Home City City Council Candidates address Farmers Market and Tourist Housing in Forum

City Council Candidates address Farmers Market and Tourist Housing in Forum

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City Council forum. Photo by Sarah Donaldson.

At-large candidates for the upcoming City Council election participated in a forum Thursday night at the Athens Community Center.

They made their last remarks on issues like tourist housing and a permanent location for Athens Farmers Market before the election on Nov. 5. 

The meeting was hosted by the Far Eastside Neighborhood Association (FENA) and moderated by former state legislator Mary Abel and FENA Vice President Alan Swank . 

In attendance were incumbent Democrat Sarah Grace, Socialist Ellie Hamrick, incumbent Independent Pat McGee, Independent Chris Monday, incumbent Democrat Peter Kotses, and Democrat Beth Clodfelter. 

Athens Farmers Market: How will candidates incorporate public concern in the creation of a permanent space? 

The president of the Athens Farmers Market said in an email that Project for Public Places (PPS) is set to visit the city next summer to collaborate with residents on a “public space” for the farmers market behind the Community Center, funded by a previously acquired grant. Moderators asked the candidates how they will invite neighborhood associations and residents affected by the development into the conversation.

Kotses explained that outreach is an essential part of community engagement, while Hamrick argued that City Council and other government organizations tend to reach out to people seen as “community leaders.”

“I think with something like this it would be really important to involve a mass of ordinary working-class people,” Hamrick said. “People who don’t normally show up to the city council meetings or follow local politics very carefully.”

Community outreach includes a series of public forums that will be hosted in preparation for the PPS report. Both Grace and Clodfelter claimed that advertising for these community gatherings should go beyond word of mouth, suggesting that an increase in social media traffic and online surveys could be better alternatives.

“It’s not a new conversation. The farmers market has been looking for a permanent home I believe for more than 20 years,” Grace said. “It’s not happening suddenly — it’s based on years of conversation and trying to get various groups on the same page.”

Monday disagreed with the proposed location of the farmers market, saying it is too close to the water treatment plant, while agreeing with Hamrick’s idea to reach out to ordinary community members. 

Following the discussion of community outreach, McGee addressed the prospect of some vendors in the farmers market inevitably going out of business. He also emphasized the responsibility that Athens residents have in City Council decisions. 

“Are you going to show up? Are you going to put some pressure on (City Council members)?” McGee asked. “We’re ready to see what happens when you do.”

Tourist Housing in Athens: Do the candidates support it?

Homeowners recently asked City Council for a revision of tourist housing restrictions. Potential revisions include residential options like bed-and-breakfasts, homestays and Airbnbs. 

The candidates unanimously opposed the implementation of tourist housing in Athens, concerned that it would damage the connectivity of neighborhoods within the community.

However, candidates like Grace, Clodfelter and Monday are open to changing regulations, as long as the tourist housing contributes to Athens’ economic stability. 

Hamrick claimed that Airbnbs are “on the forefront of gentrification,” while McGee hopes to preserve to the family aspect of the town.

“You don’t have a neighborhood if you don’t have neighbors,” McGee said.

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