April 26, 2017

Commissioners Scrutinize Proposed Private Dorm on Lumpkin

City Dope

A rendering of the proposed development.

You can’t blame commissioners for being a little befuddled by the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s proposal for a five-story “dormitory” on Lumpkin Street.

The development would be the first privately owned dorm in Athens. With 126 bedrooms arranged in pods of two to four, units will be like apartments, except with communal kitchens, and like the new apartment complexes downtown, it’ll have retail—possibly including a restaurant—on the ground floor. But the lack of kitchens in each unit means they’re not considered apartments under ACC zoning law, nor is it an overgrown fraternity house.

“If this had three Greek letters in front of it, we’d be talking very differently about it,” Commissioner Allison Wright said.

Commissioners raised concerns about ingress and egress. Since the University of Georgia denied permission for a curb cut on University Court, cars will enter and leave the two-story parking deck behind the L-shaped building via busy Lumpkin Street.

“There’s potential for more vehicles entering very close to the intersection, possibly being an area that causes some conflicts,” Commissioner Jared Bailey said. Restricting cars to right-in, right-out will help, Griffin said, but “no doubt, you pointed it out, it is challenging from an access standpoint.”

Some commissioners complained about the development’s modern architectural style, comparable to the Uncommon Athens apartment building at Dougherty and Lumpkin. “It does look kind of out of place” compared to nearby buildings like Myers Hall, Commissioner Sharyn Dickerson said.

“I think this is an appropriate location for a development like this,” Link said. “I don’t even mind the way it looks.” She doubted it will generate many car trips, because it’s across the street from campus, and many of the people who will go to the chapel or retail businesses will live there.

The county’s professional planners recommended denying a rezoning for the development, but a split planning commission overruled them. “There were some issues with scale and size and proximity that we had,” Griffin said. “The planning commission felt a little differently, and it’s their right to do so.”

But county commissioners will make the final decision. They don’t respect district privilege the way they used to, but the property’s representative, Diane Bell, said she can’t think of a good reason to vote against the development. The county and the diocese have done what they can on parking and traffic, and architecturally, “I had to get used to what’s gone on downtown, so I feel like I can get used to this,” she said.