By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

The City of Athens has just experienced something that is alleged to have begun in Paris in the 19th century: a charrette. The word is French for “little cart,” and as the story goes, architecture students at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts would be down to the wire with finishing their drawings for their assignments, and their professors would send a charrette through the midst of feverish, last minute creativity to collect their drawings.

In our time, charrette has come most often to mean a community meeting where proposed land use projects can be discussed between the citizens and the designers. However, its model has been used to deal with controversial issues where there is a lot of emotion and polarization, as seen in the excellent 2019 film, The Best of Enemies, which is based on a true story. Professional design and consulting firms tout the power of a charrette by saying things such as: Design charrettes inspire design sketches and ideas, include more people in the design process, explore and expose goals and objectives of colleagues in multiple functional roles, and drive off designer’s block.

Bottom line, the City of Athens held four days of meetings earlier this month where the citizens could talk with the design team that has been hired by the city about what they would like to see happen with the Pilgrim’s Pride project. They could ask questions, submit ideas, hear the ideas of the professionals, see the maps, consider the ups and downs of various proposals, and in short, have a hand in what happens there and know that their voice mattered. This is not the last time the charrette format is going to be used before the City Council votes next spring. Mayor Marks explained what seems at the present to be the three basic ways it could go:

Option # 1 -Have all 32 acres be a park, with a stream running through it and no residential or mixed-use buildings at all. The challenge with that would be ongoing maintenance, which would be shouldered by the city. You have a stream, 7 acres in a flood way, and 5 acres in a flood plane on that property.

Option #2 -Mixed-use, which would include housing, retail shops, and the park

Option #3 -Mixed-use, similar to option #2, but with the addition of an approximately 60-room hotel and event venue.

The hope is that there will be enough growth in our area to justify private investment to support a development along the lines of Bridge Street in Huntsville or Providence in Madison, but that is yet to be determined.

“This is a process with many phases, but the real priority of the moment is to get Jimmy Gill Park moved and back up and running. Our focus is that, and we just closed the deal on the old Woodland Golf course for the park’s new location,” said the mayor. When TBAKI won the contract to build the seats for the new Toyota-Mazda plant, they were requesting the use of the land that has been the site of the park. The mayor went to several members of the community as well as Jimmy’s widow, Deborah, to get their take on it. “She said, ‘Don’t you lose those jobs, Mr. Mayor. Move the park.’” The city requested $300K from TBAKI for the project, and the request was granted. The mayor went on to say, “This is our highest priority, and we will hopefully be moved to the new site by late summer 2020.” It was a wild day with a shortened work week due to Veterans’ Day, and now time to “get after it.” So we prayed, and then Ronnie rolled.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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