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Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz takes notes at a Mayor and Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission approved another agreement with the Athens Housing Authority in the renovation plans of Bethel Midtown Village and sent an e-scooter plan to the Athens in Motion Commission on Jan. 7. The ACC Commission also approved a resolution recommending a homestead tax exemption for residents at or near the poverty line to the state General Assembly.

The agreement requires the master plan for the North Athens Project, which consists of the redevelopment and renovation of Bethel Homes, be approved by the ACC government and the AHA before its implementation. AHA and ACC Manager Blaine Williams recommended design firm JHP Architecture proceed with master planning, according to Williams.

The North Athens project will receive $39 million from the 2020 SPLOST budget that passed with 78.4% of the ballots cast in a Nov. 5 election last year. The funding devoted to the North Athens project comes from the $44.5 million Affordable Housing Project approved in the SPLOST referendum.

District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link expressed her support of the step to include a “master planning firm” in the process while encouraging public input during the planning process. This comes after some members of the community suggested the process put the concerns of residents first. Multiple people expressed these concerns at an October meeting where the Mayor and Commission approved a Memorandum of Understanding on the project.

“I just want to emphasize that this planning process be inclusive,” Link said.

The Mayor and Commission unanimously accepted a recommendation from the Legislative Review Committee to ask the AiM Commission to review the ACC Commission’s Model Ride Share agreement regarding the use of a “shareable dockless mobility device” rental program across Athens.

AiM serves an advisory role to the Athens in Motion plan, which seeks to create a connected network of bicycle and pedestrian facilities in Athens.

By accepting the recommendation, the Commission asked AiM to recommend how devices like e-scooters can be safely implemented into the community. The decision to send the topic to AiM arose during a Nov. 21 LRC meeting.

In Dec. 2018, the Mayor and Commission prohibited rental electric scooters from public property due to safety hazards and illegal scooter parking.

The ban was effective for one year to allow time for the ACC government to implement the scooters into a safer program. The Mayor and Commission extended the ban on the scooters until June 4, 2020 during an October 2019 meeting.

The Mayor and Commission unanimously approved a resolution asking local state legislators to introduce legislation to hold a referendum to adopt a homestead exemption protecting Athens homeowners who are near or below the poverty line from rising property taxes.

Should the referendum pass, it would “freeze the valuation” of homes and property at a base-year valuation for as long as the homeowner resides there and their income remains within 150% of the federal poverty level, according to the resolution.

During the meeting, District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson said the homestead exemption would “help low-income Athenians stay in their homes.”

The resolution will now proceed to the state legislature, and will appear on the local referendum ballot in November should it pass, District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod said during the meeting.

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