Cornell students present ideas for Athens' recovery
Students from Cornell University's Department of City and Regional Planning presented their final recommendations for a safer, smarter and stronger Athens Borough to members of the community Wednesday.
The students, who have spent the semester studying Athens with guidance from professor George Frantz, presented the ideas during a community meeting of Futurescapes, the borough's long-term community recovery organization.
The class' ideas built upon the borough's long-term community recovery plan and a housing needs assessment conducted by Temple University students in the spring, students said.
The presentation focused on a hard-hit area of the borough along the Susquehanna River, including Maple and River streets between Satterlee Street and the Athens Bridge, but officials said the effects of the suggested long-term projects will extend to the entire Valley.
Athens Borough "is not a microorganism that can live and function in itself," said Pete Menio, a member of the Futurescapes board of directors.
Students said the intent of the ideas were not only to protect residents from future flooding, but to highlight Athens' unique position between the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers.
Suggestions included a proposed park with a wetland area that could provide several benefits, including storm water management, ground water replenishment, erosion prevention and a variety of recreational opportunities.
Wetlands are becoming more common throughout the country, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency has wetland program development grants that Futurescapes could pursue, said presenter Isabel Aguirre.
Students also suggested a handicap accessible river trail that would connect with Sayre's existing trail and a riverside pedestrian promenade that would double as flood protection.
Zoning and building changes were also suggested to increase the amount of affordable housing in the borough and prioritize disaster mitigation. Row houses were suggested as an alternative to single-family detached housing.
Suggestions for the residential area near the river also included requiring the use of flood-resistant materials, requiring homeowners to purchase flood insurance, elevating utilities, prohibiting basements, raising buildings above flood levels, increasing the maximum allowable lot coverage and building height, and reducing setbacks and minimum lot area requirements.
Presenters and community members alike acknowledged the projects were large and, in some cases, drastic. However, the changes would be completed gradually and in the very long term, should Futurescapes choose to pursue them, students said.
Menio said the presentation "gives us some specific things to think about" and encouraged anyone with ideas to approach him or other board members.
"Stop us on the street," he said. "If you've got an idea, we want to hear it."
A copy of the presentation will be posted onto the Futurescapes website, www.futurescapes.org, Menio said.
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.