Annoyances for residents of downtown Athens

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By Brittney Cain

After living in busy downtown Athens for 2 years, Lauren Klopfenstein has learned the ropes for getting around problems.

She has found a way to deal with one of the most common annoyances—loud noises.

Klopfenstein’s best advice is to find a different place where it is quiet to get schoolwork and studying done, since downtown isn’t always the best place.

When signing a lease downtown most people think they are aware of the living conditions, but not all actually are.

The growing heaps of trash, loud noises, and run-ins with intoxicated students are often the biggest issues with students and residents of downtown.

One “annoyance” often overlooked is parking in downtown Athens.

More residents are choosing to live downtown, officials say, because of the close proximity to the University of Georgia campus and convenience.

According to a 2012 study of Athens, nearly 2,000 people lived in the downtown Athens area.

Jack Crowley, head of the downtown Athens master plan project, believes that with recent and current construction of residential areas, numbers are set to more than double in the next few years.

With growing number of residents in the downtown area, annoyances are unavoidable.

Here are some tips from current residents and public officials.Trash remains one of the biggest problems with living downtown, according to UGA student Hannah Lech.  In addition to being a resident for a year, she also works downtown.

“I work at Athens Bagel Company downtown and can see all of the trash and litter piled up early in the morning,” Hannah Lech responded when asked about the claims of trash.

Among the Athens-Clarke County’s most commonly broken codes, unlawful dumping and littering can be seen downtown.

Garbage is collected by the Solid Waste Department in the downtown district. If garbage isn’t picked up on the proper days, residents can call the main office at 706-613-3501.

Living above Whiskey Bent, Hannah Lech also finds the noise to be disturbing.

“I can usually tell what song is being played at the bar below by the shaking of my floor.  It can get pretty loud even on weekdays,” said Hannah Lech.

She suggested future residents invest in earplugs or stay up late enough that they will immediately fall asleep despite the noise below.

Athens-Clarke County Staff Sergeant, Derek Scott, said “we notify bars if they are playing loud music after hours to prevent potential complaints from the residents of downtown.”

Another annoyance is one that is sometimes unavoidable.

Dealing with intoxicated students is bound to happen with nearly 80 bars downtown.

Christian Conover, a junior at the University of Georgia, said, “dealing with intoxicated students is annoying, but I think this comes with living in a college town and can only be fixed by increasing police presence and cracking down on underage drinking.”

Professor John Newton specializes in Criminal Justice at the University of Georgia.

He said that the main problem with intoxicated students is the threat of large crowds and disorderly behavior of those intoxicated students.

Professor Newtown said, “I would be concerned about the unpredictable nature of intoxicated people who may be more likely to resist with violence than a sober person.”

A tip for dealing with these unpredictable “drunks” is to travel in small groups if possible to avoid conflict, and for those that are deciding to drink to be responsible and aware of those that live downtown.

Although trash, noise and inebriated students are annoyances that you would think of when living downtown, most people are unaware of parking situations.

Danny Boardman, a resident on Broad Street, continues to be annoyed with the parking situation.  Not only are there small amounts of parking spaces available, but also the parking tickets given are beginning to increase.

Even though there are 750 short-term, pay as you go parking spots along downtown streets and 4 pay lots; it can be difficult to find parking for guests close to residential lofts and apartments.

“I have to be prepared to drive around downtown to find parking spots.  Parking is free on Sunday, so it’s the worst that day,” Lauren Klopfenstein said about the new annoyance of parking issues.

Despite all of the minor issues and annoyances of living in a downtown area, Hannah Lech claims, “she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”  She fully recommends others give it a try.

 

Videos:

Trash and students fill the sidewalks, making it hard for people to pass by downtown

Groups of intoxicated students crowd the walkways

Students crowd around Whiskey Bent, which is below where Hannah Lech resides downtown


Downtown takes parking into 21st century

By Taylor West

Downtown in the Classic City — comprised largely of curbside parking — is making it easier for people to get where they are going.

A move to make simpler by replacing the old coin meters with modernized digital IPS meters had been on the table since before Downtown Athens Parking Director Chuck Horton took the helm, but it really gained momentum last year.

“It wasn’t anything new I just brought it back up — it was just something that needed to be done,” Horton said. “The machines that were on the street were just way past their time.”

Now, finding an old school meter in downtown Athens is next to impossible, a reality that will streamline the parking process for anyone who ventures out to one of the many bars, shops or restaurants.

