Following a meeting of the Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission on Thursday, Aldi’s proposal to add a second Athens store at the intersection of Barnett Shoals Road and College Station Road is moving forward.
The area in which the discount grocery store—which already has a location on Atlanta Highway—is proposed to be built is a five-acre plot currently inhabited by an old service station. The store and its 84 parking places would only represent about an acre and a half of that whole plot, leaving the rest to act as a buffer around the store. But to the south, near the Green Acres neighborhood, the buffer would be only 44 feet, along with a fence to screen the headlights of cars in the parking lot, leading some neighbors to voice concerns about a grocery store virtually in their backyards.
The fence is currently proposed to stand at three feet in height, though Robert Ochs, the petitioner for Aldi, said that that is quite open to change. “We had a neighborhood meeting on May 13,” Ochs said, “and it was expressed by members of the community that that was insufficient, and Aldi is open to increasing the height of that fence.” Ochs added that Aldi will clean up debris in the south-side buffer—another concern of neighbors.
This 44-foot buffer is better than the alternative if another developer purchases the plot. “I certainly do have an empathy for the residents of the neighborhood,” Planning Commissioner David Finkel said, “but I was talking with the staff before the meeting, and frankly, if this is not approved, for the next developer there is no requirement to keep that buffer whatsoever. And frankly, you could end up with a project that is much more stressful to your neighborhood.”
The other major concern of residents is traffic. One speaker said that “it takes three lights to get through” because the area is already so congested. A traffic study suggested adding a left-turn lane into the Aldi to keep Barnett Shoals from backing up—which would be needed if anything were built there, according to ACC traffic engineer Steve Decker.
The Aldi proposal now moves on to the county commission for a final vote in July.