Futurescapes hears presentation from Cornell students
A group of students from Cornell University's Department of City and Regional Planning presented preliminary ideas Wednesday to the board of Futurescapes, Athens Borough's long-term recovery organization.
Board members, who commissioned studies of Athens' post-flood needs as part of the borough's long-term recovery plan, heard ideas Wednesday that students in George Frantz's class said would encourage growth and flood protection in the community.
Preliminary ideas discussed Wednesday included a trail along the Susquehanna River, a pedestrian promenade that would add protection to the river levee and solutions to the borough's housing needs.
Students have spent the semester studying Athens and its long-term recovery needs and have also mapped it virtually in an effort to develop potential improvements and planning recommendations, Frantz said. The class also built upon a housing needs assessment conducted in the spring by Temple University students.
The Temple study indicated a need for additional affordable housing in Athens. The Cornell class Wednesday backed up the spring study's suggestions to loosen zoning restrictions on residential lots to encourage dense multi-unit development.
At least 150 homes in Athens were severely damaged in last September's flooding, with another 25 receiving minor damage. Over 20 percent of the borough's single family homes were affected by the flood, the study suggested. In addition, the rise of the natural gas industry has affected the availability and affordability of housing, the study said.
Students said Athens is likely to see another flood of the magnitude of last year's, making it practical to take a community-wide approach to housing development.
Reducing a 5,000 square foot minimum on residential lots and encouraging the construction of row houses or other dense housing would allow developers to build units on smaller vacant lots, students said.
Future development in low-lying areas could take advantage of flood-resistant techniques, including elevated and basement-free houses, flood barriers and pump systems, students said.
A paved or deck-style walking trail connecting to Sayre's existing greenway trail was also suggested, as was a pedestrian promenade along River Street that would build up land, connect to the business district and river and increase flood protection. The promenade would also lead to a community center suggested in the borough's long-term recovery plan, possibly at the former Ingersoll-Rand clubhouse building at Main and Satterlee streets.
Students also suggested increasing safety measures on streets that would encourage foot and bicycle traffic.
While financing the projects will be a challenge, board members said they liked the results of the preliminary analysis and hoped to see the ideas expanded upon in a future presentation.
Students who presented Wednesday included Isabel Aguirre, Matthew Davis, Wen Yu Kee, Kimberly Nguyen, Ryan Pardoe and Emma Schnur.
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