December 14, 2016

Planning Commission Gives Tentative Thumbs-Up to Prince Development, and Daily Groceries Pushes Back

City Dope

Photo Credit: Smith Planning Group

A proposed mixed-use development on Prince Avenue looks poised to advance after ACC planning commissioners and most nearby residents praised it at a hearing last week.

The development at 1190 Prince—on vacant lots totaling six acres between Rite Aid and McDonald’s that are currently used as a gravel parking lot for Athens Regional—would include a small grocery store and 48 two-bedroom apartments in one four-story building (with the top floor stepped back from the road); a two-story building with a restaurant, rooftop patio and smaller retail spaces; a parking deck built into the hill on the back side of the property with driveways off Prince and Nacoochee Avenue; and green space with a pedestrian connection at the back of the development near Hiawassee Avenue.

Several speakers from the Boulevard neighborhood praised the development and the way the developers—Bryan Austin, John Stamm, Trey Wallace and architect Bob Smith—incorporated their input. The result is light-years better than the medical office proposed for the lot 15 years ago, they said.

However, activist Tony Eubanks noted that the neighborhood is at the mercy of developers because the ACC code has no protections against commercial development encroaching on residential parts of the Prince Avenue corridor. And he criticized the amount of parking in the development, which exceeds what’s required by ACC.

“If we’re going to build these things so neighbors can walk to them, we have to trust that they will,” Eubanks said. “These minimum parking requirements are killing us.”

Even supporters expressed concern about increased traffic on Nacoochee, which leads to Chase Street Elementary, and one Boulevard resident said he’s skeptical the development will succeed, given that the Bottleworks never seems to be completely full, and another, similar mixed-use project called 100 Prince is planned for the former St. Joseph Catholic Church a few blocks away.

“It’s going to be half-empty,” Thomas Weiner predicted. “We’re going to end up with this giant building, and we’ll be stuck with it for 50 years.”

Planners noted that, if the development doesn’t draw a grocery store, the 28,700-square-foot commercial space will exceed the county’s 10,000-square-foot limit on retail stores in commercial-neighborhood zones. And planning commissioner David Finkel wondered how a grocery store at 1190 Prince would affect Daily Groceries Co-op’s plans to move into 100 Prince. “It’s two different markets,” replied Jim Warnes, the attorney for the 1190 Prince project. “They won’t be competing with each other.

They didn’t vote on a recommendation, but overall, planning commissioners spoke positively about the development. “I like the proposal,” Hank Joiner said. “I like the way Prince Avenue is going. This will be a nice complement to Normaltown.”

UPDATE: Daily Groceries general manager Lisa Merva wrote in to take issue with Warnes' comments about competition.
Attorney Jim Warnes is quoted as saying "It's two different markets... They won't be competing with each other" but that is just dead wrong. While our customer base wouldn't be exactly the same, there would be a lot of overlap and we would definitely be in competition with each other. This would change market projections a LOT and most likely make a relocation to 100 Prince unfeasible for us. 
Athens deserves a grocery store that meets everyone's needs and is a fun, inspiring place to shop. With a larger Daily Groceries, Athens will get a community-owned business with a commitment to other local businesses and the people of Athens. The difference between a co-op and a conventional grocer is that instead of having a single aim—profit—we have a "triple bottom line"—a commitment to not only profit, but people and the planet as well. Because of food co-ops' principles and practices, they inherently serve and benefit the community around them. A recent study found that for every dollar spent at a food co-op, $0.38 is reinvested in the local economy compared to $0.24 at conventional grocers. 
In 2015, over 30% of the goods we bought came from local farmers, vendors and other producers—over $300,000.  This December we're reaching to surpass 1,200 owner-members, folks who have decided to invest over $70,000 into our community-owned grocery store. Imagine what we could do if we were ten times our current size. Additionally, our larger size would allow us to offer the variety and lower prices that the Athens community obviously needs...
It's misleading to say that Daily wouldn't be in competition with another grocery store just down the street, and I wouldn't want people to think that there's enough business for both to thrive.