Avondale Estates City Commission discusses speed cameras, historic preservation guidelines
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By Zoe Seiler, contributor
Avondale Estates, GA – The Avondale Estates City Commission, at its Oct. 21 work session, discussed installing speed cameras in the school zone along U.S. 278 near Avondale Elementary School.
State law allows for camera ticketing programs within school zones, City Manager Patrick Bryant said.
“Essentially how this works is akin to photos taken at a toll booth, you know how some toll booths operate where there’s no exchange of currency you just drive through, a picture’s taken of your vehicle and then you’re essentially mailed a bill for that toll. This works in a very similar manner,” Bryant said.
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The city would partner with Blue Line Solutions to administer the program and provide the equipment. The city would establish a speed threshold and anyone who exceeds that limit more than once would be subject to a citation, Bryant explained.
Currently, the city cannot give a citation unless someone is going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit so the minimum threshold they can set is 11 miles per hour over, Bryant said.
The citation would be issued by the city as a civil offense so no one could be arrested for failing to pay or receive any type of criminal punishment. It would be handled in the civil court system.
“Staff believes, and the police department is very supportive of this initiative as it provides a very objective manner in which to assess traffic violations through a school zone,” Bryant said.
He added that in order to ensure a safe school zone, the city wants to deter people from speeding.
“The end game here is a behavioral change. It’s not to ticket a bunch of people and collect revenue, it’s to change behavior so the trend becomes a slower rate of travel through our school zone on Covington Highway (U.S. 278),” Bryant said.
The speed cameras do not require any financial commitment from Avondale Estates upfront. Blue Line Solutions will be compensated by receiving 35% of citation revenue although he added the cameras are not expensive so the city wouldn’t have to generate a lot of citations in order to make the venture profitable for Blue Line Solutions.
“For this to work the way it needs to, we have to satisfy our goal of changing behavior and then obviously Blue Line Solutions has to ensure that it’s actually worth their effort to set up a program here. So, really and truly at the end of the day, if we’re able to reduce the behavior then it is no longer worth their effort and we’ve achieved our goal,” Bryant said.
This program is limited to the school zone so the cameras would be used during a portion of each day, typically when children would be dropped off and picked up from school.
Assistant City Manager Paul Hanebuth added that the school zone speed limit and cameras could run for the length of the school day if the board so chooses. They could run from an hour before the start of the school day until an hour after the end of the school day.
The state also determines the fine amount and it’s set at $100, Hanebuth said.
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The commissioners were in favor of installing the speed cameras and Commissioner Lisa Shortell said this seemed less heavy-handed than being pulled over.
“I really like the model and I think it’s a good solution for a lot of issues that we may have had in that area,” Shortell said. “As we all know whenever we see those signs that tell us how fast we’re speeding, we all slow down, so I definitely think this will have an effect.”
In other business, the City Commission has hit a hurdle with the historic preservation guidelines. The city approved a contract with Lord Aeck Sargent in January to conduct the rewrite of the historic preservation guidelines and approved the guidelines on Aug. 24.
The guidelines were going to be implemented following a reevaluation of tier and tier two properties; however, the Georgia Historic Preservation Division reviewed the city’s final draft of the guidelines and provided additional comments and direction.
The guidelines have to be reviewed by the state HPD as the city received a grant from the organization to conduct the rewrite. The grant specifies that the guidelines can be improved and will remain consistent with the city’s ordinance, which states that the city has to follow the U.S. Secretary of Interior standards for historic preservation.
The HPD is requiring the city to change the guidelines around window repairs and replacement in historic homes.
“Unfortunately, the state HPD turned the guidelines around with some suggested new language that they believe conforms to the federal Department of Interior standards for historic preservation,” Bryant said.
The HPD also asked the city to further distinguish intent of the guidelines and between the local and national registered districts. They also asked for more background on the local historic district, for clarification on tax incentives and to make clear that the compatible designation homes are not protected. The City Commission only had an issue with the suggested language regarding windows.
The overall goal of the rewrite was to make the guidelines more clear and objective in order to provide a clear, concise framework for homeowners, Bryant said at the Aug. 19 work session.
The city received many comments about windows throughout the rewrite process and included a component in the new guidelines to allow residents to replace their windows.
The draft of the new guidelines states that window replacement is allowed but not recommended unless windows are beyond repair.
The state HPD has asked the city to change the language that does not encourage repairs and allows for replacement of windows in historic homes without review.
The Historic Preservation Division is suggesting the guidelines say “when windows are determined to be beyond repair, replacement is allowed,” according to the suggested changes listed on the city’s website.
Under the suggested language, the guidelines would be up to the interpretation of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, Bryant explained.
Bryant said this was an unexpected change from the HPD and city staff and the consultants from Lord Aeck Sargent were confident there wouldn’t be an issue with the new guidelines.
The City Commission now has two options. They can accept the suggested changes from the HPD and implement the guidelines with their suggested language. If that happens, the city would proceed as planned with launching the new guidelines after the reevaluation of the historic homes.
The board could also choose not to accept the changes proposed by the HPD and continue with the language previously approved, but the historic preservation guidelines would then no longer conform to the directions outlined in the grant the city received from the HPD. In that situation, the city would have to give the grant back to the state, Bryant said.
“This is extremely frustrating because one of our goals was to make things more objective and now here we are back to the ‘beyond repair’ phrase which is going to be totally subjective,” Shortell said.
Commissioner Lionel Laratte said he sees subjectivity as a feature as the city can provide some direction to the Historic Preservation Commission about the impact on homeowners and can work to make sure the process isn’t more difficult for residents.
“I don’t have a problem with it because I think that our direction, and I believe that our direction with everyone, should be geared toward not making life difficult for our residents but rather helping to find a pathway to yes for our residents so that they can do what they need to do with their homes, historic or not,” Laratte said.
The city’s deadline for submitting the final historic preservation guidelines to the HPD is Oct. 31.
The City Commission will meet next on Monday, Oct. 26, at 6:30 p.m. through Zoom for its regular meeting to vote on these issues as well as continue discussion to potentially change meeting dates to allow more time in between work sessions and regular meetings.
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