Albany City Commission approves funding for multimodal assessment

Environmental assessment of property will begin soon

The city commission voted 7-0 to approve funding for an environmental assessment at the preferred site for the multimodal project at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. (File Photo)

The city commission voted 7-0 to approve funding for an environmental assessment at the preferred site for the multimodal project at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. (File Photo)

ALBANY — It may have been only another “baby step” in the drawn-out process of bringing a multimodal transportation center to the city, but the Albany City Commission did take a step at its business meeting Tuesday night.

The commission voted 7-0 to approve funding for an environmental assessment at the preferred site for the project (300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd.), the next necessary bureaucratic step in starting work on a project that is now some 13 years — and counting — in the making.

“This is the kind of step that could give us the momentum to keep the project moving forward now,” Assistant City Manager Wes Smith said Wednesday morning. “We held two public hearings on this matter, and the commission recognizes that the general citizenry overwhelmingly want the center at the preferred site.

“There are challenges with that site, yes, but because the commission has voted to move forward with the process, we can start dealing with those challenges.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge to building the multimodal center at the West Oglethorpe site is the cost of the property, which the city would have to buy before starting work on the project. City Manager James Taylor had told commissioners at a previous work session, and Smith confirmed Wednesday, that federal and state funding for the project — which Smith told commissioners Tuesday is at around $4 million — cannot be used to purchase the property. That funding would have to come from the city’s general fund.

Smith said Wednesday he’s not certain how big a bite the purchase would take from the city’s coffers.

“There’s speculation that the money owed on the property is in the $1 million range, but I have no way of confirming that,” Smith said. “Part of the environmental assessment process that the commission approved is to get a certified appraisal of the property, though. So we’ll know a whole lot more about where we are as the process moves forward.”

By approving funding for the multimodal site, the commission has agreed to a $211,207 contract with Niles Bolton Associates, which has offices in Atlanta; Alexandria, Va., and San Jose, Calif. Smith told the board Tuesday that the $211,000 figure is a “top-end cost.”

“I believe we’ll have an opportunity to lower that cost,” Smith said. “A lot of the work required for the environmental assessment is work that I’ve already done in preparing a request for a categorical exclusion that would have allowed us to forego the EA (environmental assessment). We lost a little time in going through that process, but it may end up saving us time and money in the long run.”

Smith told commissioners the state Department of Transportation has pledged to help city officials find additional dollars for the project “once it gets closer to reality.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the commission:

— Approved an alcohol license transfer for A&D Food Store at 1421 N. Maple St.;

— OK’d alcohol license applications for Bogey’s Bar & Grill at 2238 Palmyra Road, Sunshine Acres Grocery 2 at 1800 E. Oglethorpe Blvd. and Hong Kong Cafe at 2700 Dawson Road;

— Granted one-day alcohol licenses for fundraisers benefitting Albany Technical College (at Albany Tech March 14), the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Georgia Quail Hunt (at Riverfront Park Feb. 6) and Girls Inc. (at the Flint RiverQuarium March 8);

— Approved a rezoning request that will allow SJE Development to refurbish 48 former military housing units into separate townhomes that may be sold separately;

— OK’d use of Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax VI funds to enter into a contract with Thronateeska Heritage Foundation to provide records management services;

— Approved the use of $71,353 to purchase three 2014 Ford Police Interceptors from Wade Ford of Smyrna.

The board decided at a prebriefing before the meeting to table a planned vote on candidates for a vacant seat on the city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission Board. Robert “Bucky” Leach and Rashad Flournoy had been nominated to serve on the board during the commission’s Jan. 13 meeting, but Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard recused himself from the vote because he is kin to Flournoy. The other six commissioners were split at 3-3 on the candidates.

The proposed vote Tuesday took a turn when Mayor Dorothy Hubbard announced Jay Sharpe had been added to the list of candidates. The mayor explained that Sharpe had submitted his name for consideration for the board before the city’s deadline, but his emailed request was forwarded to a Spam file. City officials discovered the error before Tuesday’s meeting and decided to add Sharpe’s name to the candidate list.

Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher asked for additional time to gather information about Sharpe.

“Why would you need more time?” Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell asked.

“Because I called the other two candidates and would like the same opportunity with the new candidate,” Fletcher replied.

The board voted to table action on the appointment until its Feb. 25 night meeting.