Athens, however, is not the first city to follow the trend of convenience through modernization with the IPS meters.

San Diego introduced 51 of the high-tech devices for a four-month trial in 2009, according to the San Diego government website. And according to the City of Berkeley website, North Berkeley, a neighborhood in Berkeley, Calif., ran a pilot program with 30 of the meters in January 2010.

These new solar-powered meters, which made their way through downtown over the last couple of months, take credit and debit cards as well as the traditional pocket change.  Now those who find themselves in the historic city center can use the new meters on most streets.

Even the pay and display boxes are on their way out. Horton said it is in the works for Clayton Street and Broad Street to follow the lead of the rest of downtown and replace the boxes with the new IPS meters.

Horton said the boxes are a real problem for downtown Athens parking — just the act of having to find a box, pay, get a ticket and return to your car generates complaints.

“A lot of the folks don’t like them. It is not uncommon to have five complaints in a morning based on what happened the night before,” he said. “I just don’t get those kinds of complaints from the IPS meters.”

John McArthur, a downtown Athens attorney who works across the street from the courthouse, said he likes the new meters better than the old ones and better than the pay and display boxes.

“[The pay and display’s] are OK. I kind of like [the IPS meters] better because you don’t have to go looking for the box and print the receipt,” he said.

Scott Cassady, a retired Athenian, shares McArthur’s distaste for the pay and display meters, saying they are “a pain in the butt.”

“Whatever happened to where you just walked up and stuck your coins in and walked away?” he said. “[The IPS meters] actually look like they make sense. It’s way better than the other one.”

And on top of being a grievance for those who frequent downtown, the pay and display boxes are difficult and costly to fix when they break. Horton said Athens doesn’t have the in-house tools to fix the machines so the city has to call in people from Norcross.

The IPS meters pose much less of a problem. Horton said they break less frequently and are easier to fix and to monitor.

“It will send a message to my email if they are jammed if they are having some problems,” Horton said. “For us its easy to trouble shoot them you can switch them out pretty easy.”

In addition to the ability to pay with credit and debit cards as well as the traditional coins, users can pay for the new machines by calling in on an app and paying on the phone.

“I can pull up on their software and check the amount of money that’s coming in,” Horton said.

A given meter’s income varies by location — the area by the courthouse doesn’t get as much business until court is in session or there is an event at the Classic Center. On the other hand, Horton said the meters on Lumpkin Street, Jackson Street and S. Washington Street “really get used.”

Athens-Clarke County purchased 510 IPS meters at $465 a piece — a total of just over $230,000 — that arrived in the middle of last October. Horton said of the vote in favor of the purchase, “I think it was unanimous.

And the opinion on the amendment to the downtown landscape met with positivity from Athens’ citizens, too.

“They are well received,” Horton said. “I like them and I think the customers like them because … they can read them and it’s easy to use them. Your generation is going to use plastic; the older generation may not want to do that.”

Barbara Brown, an employee of Downtown Athens Parking, has the job of writing tickets for the vehicles which are illegally parked — whether in an off-limits parking space or with an expired meter.  She said the dual nature of the meters makes them easy to use for Athenians of all ages and backgrounds.

“They are easier for the older people and easier for the students, you know, it’s old school and new school,” she said. “Credit cards, five cents, ten cents and quarters — you can still get by with it.”

McArthur said he supports the new, high-tech meters’ downtown takeover because they are convenient and good for the price. His only complaint — “I wish they would take dollar bills too.”


Downtown churches turn other cheek on illegal parking

By Polina Marinova

A bent metal sign with brown graffiti spray-painted on its bold white letters stands like an aged parking attendant in front of a church lot reading, “Private Parking: First United Methodist Church Only.”

Though the Hancock Street sign alerts trespassers that the minimum towing fee of their vehicle is $125, it may just be an empty threat.

“There are signs around the two parking lots for the church that say parking is reserved for First United Methodist Church members,” said Tom Jackson, a United Methodist Church leader and University of Georgia vice president. “But those signs are largely ignored.”

Like the vandalized sign, the church’s property isn’t shown much respect either — especially on weekend nights.

“We see broken beer bottles and evidence that people have urinated near the building,” Jackson said. “It’s really unsavory for a church, and our custodians end up arriving early in the day on Sundays to clean before the congregation begins.”

Like other churches downtown, the First United Methodist Church attempted to solve a problem that community members and church employees often face downtown — limited parking and trashed lots.

