Solar at Community Center

A photo of the solar array-covered parking area on the Athens Community center's east side. Photo by Conor Morris.

A new site option for the Athens Farmers Market is expected to be presented at a community meeting next Thursday (Jan. 23). This would be different from a site proposal that’s been discussed previously, the city’s East Side dog park.

The new potential site – beside the Athens Community Center in the parking lot underneath an array of solar panels – arose after critics voiced opposition to moving the Farmers Market to the dog park location, which is a short distance from the city’s recreation complex and pool.

A public forum to collect community input on both of these potential sites is set for 6-8 p.m. on Jan. 23 in Rooms B and C of the Athens Community Center. This will be a “drop-in” style forum, so there’s no need for people to stay for the whole meeting.

The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) has been working for roughly two years now on a new outdoor market space planning study in partnership with the city of Athens, the Athens Farmers Market, the Athens Arts Guild, and a consultant called the Project for Public Spaces.

However, as The NEWS previously reported, the question of a new site for the Farmers Market has been a local topic of discussion for the past 20 or so years. The market now takes place in the parking lot of the Market on State on East State Street every Saturday year round (as well as Wednesdays when it’s not winter), though some vendors do go inside that shopping mall during cold or bad weather. The AFM in the past has rented that space on a yearly basis, and the cost and uncertainty around the arrangement, as well as a lack of access to utilities, has pushed the AFM to seek out a more permanent location. 

Athens City Planner Paul Logue said Tuesday that discussion about the potential location underneath the solar panels at the Athens Community Center arose after the planning group heard concerns about the dog park location. The three primary issues? Odors from the city’s nearby Wastewater Treatment Plant, the loss of the dog park space in its current location, and issues with traffic flow into and out of that area.

Additionally, from the city’s perspective, Logue said it would be a “legitimate budget issue” for the city if it were to provide a location for the Farmers Market that would require expensive site improvements such as utilities, or additional staffing.

The Athens Community Center parking-lot site would address some of those concerns, with existing facilities such as restrooms already inside the Community Center, Logue said.

Additionally, the market could use the Community Center’s multipurpose rooms during the winter months, Logue said.

However, other issues likely would crop up with that parking lot site, Logue acknowledged, including the main one, parking.

Logue said the city would like to make sure there’s enough parking for people to use all of the Community Center’s amenities on the mornings when the Farmers Market is in session (Saturdays year round, Wednesdays more than half of the year) That probably wouldn’t be the case if the market took up all of the parking spots underneath the solar panels.

One potential solution, Logue said, is to remove the old tennis courts at the Community Center (to the south of the solar panels) and install more parking (the tennis court likely would be rebuilt somewhere else).

Logue asked people to come to the meeting next week and offer their opinions on both of the proposed sites.

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