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ACC Commission Work Session Oct. 8, 2002

Issues discussed were:

Multimodal Center:
- Multimodal Center Design
- Stormwater Detention Pond
- East Broad St. upgrades
Skate Park study
Issues to bring before legislative delegation
Housing study

MULTIMODAL CENTER DESIGN

Commissioner Carl Jordan wanted to know whether natural light would be available throughout the facility (it will.) Commissioner Hugh Logan wanted to know whether the facility would be a center for "all our homeless" and who would be responsible for the restrooms. Transit Director Butch McDuffie explained that the Multimodal Center would not be a homeless shelter and that Athens Transit would be responsible for the entire facility. Mr. McDuffie also stated that he hopes to create a "downtown circulator" - with rubber tire trolley alternative fuel vehicles - that would circle the 8-12 blocks of the downtown area, including UGA's North Campus, every 15 minutes. This should reduce traffic congestion as well as relieve parking problems.

STORMWATER DETENTION POND

Jason Peek of the Transportation & Public Works Department presented this redesign of the original stormwater bioretention pond. He explained that it takes into account regulatory requirements, the Commission's expressed desire for lower-cost alternatives to the original design, and the re-siting of the detention pond to accommodate the possible future rail-trail tie-in to the Multimodal Center.

While there are no current requirements for stormwater management to also address water quality, we will soon be subject to NPDES Phase II requirements, which will make us responsible for management of pollutants at their source. This facility is designed to meet those needs, with oil and grit separators, erosion control, a sand filter, and 48 hour settling capacity. This design will be less costly than the original because it will serve only the Multimodal Center, the Classic Center, and Foundry Street, not the entire Central Business District as originally planned. The existing CBD sewer line and outfall will be improved and upgraded. The cost is estimated at $640,000, compared to the original design's estimated $975,000.

Commissioner McCarter wanted to know about maintenance requirements for the pollution control features. Transportation & Public Works Director David Clark explained that since these were new technologies for ACC he couldn't give a precise cost, but that quarterly monitoring and possibly once or twice yearly maintenance could be expected. He also pointed out that there would be similar maintenance needs even without the pollution control.

Commissioner Jordan asked about the pond's capacity. Mr. Peek explained that it was sized to handle 100 year flood events, and designed to provide downstream protection for the much more common 2 - 5 year events that cause erosion. Commissioner Barrow wanted to know whether 100 year flood events were defined using the best available data; Director Clark assured him that they used up-to-date local hydrological data.

Commissioner Jordan commended Transportation & Public Works on the design of the facility.

EAST BROAD STREET UPGRADES

T&PW Director Clark explained that East Broad St. is presently inadequate to accommodate the needs of the Multimodal Center (particularly the bus traffic.) The planned improvements included sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of the street, with two travel lanes and a center turn lane between Foundry and Willow. There will be two new traffic lights, at Broad and Foundry and Broad and Hickory Connector. The rail crossing will be upgraded (similarly to the College Station crossing.) They will need to acquire some right-of-way. The projected cost is $1.25 million, which includes roadway and utility upgrades. About half is already allocated; they would like to transfer $640,000 from SPLOST infrastructure improvement funds currently earmarked for Atlanta Highway Master Plan improvements - specifically, the Mitchell Bridge Rd. - Athena West Parkway intersection. He stressed that without this upgrade, Athens Transit will not be able to function effectively. He also explained that they are talking to DOT about funding.

Consultant Jeff Prine, who manages SPLOST projects for ACC, explained that they will bid the project in two parts: first, all the civil components of the Multimodal Center, the Stormwater Detention Pond, and the Broad Street upgrades; and second the building of the Multimodal Center.

SKATE PARK STUDY

Leisure Services studied skate parks in Georgia and surrounding states and came up with some recommendations for the design, supervision, siting, budget, and fees for an Athens skate park. The first recommendation was that user input be included in the design of the park, as the successful parks they studied incorporated user input into the design, while the failed parks did not. They suggested that a public meeting ought to be held to discuss it.

Their recommendations called for a 15,000 square foot park, with a 5" concrete pad, 10-foot fencing, 18 elements (6 at each skill level), and a 10 x 10 foot building. The park should be supervised, open from 4pm to dusk on school days, 10 am - dusk on non-school days, and charge a fee of $3/day. The projected operating expenses are $43,000/year; projected revenues are $45,000/year. They also recommended siting the facility at Southeast Athens Park, mainly because that way SPLOST funds would be available to pay for its construction. (They also came up with a "fancier" alternative, which cost more.)

Commissioner Logan wanted to know if the skate park would be a higher priority than other types of facilities. He has heard no clamor for such a park. Leisure Services Director Debbie Mockus said that at the public meetings held to determine which types of facilities were desired, a skate park was not among the "must have" features identified, but was more toward the middle of the list. Commissioner Chasteen suggested that the communities that might be affected by replacing a "must have" feature with a skate park ought to be notified. Commissioner Logan wondered about the liability associated with skateboarding; Director Mockus explained that statistically it is no more dangerous than any other sport. Commissioner Carter thought that the suggested user fee was high. A skateboarder in attendance explained that the fees at private skate parks are much higher ($10/5 hours.) Commissioner Kilpatrick suggested that the next steps were to hold a public meeting and for the Commissioners to visit the Skaters Extreme, the local private skate park. Commissioner Logan stated that if he was still around when it was time to make a decision, other things would have a higher priority than skate parks.

LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

Commissioners discussed the issues they want to bring to our local legislative delegation this year, and agreed on the following:

  1. Increased funding for indigent defense.
  2. Payment in lieu of taxes (from UGA.) Discussion centered on how to introduce the idea without alarming the Regents. The fact that Athens has much greater impact from students, and such a high percentage of its land area is owned by UGA should make it possible to word the issue in such a way as to apply only to Athens.
  3. Allow more than two joint authorities.
  4. Seek funding for College Station Rd. bridge improvements. T&PW Director Clark pointed out that they are already working with DOT on this, and that support from the legislative delegation would be very helpful.
  5. Change the Community Greenspace Plan so that for any county, large tracts that cannot be included in the tally of greenspace (e.g. land owned by UGA) would also not be considered as part of the total land area of that county, and therefore not factored into the calculation of how much land equals 20% of the total.
  6. Change the requirement that overhead costs can't be included in "Local Assistance Grants." These are grants from state agencies that are made to organizations other than the county, e.g. the Food Bank. The county government is required to certify that the grants were used to provide a public service, thereby incurring liability; and the paperwork is voluminous.
  7. Increase the homestead exemption from the school tax for seniors. This is a proposal from Rep. McBee. There was some discussion that the School Board might not appreciate the Commission advocating for a reduction in their revenue. Commissioner Logan offered to talk to Rep. McBee privately instead of having the Commission go through the formal process; this offer was accepted by Mayor pro-Tem Kilpatrick.
  8. Seek more monetary support of Public Transit. Transit Director McDuffie pointed out that Georgia is one of only 9 states that provides no operating expense support for transit. There are initiatives underway that our delegation can support.
  9. Allow for meetings at which public utility security plans (required in the wake of September 11) are presented to be closed to the public.

The Commission declined to bring forward a request by former constituents of Commissioner Sims (now in District 3) to redraw the district line so that they would remain in District 2. County Attorney Hilton explained that this would require that all districts be redrawn in order to maintain current levels of minority voting strength. Mayor pro-Tem Kilpatrick suggested that Commissioner Sims tell his constituents that he did his best but the Commission refused to follow the request.

REVIEW OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING STUDY

HED Director Keith McNeely presented the results of the Housing Study conducted by HED. The goals of the study were to determine:

  1. Is there a shortage of affordable housing units in ACC?
  2. What percentage of family households is able to afford available units, considering they are in decent, safe, and sanitary conditions?

HED used HUD's definition of affordability, which describes a unit as affordable if its cost (rent or mortgage payments) does not exceed 30% of the family's monthly income, for families considered at very low, low, or moderate income. ("Very low income" means 30% or below of the area's median income; "low income" means below 50% of the area's median income; and "low to moderate income" means below 80% of the area's median income.)

Unfortunately, HED was not able to do much more than look at census data; for instance, they were not able to get out and visually inspect housing stock. Therefore, they were only able to draw limited conclusions:

* ACC does not have a true housing shortage (NOTE - the study makes no claim as to whether we have a shortage of AFFORDABLE housing.)
* About 29% of ACC families fall into the very low income category, and face a significant challenge in finding housing they can afford in ACC.

The report was full of interesting information, however, much of it gleaned from the 2000 census:

* ACC has a total population of 101,489.
* About 31% of our population consists of UGA students. About 7500 students live on campus or in fraternities/sororities. Roughly 80% of UGA students live off campus, either in Athens or surrounding areas.
* ACC has about 42,000 housing units.
* We have a 94% occupancy rate. Our vacancy rate is half that of comparable Georgia cities.
* Fair market rate (according to HUD) for a 2 bedroom unit in ACC is $544, which is lower than the GA rate, but comparable to that of similar cities.
* ACC has 42% owner-occupied housing and 58% renter-occupied; this is a much higher rate of renter-occupied housing than in comparable cities.
* The median family income in ACC is about $50,000/year. About 20,000 families earn between $50,000 and $75,000; about 29,000 households earn below $50,000.

The complete report should be available from the Department of Housing & Economic Development.

Commissioner discussion included the question of manufactured housing. Commissioner McCarter asked for clarification on how many mobile home lots are available; there are 72.

Commissioner Ford asked how many units we have that are affordable to those of very low income. Director McNeely explained that the census data did not include information on cost, location or condition of housing, only the number of units. Surveying the affordability of the available housing was beyond the scope of the report.

Commissioner McCarter asked whether the Affordable Housing Roundtable, made up of representatives from HED and the local affordable housing providers, had any recommendations. Director McNeely said that ACC needs to first try to begin collaborative discussion with stakeholders, and second, look at different approaches to address our needs. The group took a tour of Macon's affordable housing last week. Macon has a strong collaboration between the local government, housing providers, Mercer University. They put much more than just CDBG resources into housing. They are doing infill and rehab of existing housing, and he suggests we adapt this strategy to ACC's needs.