Years ago, the Methodist Church patrolled its parking lots, but eventually gave up.
“For a number of years, we had an associate pastor who was very diligent about walking around the parking lots and he would put notes on cars who were not regulars of the church,” Jackson said. “We had the repeat violators towed, but that was 10 years ago. We’ve stopped doing that. The lots are full almost every night by people who are not part of the church.”

A temporarily solution for the churches might be found in the just-opened Washington Street deck.
“I think the deck has answered a lot of our issues,” Jackson said. “It’s given us a lot of parking. The fact that there’s no charge on Sundays really helps us out.”

Laura Miller, director of the Athens Downtown Parking System, is not aware of any complaints from local churches, but she also thinks the new Washington Street deck could help alleviate parking problems.
“If someone would like to park for a longer period of time, that’s a matter of choice and the new deck would allow them to do that,” she said.
But the deck has not answered the trash issues.

The First Baptist Church located on Pulaski Street, must also clean up after the typical downtown Athens rush.
“People leave their trash behind, but it’s not a big problem,” said Susie Moon, the First Baptist Church secretary. “The way the church is situated, a lot of people walk through when they’re going downtown. And some people throw beer bottles in the bushes.”

Trash may not pose a “big problem” for the church, but due to its location, the First Baptist Church often finds unauthorized vehicles of Sigma Alpha Epsilon members on its property.

“Parking has been a problem before for us because of where we’re located downtown,” Moon said. “For instance, the SAE house is right around the corner and students park in our lots. They park kind of crazy so we’ve had to get the parking services on them a few times, but they’ve straightened up.”

The First Christian Church of Athens off Dougherty Street also confronts the same repeat violator — typically a University of Georgia student.
“Most of our parking is off-street and we have probably 10 spaces on-street right in front of the church and during the week, those are never available,” said Alan Mace, the interim minister of the First Christian Church of Athens. “To be honest, they are mostly occupied by students during the week.”

Still, Mace did not complain too much about trash left behind on the church property citing the church’s location as a possible reason.
“There are negatives in every world,” he said. “We find that we do get some trash, but we don’t have any problem with beer cans and liquor bottles. I think part of it is that we sit on the corner of downtown, and we’re not too close to the nightlife scene.”

Whatever the trash, someone needs to clean it up.

The First Presbyterian Church contracts with a cleaning service, whereas the others employ custodians to clean the lots before the church holds its morning service.

The churches apply this quick fix to solve the trash problem, but the limited parking downtown is something they do not regulate anymore.

Four central churches downtown do not issue permits to their patrons nor do they closely monitor the lots.
“Unlike some of the other churches near us, we have yet to post a sign out there telling folks that they could be towed away,” said Robert Burbage, the First Presbyterian Church business administrator. “We have certainly discussed it but at this point, we’d just prefer not to do that.”

So what are the consequences of parking in church parking lots illegally and leaving trash behind at any time of the day? There aren’t any.

Even though many of the church lots display menacing signs warning violators of hefty fines and towing fees, chances are that nothing will happen. The church leaders said they almost never tow violators. In fact, the only time the First Christian Church of Athens has enforced its written policy and towed a violator was on a Friday before a football game.

“The parking lot does say that unauthorized parkers can be towed, but we would do some serious checking before we decide to tow someone,” Mace said.

The problems of trash and limited parking are not going away and the violators are not being held accountable, yet the church leaders are not planning on presenting the issues at town hall meetings nor are they planning on moving from their central location downtown.

“We see trash from restaurants, we see newspapers and the occasional beer can,” Burbage said. “It’s just part and parcel of being a church in the center of the city. We’d prefer not to have to deal with it, but it’s part of being in such a central location.”

As a result of the central location of many of these churches, many church leaders are adopting a laissez-faire mentality to the accumulating trash and limited parking problems.

“It’s a big nuisance,” Jackson said. “We used to issue permits, but we’ve given up. It’s just too hard to patrol. Now, people trash our lots and you come in on Sunday morning and find beer cans and urine on the front steps of the church.”


Park it, pal… Downtown!

Kathryn Lookofsky doesn’t know what she wants for dinner — but at least her meal ticket is paid.

Next month marks her 5-year-anniversary as director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority, and as she peruses Kroger’s isles for the possible menu for the evening’s table-makings, she goes over a few of the changes she has already brought to the table.

“Our old parking meters — the ones that you twist, the manual-style ones — we bought those used in 1985,” Lookofsky said. “They’re so antiquated that it’s really hard to find new parts for them when they break. We had to figure out what we were going to replace them with.”

