Athens City Council held public hearings regarding proposed changes to off-street parking and short-term rentals on Monday, in addition to committee meetings.
Council recently introduced an ordinance which, if approved, would reduce the required amount of off-street parking for local businesses and rental units in an effort to encourage use of other modes of transportation and reduce environmental impact. The ordinance was met with mixed reactions at the public hearing Monday.
Resident Joan Kraynanski said she understands the motivations behind the ordinance, but is not sure if a post-pandemic situation is conducive to its success. Kraynanski cited the reduced operation of city bus routes, which would pose a challenge to residents seeking alternative transportation. She also questioned whether decreased automobile usage is underway in the city, as some local parking lots are being expanded to meet demand.
“I think it’s a really poor time to make that adjustment,” Kraynanski said. “So, what I am really asking is that you put this on hold for a while, not lose it, because there’s some good things in here.”
Rob Delach, another Athens resident, however, stood in support of the new legislation and believes that it will be a positive change for Athens in the long-term. He expressed that reducing the amount of required parking spaces will allow businesses and landowners more autonomy to determine the amount of parking that suits their needs and limit costs for renters.
The hearing on short-term rental properties saw similar variance. The proposed ordinance amends Athens zoning code to include short-term rental properties in residential zones.
Alan Swank, who will serve on council beginning in January 2022, posed several questions to council regarding the ordinance. Some of the questions he asked included whether rental property owners must be present during a rental period and what the process for reporting a code violation and penalties look like. Swank hopes that council will table the initiative until further details can be worked out.
“As more and more people in Athens become aware of the proposal, I am sure that there are many other questions about this program that will be asked with an expectation for an answer before a vote,” Swank said.
Resident Jan Hodson worries that renters could pose a nuisance to residents, and urged council to require the presence of an owner at a short-term rental unit to ensure some degree of oversight.
Council also heard a presentation from Athens Fire Department Chief Robert Rymer on the diminishing conditions of the department headquarters in consideration of a proposed levy for the May 2022 ballot.
Rymer outlined safety conditions related to structural issues with the building, including several cracking and crumbling supports creating structural instability, severely limited space, poor drainage and lack of NFPA cancer prevention and ADA compliance.
The 20-year levy would pose a 0.1% income tax increase for public safety capital improvements, increasing an average citizen’s yearly income tax by approximately $50. The measure must be brought to the Board of Elections by February to be included on the May 2022 ballot.
The city has spent $500,000 for necessary repairs and updates on the fire station headquarters since 2005 in order to keep the space functional. A current estimate places the cost of a new building at around $7 million, with a preferred location near the Stimson Avenue roundabout.
If approved, construction would begin as early as 2023.