Athens City Council met Monday night in both committees and special session to discuss the creation of a mental health emergency response team and other ordinances.
The City and Safety Services Committee, led by Councilwoman Sarah Grace, D-At Large, introduced a recent initiative establishing a mobile outreach team that is able to travel to individuals in crisis.
The team consists of a trained Hopewell Health Center clinician and an Athens County Emergency Medical Services paramedic who are able to travel and provide necessary assistance while potentially de-escalating the situation, Diane Pfaff, executive director of the 317 Board, a local addiction and mental health resource center, said. The service is meant to aid in situations where law enforcement may not be equipped to address a mental health crisis, as well as prevent individuals from needing to go to an emergency room.
“The vast majority of people are able to have their needs met with a community safety plan and follow-up services,” Pfaff said. “We’re really excited about this as a major step forward. It’s going to be more trauma-informed and more accessible to people.”
The City and Safety Services Committee also heard from Athens Fire Department Chief Robert Rymer regarding a recent engineers report recommending structural repairs to the fire department building. The building, originally built in 1965, has sustained structural damage as a result of age and increasingly heavy fire equipment. Rymer echoed the findings in the report that a new building is needed; however, several repairs would make the building functional for the next few years. The estimated cost for the project is just under $50,000.
Council also held a public hearing to discuss the city’s application to establish a designated outdoor refreshment area, or DORA, in uptown Athens. Within the boundaries of the DORA, open container laws are temporarily suspended, allowing patrons of local bars and restaurants to carry their beverages around within the area and into participating businesses. The DORA spans 45 acres and would be in place yearly over the summer, from May 7 through Aug. 15.
Council has also partnered with Sunday Creek Horizons to capitalize on remote work as an opportunity for economic growth in Athens. Zach Reizes, vice president for operations, explained the proposal for the creation of an organization and workspace in Athens which would attract more remote workers to the area. The proposal includes plans to renovate the armory in Athens into a stylish, remote workspace.
“The city of Athens can and should be at the forefront of attracting remote workers to our economy,” Reizes said. “Really, it’s an opportunity for people from outside of this community to come and experience what Athens, the city and Athens County and Southeast Ohio all have to offer.”
In addition, Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, introduced proposed zoning changes regarding parking in Athens on behalf of the Planning and Development Committee. These include lowering private parking requirements and the potential for more lot-sharing practices. The proposed changes are an attempt to remove exclusionary zoning practices and encourage use of other forms of transportation in Athens.
Council concluded in special session, approving an appropriations ordinance authorizing interfund transfers for the purchase of equipment and debt payments. Several ordinances were introduced for second reading, including those for the replacement of the roof of the city building and establishment of an uptown Athens DORA.
Correction: A previous headline of this article stated that Athens had created a mental health emergency response team when it had only discussed the creation of one. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.