An answer to the problem of the ancient coin swallowers came in the form of sixteen spanking-new parking kiosks installed in March of last year on Broad and Clayton streets between Thomas and Lumpkin at $11,000 each – a price that included shipping and installation

Another project helmed by Lookofsky dealt similarly with outdated citation practices.

Athens-Clarke County did a study three years ago comparing the city of Athens to others of comparable size and demographics, only to find that the citizens of Athens were paying remarkably lower citation rates.

The city decided to make an adjustment.

“One of the problems with our fines originally was that people just considered it the price of parking — it wasn’t a fine,” Lookofsky said. “Once we raised the rates it actually became a fine, and people paid attention to the rules and said, ‘Oh, I better move, I’m going to get a ticket.’”

Three dollars — the old rate — was bumped up to $10, more than tripling the price of parking past a meter’s time limit.

Increased fines coupled with the new kiosks have contributed considerably toward the coffers of Athens-Clarke County’s downtown governing element, but Lookofsky contends the funds are not a source of profit for her outfit.

“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding there,” Lookofsky said. “The whole purpose of managing the parking is to make sure that people have a place to park and it’s not being abused, and that the parking turns out. A lot of people think that it’s a revenue source, and it’s just not.”

Lookofsky and the ADDA get paid a fee for managing parking, “but as far as making money off of parking, we don’t,” she said.

The ADDA is not technically a governmental body, though it does have the ability to distribute taxpayer funds for public works projects, such as using SPLOST funds totaling over $6 million in a joint-effort with the development company Batson-Cook in building a seven-story commercial parking deck.

“We serve as a liaison between the downtown business community and the local government,” Lookofsky said.

But parking is only one of Lookofsky’s jurisdictions in the downtown area — she may hold the keys to the kingdom, but another woman manages the locks.

“It’s been tremendous how the revenue has improved,” said Laura Miller, director of Parking Services, speaking on the parking kiosks that have been in place for almost a year. “Better than 20 percent.”

Such an increase in revenue comes from the fact that, as Miller put it, “Everyone must pay to park.”

Under the old meter system, a customer would park, put money in and do whatever downtown. The meter would still tick to the good when the customer decided to leave, allowing for that time to be used by another visitor to the downtown area once the spot had been vacated.

Plus, it was hard to get an accurate accounting of money with the wind-up jobs — the little coin catchers inside acted almost like beggars’ cups.

“So many hands were in the money on the way to the bank,” Miller said. “The new machines will tell you to the penny how much money has been put in them, and when you take it to the bank there better be that much there.”

The number of citations since the installation of the kiosks has increased alongside revenue from people simply feeding money — or debit and credit cards, a new convenience for downtown parkers — to the new machines.

There were a total of 20,110 expired meter citations written for the period of October 1, 2009, through the day before the kiosks were put in on March 29,2010. These citations account for a grand total of fines at $201,130.

Comparatively, there were a total of 22,122 expired meter citations written for the period of October 1, 2009 through March 8, 2011, and these citations account for a total of $329,423.

The difference between the two periods of time shows that the kiosks have brought potentially extra
revenue in the order of nearly $130,000. One drawback of these numbers is that not everyone has paid their tickets. For example, the balance still due for the 2010-2011 period is $206,845.

All of the revenue collected from parking downtown stays downtown: “Every last penny,” Miller said. The funds go toward downtown enhancements, such as holiday lighting and decorative banners hung from street lights.

And who is responsible for these amassed fines — the delineator of lines crossed, and ultimate regulator of bought time?

Nick Andersen makes his way, car by car, up the street. He is checking meters when there are meters to check and kiosk printout slips when they are present on dashboards.

A long stick is in his hand, and attached to the end of that stick is a piece of chalk that’s “more like a crayon.” This goes on the tire of a vehicle.

When a vehicle moves, the chalk-crayon hybrid comes off of the tire. If the vehicle doesn’t move, but the ticker does — into the red — the driver of the vehicle could get a ticket.

“I am called Parking Violations Officer,” Andersen said. “Nicknames, I’ve heard many: meter maid, meter butler, ticket fairy. Those are all okay with me.”

Andersen sums up nicely the ground up view of parking downtown — puts the meat back on the bone, so to speak: it’s all about the money.

“There are merchants on the board of directors that make policy for the company,” Andersen said. “This is really a lot about the merchants being able to have good traffic in their business, keep the spaces turning over.”