June 7, 2017

The Comp Plan Will Guide Athens Development for the Next Decade

City Dope

It’s that time again—the time you’ve all been waiting for. Time to update Athens-Clarke County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan!

Aren’t you excited? This is an opportunity that only comes along once every 10 years.

Seriously, though. As tedious as staring at maps and attending public-input sessions can be, the comp plan will guide virtually every decision the Athens-Clarke County government will make for the next decade.

The state-mandated process formally kicked off with a brief presentation at the June 1 planning commission meeting. Planner Gavin Hassemer, who will head it up, outlined some of the current comp plan’s effects: It calls for more public art, and now ACC has a policy of spending 1 percent of SPLOST projects’ budgets on public art, as well as a newly approved public-art master plan. It calls for increasing bus service, and now Athens Transit runs at night and on Sundays, and kids ride for free. It encourages farmers markets and community gardens, and a few years ago the commission eased regulations on urban agriculture.

Another example came from citizen Paula Loniak, speaking on behalf of tiny houses, who wondered where all these giant student-housing developments came from. The answer is the comp plan. Two updates ago, in the late ’90s, ACC rezoned the entire county, drastically increasing the allowed density downtown and making it profitable for developers to build there. As former mayor Gwen O’Looney noted later in the public-comment period, that decision was based on sound policy—funnel development into the city core, where services are easier to provide, and discourage sprawl. Yet no one anticipated that the future development would cater entirely to students, nor the effect that would have on downtown’s business mix and culture.

This time around, the comp plan will be built on the base of Envision Athens, a consultant-run master-planning process that has been underway for several months. It will also incorporate existing data and plans for UGA, K-12 schools, transportation, hospitals and other entities. But Hassemer said planners will be seeking more input on top of that.

“We as planners need to hear from you,” he said. “We need to hear what you like, don’t like. That’s how we set the direction for the next 10 years.”