Athens-Clarke County commissioners this week gave the go-ahead to start part of a streetscape project for a three-block section of Clayton Street that eventually might include eliminating a center lane and widening sidewalks running parallel to the downtown avenue.
Commissioners authorized the start of “construction phase elements” for improvements to stormwater infrastructure, according to county documents. They also approved starting a preliminary design phase for the entirety of the project.
All present commissioners voted to approve the project except Melissa Link, who wished to postpone the vote to allow for more public input.
“There’s a great deal of consternation among Clayton Street business owners who feel like they’ve not been included in the process of this initial phase of … streetscaping,” she said.
Indeed, multiple representatives of Clayton Street shops voiced their objections to the streetscape project at a December commission meeting. Most complained of a lack of public input.
Commissioner Mike Hamby countered that argument, saying changes to Clayton Street have been publicly discussed since 2005, and were part of a downtown master plan “that received plenty of public comment.”
Also, in approving the project, commissioners are allowing for public input for “streetscape elements,” according to county documents.
In Tuesday’s meeting, the first of the new year, only a representative of Native America Gallery, a shop at 195 E. Clayton St., spoke against the project. He focused on the center lane of the wide street, which is often used for parking by delivery vehicles dropping off goods to nearby businesses.
“If you want to stop unloading, don’t allow it,” he said. “You don’t have to get rid of the center lane.”
Still, commissioners pushed forward with the approval with Commissioner Sharyn Dickerson stating time elements served as her primary motivator.
Unless work on the Clayton Street improvements start soon, construction might extend across two football and holiday seasons, she said.
“I feel like we would be negligent in our duties if we did not move forward as soon as we could on this,” Dickerson said.
Nearly $13.6 million in special local option sales tax dollars is earmarked for Clayton Street improvements, according to county documents. About half the funds are coming from the 2005 SPLOST and the rest from the 2018 TSPLOST.