After a four hour public hearing on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, the Athens-Clarke County Commission and Mayor Kelly Girtz discussed the movement of the Confederate obelisk and a six-month temporary closure of College Avenue between Clayton and Broad Streets.
Girtz said that this could lead to permanent closure for the area to become a pedestrian plaza or be a model for other street closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. County Manager Blaine Williams said that they would use a bollard system to prevent vehicles from using the street.
The Confederate monument that currently stands at the intersection would be moved to Timothy Place, near the Battle of Barber Creek Civil War battlefield, according to an ACC document.
The document also proposes pedestrian improvements to the area, including increasing the sidewalk length and replacing the brick with asphalt. The project would have to be approved by the Georgia Department of Transportation, Girtz said.
District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link said she fully supports the closure of College Avenue and also asked about the creation of curbside parklets — sidewalk extensions where pedestrians can eat or sit downtown — to help downtown restaurants and bars reopen.
Downtown businesses that attempted to create parklets to sell take-out alcohol were shut down by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department for violating the alcohol ordinance, Link said. County Attorney Judd Drake said the ordinance would have to be amended to allow for the creation of parklets, but it is possible, citing Savannah and other cities as examples.
Link said that this was an urgent need since Athens was opening back up and downtown restaurants and bars would miss another potential weekend of sales. She proposed closing down entire blocks for restaurants to expand their outdoor seating.
“The threat of the pandemic and spiking COVID infections outweighs the idea that, you know, we can’t somehow block vehicular traffic from these spaces,” Link said.
The movement of the obelisk and the pedestrian improvements will be voted on by the commission on June 25, the same day the county fiscal year 2021 budget will be voted on.
The committee also discussed changes to the in-home child care ordinance that would allow in-home child care centers to care for six children at once instead of four. In-home child care centers operate out of residential homes. Providers must apply for a license and are paid for child care.
The current ACC ordinance only allows in-home child care services to take care of four children. The state ordinance allows for six children under the age of 18 to be cared for in an in-home daycare.
District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod said the change would allow more opportunity to child care providers in the county.
Link and District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton both said loosening the limits could bring economic opportunity to minority neighborhoods. Thornton talked about constituents who successfully ran in-home child care centers out of their apartments in public and section eight housing, which are programs that assist low-income people find housing.
Commissioners also discussed a 2018 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) project improving wayfinding signs and pedestrian safety on Lexington Highway Corridor. The project would provide funds for signs directing traffic from Lexington Corridor to Athens Ben-Epps Airport, Williams said.
District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker said she valued pedestrian safety over airport wayfinding signs. She said pedestrian safety issues along the corridor should be addressed before the signs.