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Avondale Estates City Commission approves reduced speed limit for Clarendon, Kensington

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Avondale Estates City Commission approves reduced speed limit for Clarendon, Kensington

Clarendon Avenue, Avondale Estates. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission, at its April 26 regular meeting, approved a reduced speed limit for Kensington Road and Clarendon Avenue. The city seeks to reduce the speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour on both streets.

The state Department of Public Safety will review the request and consider the recommendation for final approval. The city commission approved the resolution with a 4-1 vote. The Georgia Department of Transportation approved the reduction from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour.

“As part of a traffic-calming effort directed to staff by the board at our strategic planning session, we moved forward with some GDOT-certified speed studies of Kensington and Clarendon,” City Manager Patrick Bryant said. “Those speed studies resulted in a recommendation from GDOT for a reduction of the speed limit on each road from 30 to 25 miles per hour.”

Commissioner Lionel Laratte voted no. He said the data for Clarendon Avenue and Kensington Road doesn’t show a need to reduce the speed limit.

“In looking at the data, my question is what problem are we trying to solve,” Laratte said. “Are we saying that 85% of the folks going 27 miles an hour and 85% of the folks going 29 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone, we want them to go slower than that posted speed limit?”

At the April 12 work session, Bryant explained that the findings of the speed study suggest that “the 85th percentile average speed, meaning the average speed of the 85th fastest driver, was still under the speed limit on both roads.”

Since the average speed was lower than the current speed limit on Clarendon Avenue and Kensington Road, the averages were within five miles per hour of the requested reduced speed limit.

According to the speed study, the 50th percentile speed on Kensington Road was 22 miles per hour, and the 85th percentile speed was 26–27 miles per hour. On Clarendon Avenue, the 50th percentile speed was 24–25 miles per hour, and the 85th percentile speeds were 29 miles per hour.

Mayor Jonathan Elmore added that the measure generally improves safety. Lowering the speed limit enables the city’s police department to “get people who are speeding easier,” Commissioner Lisa Shortell added.

“One of the things we hear the most about from our residents is about traffic violations and at least perceived speeding,” Shortell said. “I’m worried about the other 15% and believe me, I see it.”

In other business:

– The city commission approved a variance request to reduce the side yard setback at 49 Wiltshire Drive from 10 feet to six feet. The homeowner is seeking to add a front porch to the northwest corner of the home.

The review and approval criteria include questions on whether there are extraordinary conditions pertaining to the property and if the zoning ordinance creates an unnecessary hardship.

“There are not extraordinary and exceptional conditions pertaining to the subject property due to its size, shape, topography, or a mature tree or tree stands,” the city staff review states. “Application of the ordinance would create no unnecessary hardship. The applicant may propose to build a front porch that does not encroach on the side setback.”

The commission approved the variance with a 4-1 vote. Shortell cast the opposing vote. She noted that there are specific criteria in the zoning code that the variance request does not satisfy.

“For me, it’s my job, I feel, to uphold the zoning code unless there’s something specific in the criteria, and that’s what we are asked to look at, is that criteria,” Shortell said. “It’s really not our job to decide whether something is attractive or not. That is not what our job is here tonight in terms of the zoning code.”

She also felt that approving the variance would be unfair to all the residents who provided input into the zoning code when the city rewrote the code in 2021.

“Side yard setbacks were a really big deal,” Shortell said. “We changed a lot of things because we heard a lot from residents about side yard setbacks.”

Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher disagreed and said it’s common for people to request variances for projects.

“For us to assume that a zoning code is all black and white, it’s a fallacy. It’s not accurate,” Fisher said. “There is a variance for that specific reason, for you to look at the situation, look at the facts of it and then make a determination of whether it is fair or not.”

He added that the house sits in the setback and the homeowner would have to request a variance for any work they were to do on their home.

“I do think this is a situation where, from a homeowner standpoint, it doesn’t go outside the existing footprint, it doesn’t encroach on the front setback requirements, and that it is a situation that I think should be approved by the board,” Fisher said.

– During the work session on April 26, the city commission discussed approving up to $59,000 for Stantec as an add-on service for the required environmental work associated with the U.S. 278 complete street project. City staff anticipated the total cost of the work will be about $43,000.

“GDOT is requiring environmental work to be done on five of the sites that were acquired as part of the right-of-way acquisition phase of this project,” Bryant said. “The requirement would include drilling at each of these five sites.”

– The commission also discussed awarding a contract to JOC Construction in the amount of $1.15 million to build phase two of the North Woods stormwater project. A contingency of $115,000 has also been requested, bringing the total cost to $1.27 million.

Phase one of the project has been completed and included building recreational trails, which connect the sidewalk on Berkeley Road to the existing path on the north side of Lake Avondale.

Construction of phase two of the North Woods project will include adding rain gardens and a wooden walking path. Construction will likely begin later this month if the city commission approves the contract.

The city received a grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for the project. The DNR has increased its grant to the city by $188,357. The agency also requested the city allocate an additional $75,343 as the local match, which is already budgeted in the stormwater fund.

The city commission will meet again on Wednesday, May 10, at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 21 N. Avondale Plaza, and via Zoom.

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