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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Preserving the Classic City

By Audrey Milam

Sean Hogan of Hogan Builders ruffled some feathers at the March meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission when, in his construction application for 380 Boulevard, he requested some alternatives to the pre-approved siding and windows. Jim and Sheila Payne, the owners of 380, requested an efficient “one over one” style window and a more prominent siding material on the rear extension to their home.

The Commission approved the siding but favored a traditional “six over six, divided light window” in keeping with the rest of the house and suggested entirely relocating the window.

Hogan’s conflict with the Commission is an example of historic preservation at its smallest scale. Most people know about big projects like saving the fire hall within the Classic Center, but few know about the Jim Paynes and their back windows, yet the vast majority of cases are on the scale of a single alteration to a private home.

The Historic Preservation Commission, a board of seven mayor-appointed citizens, handles the minute details, the nuts and bolts, literally, of preservation enforcement.

On the grander side of the spectrum, the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation works to preserve entire properties and neighborhoods.

The Heritage Foundation is responsible for registering twelve Athens neighborhoods as local historic districts. The Boulevard neighborhood, home to Payne and Hogan, is one of the city’s most prominent historic neighborhoods.

Cobbham is one of twelve local historic districts in Athens.

Cobbham is one of twelve local historic districts in Athens.

Historic designation means strict rules for neighborhood consistency and period-appropriate exterior repairs.

Because the upkeep can be burdensome, the Heritage Foundation’s “Hands on Athens” program has provided “free maintenance, repairs and landscaping improvements,” according to their website, for more than 100 homeowners since 1999. Most projects helped elderly and low-income homeowners in Newtown, Hancock, and East Athens neighborhoods.

Sometimes these rules can be difficult to follow and, according to Heritage Foundation Executive Director Amy Kissane, Commission approval can be hard to anticipate.

Kissane recommended in the Heritage Foundation’s Fall 2012 newsletter that city government provide architectural and legal training to the Historic Preservation Commissioners to turn out more consistent decisions.

She still hopes a regular training routine will be implemented.

“I can understand where the commissioners are coming from,” she said, referring to the difficulty of balancing neighborhood wishes with owner requests and preservation ordinances.

However, Kissane said, ultimately the Commission’s decisions must be “legally defensible”.

Drew Dekle, vice-chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, expressed similar concern after the March 12 meeting, saying that Hogan’s request to alter the submitted design was ultimately appropriate, but could have been controversial.

If there were a major change, more than a siding or window change, Dekle said, “Would there be a vote taken to see if what’s presented at the podium is acceptable?”

“Clarification is always the key,” said Planning Department staff. “You can’t change the substance of the application on the fly.”

Whether a modification changes the substance would still be up to the Commission to decide, meaning the application may still vary from the notice given to the public before each meeting.

“I know it’s not really your job to be concerned about citizens,” said Amy Gellins, of the Athens Clarke County Attorney’s Office, “but we all are concerned about citizens, so you’re always looking for a balance in carrying out your responsibilities.”

Gellins answers questions of procedure for the Commission but does not make recommendations.

The Historic Preservation Commission is fulfilling its duty, whether the Commissioners are comfortable with their roles or not.

Ultimately, Jim Payne said, the experience was painless and the back window will have six over six panes.

The Historic Preservation Commission approved a renovation to 380 Boulevard with a number of caveats.

The Historic Preservation Commission approved a renovation to 380 Boulevard with a number of caveats.

“It would definitely look better with that window there [in the new location].”


Four Athens: Fostering Tech Entrepreneurs in Athens

BY TAYLOR BROOKS

Five years ago Jim Flannery moved to Athens fresh from college hoping to start his own business. Like many, Flannery couldn’t find a job, but insisted on staying in the Classic City. Roughly after a year of being in Athens, Flannery co-founded his own business, found a few partners and decided to start a resource for young entrepreneurs in Athens.

Today Flannery spends his days in meetings, reaching out to the public and trying to facilitate strong ties within the community for the organization he co-founded, Four Athens. Flannery currently serves as project director for the organization, which is tucked away in a modest office-space on East Dougherty Street.

