Storeowners angered by new downtown loading policy

By Lauren McDonald

Due to a new traffic law downtown, Jim Adams can no longer see Jackson Street out of his single storefront window for a majority of the day. Instead, he now stares at the side of a delivery truck.

Adams, owner of Adams Optics, said the newly painted loading zone for distributors is seven and a half feet from his store’s entrance.

“Number one, I can’t see out,” Adams said. “And number two, nobody can see in. And people will think we’re closed. I’m not happy at all.”

Adams is one of several storeowners on Jackson Street who feel that their businesses have been negatively and unfairly affected by the recently implemented loading zone ordinance downtown.

The new “center lane policy,” passed by the Athens-Clarke County unified government in December, has been in effect for four months.

According to the policy, it is now illegal for all delivery drivers to load or unload in the center lane of Clayton Street. These vehicles must park in the new loading zones painted on the north-south streets, such as Jackson Street.

The new policy has been delayed by the painting of the new loading zones, but storeowners have recently begun to notice the effects of the change.

And several wish they’d been consulted.

“I just can’t imagine what they were thinking,” Adams said. “Nobody from the city came into my office and discussed it with me, so I had no idea that this was coming about. When I questioned them, they said ‘Well it was in the paper.’ Well, who reads that sorry paper?”

Adams said only two parking spots were left in front of his store.

“If a car is parked there, somebody can see my store,” Adams said. “But if a beer truck, a UPS truck or FedEx truck is, nobody can see me at all.”

The Athens government passed the new policy as an attempt to address the ongoing issue of allowing stores downtown to receive deliveries, without the delivery trucks impeding traffic.

“Everybody knows downtown Athens is unique because it was built without alleys, so there’s not anywhere to put your trash, there’s not anywhere to accept deliveries,” said Pamela Thompson, director of the Athens Downtown Development

Authority. “So everybody knows you have to make accommodations to get goods into the businesses.”

In 2002, Mayor Nancy Denson attempted to address this issue by allowing delivery trucks to park in the center lanes of Clayton Street and Washington Street.

But while this policy appeased distributors, Athens drivers, pedestrians and some business owners were unsatisfied.

“The concern was that the delivery trucks, especially on Clayton, were creating a potential traffic hazard – because you have parking, a travel lane, then the delivery truck,” Thompson said.

Delivery trucks parked in the center lane also became an eyesore, she said.

“You lose some visibility, if they had an outdoor restaurant or café, when your view is of a delivery truck,” Thompson said. “For the retail stores, sometimes if you’re just window shopping, you may be on one side of the street, you look across the street and see a store that you want to go visit. But if there’s a delivery truck in the way, you wouldn’t see that window.”

So the Commission took the issue up again in 2014, with the help of Mayor Denson. They sat down in April to discuss a solution to this difficult problem.

Officials decided to create loading zones on the north-south streets, allowing the center lanes to be used only for traffic flow from noon to 3 a.m.

“We wanted to make sure that delivery drivers didn’t have to walk too far, so we just picked four businesses that seemed pretty far from the loading areas and measured that, to see that the farthest any one business would be from a loading zone was 162 feet,” Thompson said.

She said traffic downtown has improved since the policy went into effect.

“One reason we think it’s going to be successful is because we have created enough larger, longer loading zones on the north-south streets that weren’t there before,” Thompson said. “So we think we’ve provided enough alternate spaces to park to do your loading and unloading that it will be successful.”

Chris Stallings, director of sales and marketing at the beer distributor Leon Farmer and Company, said his deliverers have not faced any issues since the policy took effect.

“We haven’t run into anything that has prevented us from servicing our customers,” Stallings said. “But from a whether it’s positive or negative standpoint, it’s such a work in progress right now, that I really would hate to say anything positive or negative about it.”

Since the policy took effect, the ADDA has worked to educate the downtown community about the change, and for the first month they only gave warnings for those violating the new law.

“We gave to all the business owners the new ordinance, so that they could give it to all of their delivery drivers, because this applies to everyone – beer delivery, food delivery, linens, anything you’re getting,” Thompson said. “For about a month, we ticketed with warnings.”

But Adams said he never received this information.

Adams and other storeowners on Jackson Street, including the owners of Dynamite Clothing and Community, complained to the ADDA. He said they have not yet been offered a solution.

“If you’re a store on Clayton Street, and a beer truck is parked in the center lane, it is probably 50 feet from the beer truck to the front of the store,” Adams said. “If a beer truck is right there, it’s seven and a half feet from the front of my store. Nobody will be able to see me.”

Adams said he feels that the new law was created with bar owners specifically in mind.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. Eighty-five percent of the trucks there are beer trucks,” Adams said. “Well the bars don’t open until 10 o’clock at night. Well, why not deliver at night? They said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to inconvenience any body.’ Well, it inconveniences me when I don’t have any business because of it.”

Adams would like to see the loading zone in front of his store removed.

“They better be concerned about the merchants – the few remaining merchants that aren’t bars,” he said. “This town caters to the bars, and that’s just facts.”

