Athens City Council unanimously voted Monday to remove the ordinance regarding transient guest tax funding for the Baileys Trail system from its tabled state.
Following its removal from the table, council proceeded to add amendments to the ordinance, sending it back to first-reading status. Those amendments, which were distributed by Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, have been introduced to give City Council tighter control over the handling of the project’s funding and the city’s hypothetical exit from the agreement if necessary.
Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, spoke to the “due diligence” taken by the council in waiting for more information.
“I appreciate that we could take this time out and everybody take a deep breath,” Fahl said.
Seth Brown, director of Quantified Ventures, talked about what he views as the true scope of the project.
Brown and his associates fundamentally believe Baileys Trail will be impactful. He said there are people following the progress of Baileys Trail from places as far as Seattle and Washington, D.C.
"I'm excited to continue the conversation," Brown said. "Funding large scale innovative projects in rural America is hard ... In order for them to work, they have to be in collaboration and innovation and with a lot of partners.”
Dawn McCarthy, Public Affairs Officer for Wayne National Forest, also spoke about the national attention garnered by the developing trail. She relayed a message from Jason Reed, Athens district ranger, who could not be present at the meeting.
“The eyes of the entire forest service around the country are on the Baileys … So no pressure,” Reed told McCarthy.
Mayor Steve Patterson said he had personally visited what makes up the Baileys Trail so far and that it only further solidified his stance that the project must go forward.
“After going up there Sunday, I was so overly impressed with this project,” Patterson said.
Scott Kreps, a faculty member for Hocking College’s ecotourism and adventure travel program, also read a statement which indicated the institution’s full-fledged backing of the project and support for the funding. Hocking College will also offer facilities and other resources to assist with the endeavor.
Danny Twilley, assistant professor of recreation and sport pedagogy at Ohio University, challenged councilmembers to ask any and all questions necessary for them to be satisfied enough to pass the ordinance now that it has been sent back to a first reading.
“If we don’t know what questions you have, there is no way to provide you the information to make an informed decision,” Twilley said.
Council also held a public hearing on a rezoning issue before the regular session began.
The issue, if it passes, will redesignate portions of Court Street, East and West Carpenter Street, East and West State Street, and Fern Street from a B3 Zone to a B2D Zone.
A member of the Board of Zoning Appeals, Rob Delach, argued in favor of the change and said it will create a better environment for businesses. He referenced the “nice new” apartments above Passion Works Studio as an example of what could be brought to the area in question if passed.
“I wholeheartedly support this effort,” Delach said. “It’s the smart thing for the city to do… It’s only common sense.”
Alyssa Bernstein, associate professor of philosophy at OU, is against the change. She believed it will further contribute to the parking problem in the city. She also questioned the notion that there needs to be more apartments to accommodate students.
“I think it’s perhaps relevant to keep in mind that for the past couple of years, Ohio University has seen sharply dropping enrollments, which is now creating a huge budget crisis for the university,” Bernstein said. “They are projecting continued drops in enrollment."