They've studied Austin, Boulder, Chapel Hill, Ann Arbor, Colorado Springs and Portland, looking for features in these cities that could work well in Athens. They've talked to various groups, including Bike Athens and downtown property owners, and they plan to keep talking. And talking.
Because Jack Crowley and his graduate students assistants are determined to let everyone have their say about how downtown Athens should develop over the next 20 years. They want as much input as possible for the evolving Downtown Master Plan, which will govern how the town functions and looks.
Monday night, they were talking with about 30 people who came to a meeting sponsored by the Federation of Neighborhoods. The students were armed with notebooks to record what people said.
In looking at case studies of aspirational cities, Crowley found "they're looking at Athens as well" because Athens has features they find attractive. Designing a master plan is not about surviving, "it's becoming more excellent," he said.
Other groups have talked about their concern for the Oconee River. Crowley said the aspirational cities have all treated their river fronts differently. Some have left them untouched, while other rivers are industrial and still others are a kind of urban bulkhead.
Some people at Monday's meeting said they wanted the river to become an attractive asset for downtown, as has the river flowing through Greenville, SC.
In considering what area comprises downtown, this planning effort includes more than the commercial business district. It takes into consideration the Armstrong & Dobbs property, where Selig Enterprises proposed last year to put a Super Wal Mart and an enormous housing complex.
When Crowley said Selig might be "grandfathered in," former planning commissioner and County Commissioner-elect Jerry NeSmith said it couldn't be because developers never submitted a plan that took into account Hickory Street. This street will cut through the Armstrong and Dobbs property. NeSmith encouraged Crowley to start planning, now, for that property.
Crowley and his staff are looking at the infrastructure capacities in the studied area, which runs from Oconee Street, includes Dudley Park and MLK, goes north to the railroad tracks and west to Finley/Barber Street to take in the old New Way Cleaners building, St. Joseph's Church and School and the Bottleworks complex. It also includes a tad of Deering Street.
Some of those at the meeting want the boundaries extended, but Crowley is reluctant to do that.
Some of those at the meeting called for transparency during the planning process. Rosemarie Goodrum was shocked to learn that a steering committee has already been appointed.
The members are Lara Mathes, Annette Nelson, Bryan Austin, Smith Wilson, David Dwyer, Marilyn Wolf Ragatz, Irving Alhadeff and Damon Krebs. ADDA director Kathryn Lookofsky said the committee was finalized on Friday.
If you want to comment on line, you can click on the plan's website and comment there, and can view maps and see videos of other meetings. Share suggestions, concerns and ideas freely. Jack Crowley wants to hear from you.