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Park Planning Department reveals proposed changes to Bishop Park

By Lauren McDonald

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Renovation plans on Bishop Park have been in the works for months. Credit: CCDP.

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 Park Planning Department asked community members for feedback on March 25 for the new master plan.

The Park Planning Department asked community members for feedback on March 25 for the new master plan.

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.”


Celebrity Farmer: Nathan Brett finds fame at Athens Farmers Market

By Lauren McDonald

A young farmer discovered last month at the Georgia Organics Conference that his farm has formed a reputation among Georgia farmers.

“They would ask me, ‘What does your farm do?’” said Nathan Brett, owner of DaySpring Farms. “I’d tell them ‘We produce stone mill flour.’”

“Oh, you guys are the stone mill flour guys.”

Brett laughed and replied, “Yeah, that’s us.”

Customers will return to the Athens Farmers Market on April 4 at Bishop Park, and Brett is one of several young farmers who have emerged as local market celebrities.

“We heard that soon enough, instead of having celebrity chefs we would have celebrity farmers,” said Jan Kozak, manager of the Athens Farmers Market. “And lo and behold, we’ve got some farmers in our local market that are not necessarily celebrities but have done a good job of marketing themselves to where they’re really recognizable.”

Nathan Brett, with his wife Simone and son,  at DaySpring Farms on March 2, 2015.

Local farmer Nathan Brett, with his wife Simone and son, at DaySpring Farms on March 2, 2015.

DaySpring Farms is one of the nearly 100 small farms in and around Athens-Clarke County, all of which contribute to what Kozak calls a “burgeoning” local food scene.

“In the case of Athens, we have a fairly young farmer scene, and all that really contributes to the really great, vibrant local food scene that we have,” Kozak said.

Brett and his father Murray opened DaySpring Farms in 2011 in Danielsville, about 20 miles outside of Athens.

DaySpring Farms produces organically certified wheat, corn and produce. The 90-acre farm’s most well-known feature is its stone mill, which grounds wheat into flour.

“There may be a handful of other farms in Georgia that are growing organic wheat,” Brett said.

DaySpring Farms has expanded rapidly since it began four years ago.

The farm produced 30,000 pounds of organic wheat in 2014. Brett said they hope to sell 60,000 pounds this year.

But before 2011, Brett had very little interest in running his own farm.

Brett studied music business at the University of Georgia until 2008. He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career as a musician.

He dreamed of seeing his name up in lights.

“For the better part of my college career and afterwards, I was very intent on making a name for myself as a singer, songwriter or performer,” Brett said. “I wanted to the next Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan.”

His father convinced him to make a career in farming instead.

“He grew up on a farm in South Georgia,” Brett said. “He moved away from the farm to go to school. He says that he wishes he had never left. In about 2009, he got in my ear and talked me into moving back to the farm.”

So the Brett family bought a piece of foreclosed property in Danielsville.

DaySpring Farms sprung up on the local Athens food scene by taking part in the Farmers Market and building a client base. The farm began with just three acres of wheat.

Their biggest buyers have been Heirloom Café and the Independent Bakery, Brett said. Last month, he also began selling to The National and Five & Ten in Athens.

Chef Hugh Acheson, owner of The National and Five & Ten, buys 70 percent of food for both restaurants locally.

He said several new young farmers like Brett have sprung up on the local food scene in Athens lately, many of whom are finding ways to distinguish themselves, just like Brett has done by grinding his own flour.

“There’s a lot of new people doing some really cool stuff,” Acheson said. “As much as there’s new stuff on the rise, though, there’s also a lot of old timers that I still want to support.”

DaySpring Farms' stone flour mill, which grinds wheat into flour.

DaySpring Farms’ stone flour mill, which grinds wheat into flour.

Brett said the Athens community recognizes the stone flour mill as his farm’s trademark, which he said improves his sales, as well as his notoriety.

DaySpring Farms has more control over where it sells crops, Brett said, because it owns its own stone mill. The farm can grind and store the flour because the mill is on-site, rather than outsourcing to a separate mill.

Brett keeps his business viable by storing and then selling the wheat throughout the year.

Brett did not expect to develop a passion for organic, sustainable farming.

In the past four years, though, he said his goal has become to share this philosophy with the Athens community, and he hopes to use his new-found fame to do so.

“Not only is there a need for farmers to produce real food, but it’s also extremely important to be a productive contributing member to society,” Brett said. “Farmers have an extremely unique responsibility in that. They provide one of the most essential things to the local community, and that’s food. Responsible farmers lead to more responsible communities.”

Brett no longer aspires to be a celebrity. Today, he only hopes to sustain his business, educate the community on organic farming and spend time with his wife and 3-month-old son.

“Living with that kind of mentality where you want to see your name in lights can be pretty damaging,” he said. “I’m grateful to have moved away from that, and I don’t really care if people know who I am. If I can provide a good living for my family, then I’m happy for that.”


Undocumented students in Athens left with few in-state college options

By Lauren McDonald

As a senior in high school, Alejandro Galeana-Salinas had the grades and the ambitions to go to a top university in Georgia. But because of his legal residency status, he didn’t have the option to apply.

