Funding for the Lakefront bicycle path between Lee and Clark Streets divided City Council on Nov. 9. The higher-than-expected price tag, the perceived continued expenditure of funds on the lakefront while the Robert Crown Center continues to deteriorate, and “exclusionary” parking rules that operate to exclude at 9 p.m. persons who do not reside in the immediate area all entered the debate, but none were ultimately sufficient to derail the project.
Council wrestled with a resolution authorizing nearly $1.8 million on the project, of which about $1.06 million will come from federal grants. The City’s portion, about $725,000, caused several aldermen to flinch, beginning with Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward. “My understanding was 20 percent was the minimum” the City would have to put in and still get federal funding, “but now we’re coming in at over $700,000,” he said. The City’s contribution amounts to 41 percent rather than 20 percent of the project’s costs. “Close to $2 million for a bike path seems high,” he said.
Paul D’Agostino, superintendent of the City’s Parks/Forestry Division, said that lighting, benches and trash receptacles are not eligible for the 80-20 grant and therefore had to be added on to the cost. The project has been in the works since 2005. he explained. Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, defended the lights as part of the lakefront master plan and the “dark-sky concept,” which directs light toward the ground and limits light pollution. Dark-sky lighting is already used in Twiggs Park and other parks here.
“Over the last couple of months, we’ve approved $2.5 million for the lakefront, but what about Robert Crown?” asked Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward. Later, while stating that he intended to vote for the project, Ald. Jean-Baptiste attacked parking rules that effectively expel people who do not live in the immediate area at 9 p.m. “We have to be able to use all of our assets,” he said. “We have to be equitable.” Restricted parking and limited lighting serve to limit access to the lakefront by “all the citizens of the City,” he added. He also bemoaned the fact that “Nothing generates [revenue for the City] at the lakefront.”
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she would vote in favor of funding the project. But referring to restrictive parking rules, she cautioned, “If we have rules that are keeping other folks out, then those rules need to be changed.”
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, focused on the financial implications of the project. “In wonderful economic times, I’d love to see it go forward. But I support an 80-20 split,” she said. Ald. Wilson agreed, adding, “I’ll feel a lot more comfortable if we can knock $500,000 off this,” apparently referring to the lighting.
Ald. Fiske then moved to hold the matter until after Council held its discussion on the City’s lakefront “goals,” scheduled for the Nov. 23 City Council meeting. Ald. Jean-Baptiste provided a second, and by Council rule the matter would generally be held over until a subsequent meeting. But Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, moved to override the hold. Council voted 6-3 to override the hold, with Alds. Wilson, Fiske and Jean-Baptiste providing the no votes.
The hold having been defeated, the resolution quickly came to a vote and passed 7-2, with Alds. Wilson and Fiske voting no.
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