Times-Courier

Ellijay council OKs controversial boardwalk plan

by Mark Millican
tceditor@timescourier.com

By an infrequent 4-1 vote, the Ellijay City Council moved ahead on a controversial “boardwalk” project Monday night planned to spruce up the North Church Street corridor that has often been referred to as an “alley” off River Street near the square.

North Church Street also borders the city parking area next to the Times-Courier offices.

A packed house at the council meeting for the second month in a row included several business owners who voiced their support of the boardwalk idea in a 30-minute public input session before the April 20 official business meeting began. Michael Holt, who owns a property that houses a furniture business he says will be affected, expressed the same reservations he shared at the March meeting.

“It’s not our agenda to derail the boardwalk, it’s just our agenda — from our perspective — to preserve the integrity of our building and the access point and feasibility for the future continuance of our property,” he said, detailing how hard it would be to unload furniture at the rear of the store with a boardwalk in place. “I’m all in to try and help my neighbors and whatever we can do, as long as it doesn’t cut our nose off to spite our face.”

Several supporters said the proposed boardwalk would enhance the downtown area by cleaning up the “alleyway” — which they agreed is presently an eyesore since it is the last street motorists or pedestrians on River Street see before entering the square — and making it easier for shoppers to access stores from the rear rather than just the eastern side of the square where their storefronts are located.

Kent Sanford of the Downtown Development Authority told the council the group had been looking at the project for over two years and said he believes there is a “path forward” that will benefit all merchants. Larry Robinson and Jim Stover also weighed in and responded to Councilwoman Katie Lancey’s question about unity by saying all the DDA members were in support of the boardwalk.

Cost of project?

Council members, who put a halt to approving and funding the project in March for what they said was a lack of information, also made remarks. A drawing or sketch of the proposed project was not produced during the meeting.

Lancey motioned approving the boardwalk project as presented by the DDA, and David Westmoreland seconded. In a discussion phase before the vote, Al Fuller requested that the details, including materials used and “how it is going to look” be presented to the council for consideration.

Ruth Caudell said she felt there should have been alternate plans presented.

“We got nothing but the one plan,” she said. “There should have been other plans out there we should have been able to look at. And we don’t have a complete estimate of how much the project’s going to cost. All we’re gotten is $20,000, and that’s not going to cover that project. So how much is it going to cost the city council to bring this project in?”

Charles Barclay said when the project is started “everybody’s got to get on board with it.”

“I don’t want just five or six businesses just to jump on — and then two or three says no, they’re not going to spend their part — to get the back of the buildings cleaned up,” he said. “That’s my only concern.”

Holt went from saying he would “resist” the boardwalk to a more conciliatory tone when DDA officials said they would work with him. The council voted to approve the project 4 to 1, with Caudell voting against.

‘Very unfair to us’

Two letters circulated at the meeting from First Baptist Church that were addressed to the mayor and council members, and also to Rick Lucas and JoAnn Adams Antonelli, the owners of The Martyn House in Towne. Both letters were signed by Phillip Clark, chairman of the church’s administrative committee, and mentioned the request for a variance submitted by The Martyn House so the restaurant/bistro could sell alcoholic beverages.

The letter to the city thanked officials for their “support and consideration in the recent denial of variance for the sale of alcoholic beverages within 500 (feet) of our property and that of Ellijay Elementary School.” Church leaders further stated they prohibited the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages on their property, including the parking lots used by The Martyn House and other North Main Street corridor businesses.

In the letter to Lucas and Antonelli, church officials said they understood there would be another effort made to seek a variance, and noted their “unanimous decision” to oppose any future requests, their opposition to possession or consumption of alcohol in church parking lots, and their intention to take appropriate action if needed “up to and including the denial of use of our parking lots.”

Antonelli read from a prepared text and noted their request for a variance turned down “over a year ago” by the council had affected other North Main corridor businesses detrimentally, and said “the decision to deny the variance was based totally on the opposition of our neighboring church, not by the voters, residents or visitors.”

Antonelli noted “overwhelming support” for a variance judged by turnout at the March council meeting.

“It was a letter that stated that the First Baptist Church would do anything within their means to ensure that this variance is not issued, and that if we persisted in pursuing it they threatened to hold the entire town hostage by closing the parking lot, a lot that has provided parking for downtown businesses as long as anyone can remember,” she stated. “It seems very unfair to us ... we are gravely affected by their beliefs.”

Antonelli said she and Lucas have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and “just ask that we have control of (alcohol sales) and be able to offer a glass of wine to our customers.”

“It’s clear to us the city council needs to be the one to take a step forward,” she said. “It’s only you who can remedy our situation. What are you going to do to help us? ... This is everything for us. We just need to know that someone else cares.”

The council did not have the variance on the agenda, and did not respond to the comments.
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