M&C 4/13/21

The Athens Mayor and Commission discusses hostile architecture during a work session on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Photo/Screenshot captured by: Julia Walkup)

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission discussed adjusted plans for construction on Clayton Street that would provide more pedestrian sidewalk space, a new river access point and eliminating hostile architecture downtown during a work session Tuesday evening.

Two ACC Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program administrators, Keith Sanders and Diana Jackson, presented the commission with the newly updated plans that the commission is set to vote on during their next voting session.

The adjustment would eliminate most plans to add planters, except at sidewalk bump-outs and corners. It would also add motorcycle parking spaces and include stairs in needed areas, among other things.

The original construction plan, which the commission initially approved in February 2019, is under revision due to the recent extension of the county’s parklet program, which allows downtown restaurants to utilize outdoor spaces, including sidewalks, as outdoor dining areas. Complications also arose after Atlanta Gas Light began opening up trenches on Clayton Street in order to relocate utilities, which caused some basements to flood after heavy rains, Sanders said.

The adjustments plan would not change plans for light pole configurations, parking details or tree placement. The design focuses on putting oak trees on street corners and a mix of other species of trees in between corners, said Andrew Saunders, the county’s central services director.

Later in the meeting, Mel Davis, the county’s assistant director of administration, presented the commission with information for a newly-planned river access point on Macon Highway. The access point is a SPLOST 2020 program that would provide a public takeout spot on the Oconee River that complements the launch at Ben Burton Park.

The project plan includes a parking area, walking path to the river and a launch/takeout area for non-motorized boats. The commission is set to vote on the plan in its upcoming May voting meeting.

District 8 Commissioner Carol Myers conveyed her support for the project and noted that the proposed access point would create a “two-to-four-hour paddling trip from Ben Burton.”

District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link also expressed her excitement for the project and called it “long overdue.”

The commission was also presented with information about hostile and defensive architecture by Randy Sorensen, an urban design and landscape architecture specialist with Jacobs Engineering Group. The commission had requested more information on this topic during a previous meeting.

Hostile or defensive architecture is when design is used “to exclude and restrict certain groups of people, most commonly the homeless, skateboarders, teenagers and other ‘undesirable’ individuals from using public spaces,” according to Sorensen’s presentation.

Sorensen referred to benches with arm rests in the middle of them as one example of hostile architecture, because it prevents people from laying or sleeping on the benches. District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson voiced his disapproval of these middle dividers on benches.

“The default here should be handrests on the outside — that is not intentionally hostile to certain groups,” Denson said.

Link and District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle also expressed their disdain for these bench designs and voiced their support for the removal of the hand rail dividers.