September 27, 2017

A New Plan for Athens Development Kicks Off Next Month

City Dope

With the community planning process Envision Athens winding down, ACC planners are ready to start writing the latest update of the county’s comprehensive land-use plan, kicking it off with a series of public forums next month.

Planning NEXT, a Columbus, OH-based consulting firm hired by the ACC government and other local institutions to write the community master plan, held a series of widely attended forums, collected thousands of comments online and pulled in data and other government studies, and is in the process of unveiling the results. (One of four presentations is left, at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28 at Clarke Central High School.) The plan will cover not only county government, but the school district, local hospitals, UGA and the nonprofit sector as well.

The comp plan is a separate but related document that the state requires local governments to submit every 10 years. Because of Envision Athens, planners are going about the comp plan—which will guide development and related issues like housing and transportation for the next decade—a bit differently this time. Instead of gathering data and public input on its own, the ACC Planning Department is pulling out the government portion of the Envision Athens plan to use as the foundation for the comp plan. “What Planning NEXT compiled is the jumping-off point,” senior planner Bruce Lonnee told Flagpole.

One advantage of this approach is that the Envision Athens steering committee and the citizens who participated are a more diverse group by race, age, geography and income than typically shows up at a local government meeting, Lonnee said.

But the Planning Department is still taking public input on the comp plan. The first session, Monday, Oct. 2 from 7–8:30 p.m. at Cornerstone Church, will focus on needs and opportunities in the community, according to planner Gavin Hassemer, who’s overseeing the comp plan.

The second, Monday, Oct. 9 from 7–8:30 p.m. at Chase Street Elementary School, will be about the future land-use map, examining big issues like whether the county should continue to funnel growth downtown or the rural “green belt” should be reopened for development, and whether new industries should be shifted to Atlanta Highway, where there’s better access to transportation than the industrial parks on the eastern side of the county.

The third, Monday, Oct. 16 from 7–8:30 p.m. at J.J. Harris Elementary School, will drill down into specific actions the government can take to meet the comp plan’s goals.

In addition, planners will be posting up downtown and in parks “trying to grab a population of people we don’t typically see at these meetings,” Planning Director Brad Griffin said.

A committee will spend November and December writing a draft of the comp plan, followed by more public hearings, and it will be submitted to the Mayor and Commission for approval, likely in April.