After a lengthy session of public comment and debate among commissioners, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission approved a plan for an expansion of the Firefly Trail in the area just outside Winterville at its voting meeting Tuesday night.
The commission had to choose between three different design plans for a section of the trail. Option A, the plan commissioners approved in a 7-3 vote, is the shortest trail and closest to the Firefly Trail’s original design, which follows Athens’ historic rail line.
The prominent argument against the option was its proximity to several private properties. Constructing Option A will require about 15 property easements, as well as “extensive” storm drain improvements, according to the legislation. District 1 Commissioner Patrick Davenport said he met with some residents who own parts of the railbed the trail is set to be built on.
The approved option will avoid crossing Moores Grove Road after the trail cuts east off of Spring Valley Road near Taylor Lane. Option C, which received support from some commissioners, would have had the trail cross Moores Grove Road, but would have provided more privacy for homes in the area.
District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link was concerned about the safety of Option C’s road crossing.
“From the beginning, I’ve realized that Option C could only be safe if there was a full-on traffic light at that intersection, which from what we understand, it does not qualify for it,” Link said.
District 8 Commissioner Carol Myers said county staff will work with property owners to compensate them for using the railbed and will provide privacy screening of their choice, including fences, trees or bushes.
Davenport, District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright and District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton voted against Option A, preferring Option C.
“I just can’t believe that those of you that stood in the people’s backyards think it’s okay to disrupt the environment, the wildlife pond, take out all those trees,” Wright said. “You’re talking about severely disrupting … those residents who bought that property outright, for others to come in.”
District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards said deviating from the trail’s original plan, which residents voted on, could open up the county to legal repercussions.
The Athens in Motion Commission recommended Option A after receiving 248 responses to a public survey on the plan. 186 of the survey’s respondents chose Option A as their preferred plan.
A new affordable housing development
After its discussion and vote on the Firefly Trail, the commission discussed the plans for an affordable housing development in North Downtown Athens and voted to adopt the master plan and the proposed project plan for it.
This affordable housing development will renovate and redevelop the current Bethel Midtown Village on College Avenue and will be funded by a mix of private and public sources. The county has set aside $39 million from SPLOST funds to allocate to this project.
The commission then quickly and unanimously approved a resolution authorizing a $20,000 legal settlement from an incident on Sept. 22, 2019, in which ACC Police Department Ofc. Joey Lewis struck a pedestrian with his motorcycle.
The pedestrian, Jamonte Smith, sued the county for Lewis’ “alleged careless operation of his ACCPD motorcycle” that caused “personal injuries” to Smith.
The commission also voted to approve a policy that will establish a uniform procedure for the naming and renaming of public facilities and streets. The adopted policy includes a requirement for a petition signed by ACC residents.