“It was senior year – my final year – and next year I would be out in the real world, paying bills,” said the recent Cedar Shoals High School graduate. “It was either college or bust.”

Of the approximately 3,000 undocumented students who graduate from Georgia high schools every year, none may receive in-state tuition rates or federal aid to attend college, per state policy.

The University System of Georgia also bans undocumented students from attending five of the top public schools in the state of Georgia, including the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University.

For undocumented students who would otherwise possess the credentials to attend one of the top five schools and who cannot afford to attend college without federal aid or in-state tuition, the ban restricts their access to most options of higher education in Georgia.

These state policies left Galeana-Salinas feeling apathetic about his future for the first half of his high school career.

Galeana-Salinas said his plans at that time did not extend further than receiving a high school diploma and applying for a position to work in a factory with his parents.

“I thought, ‘There’s no point in me going to college, I’m not going to make it,’” he said. “That was just what I thought. My parents work in factories, and I don’t know anyone who goes to big colleges. The people that I do know go to Athens Tech, so I didn’t see the point.”

In 2010, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents implemented these policies due to the concern that undocumented students would take college seats away from natural-born citizens.

“The purpose of the policy was to mirror state law as passed by the Georgia General Assembly,” said Charlie Sutlive, USG vice chancellor for communications.

In 2010, a USG report also found that, of the 310,000 students enrolled in University System of Georgia institutions, 501 were undocumented.

Federal law entitles unauthorized immigrant children to free kindergarten through twelfth grade education, following the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Plyler v. Doe decision that struck down a state statute that denied funding.

“The Georgia Constitution creates a clear right to public K-12 education, and the U.S. Constitution requires that this right be afforded to Georgia residents equally, regardless of immigration status,” Sutlive said. “However, that requirement does not extend to public higher education.”

For undocumented students with aspirations to attend college, the ban takes a toll on their self-motivation, according to Lauren Emiko Soltis, an activist who has worked with undocumented students for the last four years.

“So many of my students, if you look at their grades from freshman and sophomore year, they’re taking AP classes, and they’re getting 4.0s,” Soltis said. “Then junior year, their grades start to decline. And that’s a reflection of the fact that they realize that they don’t have any options for college.”

The students give up hope, Soltis said.

“By the time that they’re senior or that they graduate, they have internalized failure in order to protect themselves,” Soltis said. “That’s a terrible thing to do to young people, to essentially close off their options for the rest of their lives, in a society where higher education is absolutely essential to economic mobility.”

Georgia’s policies do not match those of most states, Soltis said.

Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina maintain admissions bans on undocumented students, and Georgia, Arizona and Colorado ban undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition. Georgia maintains both policies – the only state to do so.

Galeana-Salinas didn’t realize he had any possible chance to receive an education beyond high school, until he got involved in the undocumented immigrant activist movement.

Attending marches and protests, as well as getting heavily involved with organizations such as the Ambitious for Equal Rights group and the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, Galeana-Salinas took part in the earliest conversations to found Freedom University.

Founded in Athens in 2011, FU provides an option for undocumented students to continue their education. FU students also take part in the activist movement to lift the bans and increase access to higher education.

“I would go to my high school classes, and I would be like ‘I don’t feel like bubbling in this answer sheet, I do not want to do this homework, I’m sorry but I just don’t care,’” Galeana-Salinas said. “And then I would go to Freedom University, and I was learning about Jim Crow, I was learning about stuff I really loved. These were college-level courses, so we would debate and discuss – things we didn’t do in my high school classes.”

His experience as a student activist at FU altered Galeana-Salinas’ plan.

“In junior year, I started getting focused,” he said. “I thought, ‘Okay, I need to go to college. I can’t work at a factory for the rest of my life, I have more potential than that.’”

But the USG ban left him with few options in-state.

Galeana-Salinas said he knew several undocumented students at Cedar Shoals hindered by the state policy.

“There’s different ways students handle this,” he said. “Some students went and applied to other colleges outside of that spectrum, like to private colleges. A lot of private colleges seem like the answer right now for a lot of us.”

Despite Georgia’s ban, Galeana-Salinas planned to go to college. So he took action, applying to schools out-of-state.

This past year, Galeana-Salinas received a full scholarship to Berea College in Kentucky, where he will begin classes as a psychology major in the fall.

One out of five Freedom University students leave with a full-ride scholarship to an out-of-state school, Soltis said.

“It shows that they are academically qualified, but they have to leave the state of Georgia in order to continue their education,” Soltis said.

But right now, Sutlive said, the Board of Regents does not plan to change the policy. He said the policy continues to achieve its purposes, and USG institutions are adhering to it, including the 25 of the 30 schools that allow undocumented students to attend, if they meet the admissions criteria.

“Given that our policy mirrors state law, until state law changes, the Board is not discussing a change in policy,” Sutlive said.

Even though Galeana-Salinas achieved his goal, he plans to continue with the student activist movement, because he said the fight for education equality for undocumented immigrants has far to go.

“There’s such gray areas when it comes to access to higher education, access to funds, grants and scholarships,” he said. “You just have to keep asking questions.”