May 10, 2017

UGA Opposition, Traffic Concerns Force Episcopal Dioceses to Withdraw Plans for Dorm

City Dope

A rendering of the dorm.

Strong opposition from the University of Georgia, as well as concerns about traffic and safety, prompted ACC commissioners to ask the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta to withdraw plans for a 104-bed dormitory on the site of its South Lumpkin Street chapel last week.

Police Chief Jimmy Williamson made a rare appearance—administrators have kept him out of the public eye the past few years—to tell the commission that he’s worried about a median to prevent cars from turning left into or out of the development will lead to an increase in crashes and endanger pedestrians. “I’ve never felt concerns that were significant enough for me to address the Mayor and Commission until now,” Williamson said.

Those are concerns the university could have addressed by allowing the diocese to use UGA-owned University Court to access the development, but it has refused, leading to speculation that UGA is blocking the development because it has its eye on the property. UGA Director of Community Relations Allison Bracewell McCullick told commissioners, unprompted, that the university has not made an offer on, nor been offered, the property (which is different from saying the university has no interest in it). She also said the proposed five-story development would be out of scale with surrounding buildings (including Bolton Dining Hall and Oglethorpe House, which is four stories taller).

Jim Warnes, the lawyer for the dioceses, noted that the property is surrounded by dorms, the location provides easy access to dining, class and downtown on foot and by bus, will keep students out of neighborhoods and will put the property back on the tax rolls because, even though it’s owned by a church, it would be income-generating and thus taxable. He and diocese officials said they were blindsided by UGA’s opposition. “The church never intended to get crosswise with the University of Georgia, and we’re a little blindsided by this,” Warnes said.

Canon David Lowry said the dorm would provide a niche for spiritual students, a community that differs from a public dorm or luxury apartment building.

Commissioner Diane Bell, whose district includes the property, recommended sending it back to the planning commission. But by law it would have to come back to the county commission within 40 days, and voting down the plan would mean it couldn’t return for a year. After several commissioners urged the diocese to withdraw the plans and work with UGA to iron out their differences, Warnes agreed.