Many communities have a master plan to serve as a guide to future development. Sometimes they have more than one plan with others focusing on utilities and infrastructure. Athens is no exception. The city government has conducted the first planning session to update its master plans and the effort seeks community input. Other meetings will be announced. I encourage citizens to participate. Learn what is underway and do not hesitate to contribute your ideas even if you are convinced the resulting planning document may be placed on a shelf and not utilized as much as it merits.
I have a policy suggestion to contribute also. Indeed, The Messenger has urged me to submit “long-term” change ideas. I have tried to follow that lead and thus far have offered two suggestions: start saving for a modern courthouse/county facility and develop a better access to Dow Lake. Neither of these ideas have generated a groundswell of support, but I persist.
I believe if Athens is to grow economically, expand to accommodate and attract a larger population, become esthetically more attractive, and have a more heterogeneous electorate, its boundaries must expand and the governing mechanism must be modified to serve a consolidated area.
Chauncey and The Plains are independent towns with a local government (in Chauncey’s case) and the county government to respectively provide for them. Athens has a mayor and council that have to acknowledge the huge presence of Ohio University and its students of voting age. Many of the people who work in Athens live outside the corporation and cannot vote on local issues including tax levies. A more balanced electorate would represent all groups, entities and geographical areas better.
Putting Athens, The Plains, Chauncey and the lands in between together would make it possible to more efficiently and effectively address major infrastructure problems. These include flood control, water, sewer, housing, streets and communications needs. Police and fire services also could be better distributed and financed than now is the case.
With the exception of student housing, Athens has a shortage of homes for families, senior citizens of all income levels and faculty. Chauncey could be a location for new homes if attractive subdivisions with all utilities and no flood risk could be developed. The Plains has become a community of apartments, many being low-income and/or subsidized, leaving little room for business and other residential development (including senior housing), which would improve the tax base.
I grew up in a time when there was a Mechanicsburg School in greater Athens with its own school board and a small supporting community. We loved our school and the community but now they are gone, replaced by a changed community and an expanded school system. I know what it means to lose your community identity. That is similar to the disappearance of the Shade, Albany and Waterloo Twp. schools.
I understand The Plains and Chauncey have long, proud histories and being absorbed into a large corporate unit would be an emotional blow to many of their residents. But we have to put some things behind us for the greater good. Change is hard but it is sometimes better to embrace it than resist.
When Robert Glidden was president of Ohio University he commissioned a study of the Mill Street area in Athens. Tom Hodson wrote an interpretive report and part of his recommendations called for housing in that area for seniors, OU faculty and others. Largely nothing happened from that effort. There is still just one senior citizens housing development in the area. There is a fledgling effort to revive one manufacturing plant. Otherwise, however, it is student housing. There is nothing wrong with student housing but housing for others is just as important. We need some voting residents who do not plan to leave in four or less years.
We need to develop land for housing and improve what fringe housing we now have. That includes flood control between and around Athens and Chauncey. Athens County’s effort (20 years in the making) to develop a sewage system in the area adjacent to Richland Avenue in the direction of Albany is a major step in the right direction. But, Athens needs the citizens in that area to be Athens voters, too.
Accomplishing a major expansion of Athens is a difficult and complicated assignment. I think it is safe to say OU will take care of itself. It is my opinion the days of OU administrators being pillars of the community are largely gone. High level administrators today may not even life in or close to this community. Perhaps it is because operating a much larger university is just different now. We are going to have to look elsewhere for leadership.
Such a proposed expansion requires sustained efforts for annexation. It means changing minds about community and history. Local organizations would have to be committed. For examples: the political parties, the League of Women Voters, churches, service clubs and others. Shaping a shared vision takes time and energy but the result in my judgment would be good for all of Athens Twp., city and bordering areas.
The consolidated area would have one government and be called Athens. It would be a more diversified corporation with a more diverse, vital economy and the structure to grow.
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L. Alan Goldsberry is a retired Athens County judge and a member of The Messenger’s Board of Contributors.