone already has their delegates in,” he said, “and the Convention is in May.”
The Georgia Republican Convention is looking to be star-studded this year, with the list of invited speakers including several potential presidential candidates. Secretary of State Brian Kemp reportedly has invited a growing list of speakers, which include presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz as well Gov. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and John Kasich; Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Lindsey Graham; and former Gov. Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush.
The focus so far has been on Cruz, with Kemp saying that he “will personally help coordinate all the details to ensure a smooth and successful visit,” if Sen. Cruz is able to attend.
With Ted Cruz’s announcement Monday that he was throwing in his name as a presidential candidate, pressure on local Republican activists to begin preparing for the elections has been progressively intensifying.
Mancil, as a local GOP delegate, said that there has been a scramble, especially for candidates, to begin campaigning earlier.
“I would say that organizations that support candidates are getting out earlier,” Mancil said, “And the local GOP—we’re always trying to fund raise. But if you start really campaigning now, people will forget about your candidate quicker.”
With 2016 fast approaching, Athens GOP members like Mancil are already feeling the campaign buzz. For the Athens branch of the GOP, state nominations are a direct reflection of future political circumstances, and the beginning of a two-year race towards a Republican presidency.
Georgia, Mancil says, is a fairly good indicator of the Republican Party’s atmosphere leading up to the presidential primaries next year. “I think that Georgia accurately represents the more conservative side of the Republican Party,” Mancil said. “We have the second most number of delegates. Nationally Georgia is to the right, but Georgia regionally, certainly, we meet it perfectly.”
Georgia’s large number of delegates is drawing both candidates and divisiveness, according to Mancil. The invitations to the Georgia State Convention from Secretary Kemp were extended to a wide range of ideological leanings, from right-of-center Ted Cruz to perceived establishment moderate Jeb Bush.
“There’s a lot of disagreement on who to back.” Mancil said of this, “In Athens, and out of state.”
According to Mancil, there are already people leaving Athens and Georgia to help with super PACs and work on Ted Cruz’s campaign. The Tea Party, Mancil said, is “strong in Georgia,” but he expressed some skepticism that Cruz would win in the primaries.
“In is announcement speech, Ted really tried to appeal to religious conservatives,” Mancil said, “because it’s the second biggest demographic in Georgia.”
The State Convention will include much divisive language, according to Mancil. “There’s a lot of internal party drama,” he said. Besides the disagreements regarding presidential candidates, this internal disunity can be seen on a more local scale, he said, in state politics, especially the Georgia Republican Convention.
The Georgia delegates will be voting for the next chairman; the incumbent chairman is John Padgett, with Alex Johnson running as a challenger. Mancil said he is looking forward to an intense convention, but doesn’t anticipate an intense election.
“It’ll be heated in the rhetoric, but not in the actual results, he said. “It won’t be a very close election.”
When pressed on this, Mancil smiled, shook his head, and said, “It’ll be an easy win for John because Alex really represents the libertarian wing. He won’t win.”
The Convention itself, a weekend-long event, will be held in Athens on May 15 and 16. Most of the big name Republican speakers, according to Mancil, will be speaking on May 15, while May 16 is mainly the actual voting.
While the Republican speakers will be of most interest to average voters, he said, the really heated rhetoric will take place the next day, when the Georgia representatives and senators speak, moving up to the chairman: “It gets more heated the higher the level.”
The Georgia GOP convention cycle is an important aspect of pre-election political groundwork. While there may be off-years for the average citizen, party members, Mancil says, are involved in a never-ending cycle of intense politicking. When not aggressively working towards elections, they are constantly preparing to do so.
While they are not yet actively campaigning, Mancil said, “everyone is talking about 2016.”