GILMER, Ga. — The Ellijay City Council met Oct. 18 to make a decision regarding the proposed test period for closure of parking on the downtown roundabout. Reese Sanford spoke for the Downtown Development Authority, and gave the council the DDA’s new recommendation.
Sanford addressed the council saying, “As requested at the downtown traffic workshops [that] city hall had this summer, the DDA’s been doing due diligence on the roundabout parking.” Sanford noted that the DDA recommendation is a product of consultation with the joint development authority, the police department, the city council, and local business owners.
He explained that the consideration first arose as a way to improve public safety in the downtown area, citing three incidents on the roundabout in the last year: “Third party reports have suggested that the traffic congestion downtown is a long term business risk. The easiest solution is to move parking away from traffic and away from the pedestrians.” He also mentioned that the DDA has already requested more signs to direct visitors to safer parking locations, like behind Dalton State College. However, when he went to check, Sanford says, “Of 230 [parking spots], only 32 were in use. If we can guide cars to this lot, we can alleviate a lot of our issues.”
The DDA, as Sanford brings up, had previously published a recommendation to shut down all roundabout parking; however, “as a result of the September town hall, we have revised our original proposal … and this is the result of the community input we received at this meeting.” Sanford then explained the revised proposal: “We will not touch the nine spaces, which includes the one handicap space, on the north side of the roundabout … Our revised proposal is to barricade parking on the nine spaces on the south side of the roundabout, and the parallel spaces on River St., just after River Street Tavern. The businesses in these areas are supportive of it, and are very interested in seeing what they can find in the trial period.”
Sanford noted that parking is not being reduced, only reallocated. He says the period might even increase business activity, suggesting that outdoor dining, artists, or walking tours could occupy the new space: “If this test period goes well, and leads to a desire for a long term change, paving over the spaces is not the only solution.”
Sanford finished, “We are proposing a test period from Oct. 23 to Jan. 2. The spaces will be blocked off 7 days per week.” He says then the DDA will host another town hall, and convene to settle on a final opinion to present to the city council.
After his presentation, the council members took the opportunity to raise their concerns. Kathryn Lancey spoke first, wondering why the DDA revised their original proposal. Sanford responded, “Why force an experiment on some people, when there’s others that are offering their space?”
Tom Crawford brought up the community saying, “I’m kind of astonished that you’re making a recommendation after the town hall was a resounding ‘no.’” Sanford replied by mentioning that not all citizens go to town halls and the businesses are willing, but Crawford continued: “If you’re gonna do a test period … why on God’s earth do it at the busiest season of the year?” Both Sanford and the council members discussed these concerns, but ultimately decided to close parking.
When time to vote on the issue, Kevin Pritchitt asked to amend, saying, “I make a motion to [limit the] downtown parking elimination test for River St. only.” The motion was unanimously passed, and the parking spaces on River St. are planned for closure beginning Oct 23.