At the beginning of each year, the Athens Banner-Herald highlights areas of concern which ought to get some attention from the community in the coming 12 months. This year's list includes a number of economic development issues that need some resolution, along with issues related to local government and to the University of Georgia.
While the Athens-Clarke and Oconee county governments made some progress last year on developing the "Orkin tract," a 920-acre site at the intersection of Georgia Highway 316 and U.S. Highway 78 identified as a prime site for industrial development, we'd like to see some definitive action in the coming year with regard to infrastructure issues.
The two counties jointly hired a consultant to come up with a plan for getting government services to the tract, and that consultant has come up with a draft proposal. Unfortunately, officials in both counties are viewing the proposal as a starting point for discussion, rather than a nearly complete document that needs just minor tweaking. The two counties should do what is necessary this year to come up with a complete plan for the tract, so any prospective purchaser can be assured of having needed services.
Another issue with implications for industrial development is the proposal for a public/private partnership to turn Ga. 316 into a toll road to finance an upgrade of the route, transforming it into an interstate-style road. Thus far, the toll proposed for the road - 12 cents a mile, or nearly $5 for a trip from Athens to Atlanta, is prohibitively high.
We'd like to see the route upgraded, but the proposed toll is plainly too high, both for commuters and for any industrial prospects with trucks that would use the route.
University of Georgia
To their credit, officials at the University of Georgia have worked hard over the past few years to increase the number of African-American students on campus. We'd like to see those efforts continue, but we recognize that the university can't change the numbers on its own, and that there are any number of reasons that African-American students might be choosing other schools. Perhaps one way of changing the situation would be increased state funding of the K-12 school system in less wealthy counties.
Also with regard to the University of Georgia, we'd like to see our state legislative delegation working hard to reverse the trend of declining funding for the state's flagship institution of higher learning.
Given contentious zoning issues like the proposal for a medical office building at 1140 Prince Ave. (put on hold late last year as developers work to retool it), we'd like to see the county's plan to institute neighborhood planning units - which would give neighborhoods a clearer voice in government - move forward. Plans call for a pilot program to be in place in a neighborhood or two by the end of the year.
With that, though, we'd also hope that neighborhoods facing encroachment, particularly from commercial or industrial development, would consider the jobs and other economic advantages such developments bring to the entire community.
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, January 2, 2005