BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – At the Tuesday, May 1, Blairsville City Council meeting, Michael Collins, owner of Michaelee’s Italian Life Caffe, spoke to council members during public commentary about the parking situation in downtown Blairsville.
Collins described parking in the downtown area as a problem that is “getting worse.” The restaurant owner explained he was told in 2014 that the city was would be working to improve parking but stated as of yet, he has seen no significant results.
When Collins asked the council about the gravel parking located behind his restaurant and adjacent to City Hall as well as the grassy area situated between the gravel lot and the exit/entrance for the state Route 515 and Pat Haralson Memorial Drive interchange, Mayor Jim Conley informed Collins his customers and employees were welcome to park and told of the city’s plans to develop the area in the future.
“Parking is a nightmare for every town,” Conley added.
Councilman Tony Dyer, who expressed the need to develop the lot at the March city council meeting, again stressed the need for an immediate resolution by utilizing the property and space.
After this, the meeting briefly resembled an impromptu town hall forum, as several downtown business and property owners present at the meeting offered their insight and thoughts on the situation.
Bill McGlamery, owner of The Wine Shoppe, expressed concerns over liability and the safety of the gravel lot, also located behind his business. McGlamery pointed out the lack of adequate lighting and stated the gravel surface posed safety issues for elderly downtown patrons.
Regina Garrett, owner of Cut Loose Beauty Salon, suggested that although use of the gravel lot would open up more parking for downtown, patrons, she felt, would be unwilling to walk the distance needed to reach certain businesses in the downtown area.
Another downtown property owner, Millie Arrowood, told of overflow parking problems with people parking in certain businesses’ parking lots but frequenting other establishments downtown. Colleen Urbaniuk, owner of Season’s Inn, agreed with this sentiment, saying this certain problem forces business owners to “be the bad guy” by disallowing people to park in the lots at which they are not patronizing.
After further discussion, Mayor Conley addressed Darren Harper, supervisor of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), and told Harper the DDA would need to develop a grading plan for the gravel lot before the council could move forward with plans to develop the lot.
In other business, Chip McGaughey, of EMI, told the council of the need to install a grit removal system at the city’s wastewater treatment facility. McGaughey stated the city could be eligible for a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) grant to assist with the purchase of the removal system.
Overall, McGaughey said, the total cost estimate for the system would be approximately $800,000 and the GEFA grant could offer as much as $200,000 in principal forgiveness. The remaining $600,000 could be financed through a loan, McGaughey explained, and stated the city would have to decide on either a 10-, 20- or 30-year term for the loan. According to McGaughey, the deadline for the GEFA grant is June 1.
When Dyer asked if the grit removal system would be money well spent for the city, McGaughey stated the system would prevent breakdown of equipment caused by grit build-up and added that no chemicals would be involved with the removal process.
The council voted unanimously for McGaughey to proceed with the application process for the GEFA grant.
In department reports, DDA Supervisor Harper told of the success of the Explore Blairsville Georgia mobile app. Harper reported, as of the meeting, 491 active users had signed up for the app. Also, Harper stated the monthly Shop Late Thursday event, in which downtown businesses stay open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month, has been “warmly received” by patrons who are unable to shop downtown earlier in the day.
Blairsville Assistant Police Chief Michael Baxter announced the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) hotspot devices that were purchased during the March city council meeting have been installed in city police vehicles. The devices provide instant Internet access to the GCIC database and allow officers to access information of the vehicle and the recorded owner. Baxter stated since the devices have been installed, Blairsville officers were able to receive information on two wanted persons during routine traffic stops before approaching the stopped vehicle.
In the Blairsville Airport report, John Damer, airport manager, introduced new maintenance employee Aaron Manheim and the council officially ratified Manheim’s hiring unanimously.
In the council’s consent agenda, the decision to approve an occupational tax certificate for Just Cremation was tabled after Councilman Dyer expressed concerns over environmental health regulations with regard to crematories and potential adverse affects to the values of adjacent properties. The council agreed to table the decision to allow City Attorney David Barrett to research state guidelines regarding crematories.
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Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.