Four Athens is a collection of mentors, volunteers, and creative individuals from the community that offer resources, funding, and guidance for young entrepreneurs in the Athens area looking to expand their technological-based businesses.

Four Athens has quite a strong relationship with the Athens Downtown Development Authority. The ADDA partnered with Four Athens to offer its startups rent subsidies to obtain a physical space downtown at a cheaper price.

ADDA executive director Pamela Thompson stated, “The ADDA thinks that Four Athens has a unique approach to helping develop local talent, connecting them to resources to succeed, and allowing us to partner with them to provide space downtown. This helps keep great talent local.”

Four Athens’ philosophy states, “Four Athens believes that Athens possesses all of ingredients necessary to create a strong technology startup hub.”

Startups are small businesses with high growth potential. Four Athens startups must have a technological component whether it is software, involving programming or coding, or hardware, the physical device.

Flannery believes Athens has an excellent market for startups due to the large amount of young, college- educated citizens in the community and the growing numbers of students leaving the university who want to stay and build their dreams in Athens.

Four Athens funds tech based startups, which are increasingly growing around the country. CNN.com listed 9 out of 10 of their top startups to watch as being technology based companies.

Tech based businesses consistently show up in our everyday lives, originating from all over the country and world. Examples range from Tunewolf, a local startup sponsored by Four Athens in the form of an app that allows users to choose songs from a virtual jukebox the venue creates, to the California based social media, photo-sharing app, Instagram.

The Calvin Institute did a study two years ago and conducted that high-tech startups are what’s creating the most jobs.” Flannery said. “In Georgia, for tech jobs, the average salary is $81,000 a year – the monumental impact that could have on Athens just can’t be understated. So, let’s focus on tech startups.”

Flannery believes it is too early to judge any success stories from the startups in the downtown area, but the organization has been growing steadily since Four Athens began two years ago.

In the next few years I’m not looking to see a big liquidation from one of our startups,” said Flannery. “But how we have affected the downtown area is by bringing people here. You’re downtown because of us, I’ve had three meetings today, all downtown. That’s really on the micro level, though. We’re looking to get the 100, the 1,000 people employed.”

Recently Four Athens and the ADDA have partnered together to sponsor Hatch Athens, a new local “makerspace” downtown.

The ADDA offered a rent subsidy through Four Athens for the organization to have a place to hold meetings and organize their members.

Hatch Athens is devoted to bringing people together in the community and other surrounding communities with skills, tools, and experience to design and create.

Through this startup makers and creators can come together, get hands on, and actually create physical products. According to Flannery, these are more “hardware” type products when it comes to their technological component.

Hatch Athens holds a monthly event at the Four Athens East Dougherty Street location called “First Friday Hackathon” where individuals from the community are urged to come together, create something, then choose a winner.

The Quad is another recent partnership downtown with Four Athens.

The Quad is a co-working space aimed at designers in the software field. Here the co-workers have access to internet, a conference room, desk spaces, and offices all located downtown.

The potential for tech startups to prosper is much greater with these recent partnerships that allow large spaces for the startups to meet, collaborate, and connect with one other to generate even more ideas.

Four Athens also takes advantage of the University of Georgia.

Flannery is often a guest speaker in university classes. The organization also has strong ties with the Terry Business of College New Venture Launch Competition, and is involved in the campus-wide entrepreneurial week and career fairs.

We do a lot of one-on-one basis things with the university and I would like to see that formalize over time,” said Flannery. “In most cities our size, in the Southeast, universities are financially supporting community-based incubators, to give students graduating with ideas a platform for a year or two. Which is what we’re doing as well.”

Strong ties with the ADDA, University of Georgia, and countless mentors, volunteers, and creators from the Athens area keeps Four Athens an ever growing, but important organization for our community.

Finally, when asked what was fundamentally important to Four Athens as a whole, Flannery answered,

Community. Companies are built by people and at the end of the day nothing else matters. It’s about finding those communities that can find those people to build those companies.”