Athens’ first “pocket neighborhood” is on the Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission’s agenda this week, and if it moves forward, the idea could point the way toward accommodating more residents in popular intown neighborhoods while maintaining a neighborhood feel and bringing down housing prices.
Matt Tingle, a local contractor, has proposed building seven small homes or cottages on a little over an acre of land his family owns off Millard Avenue between Clover Street and Sunset Drive. The 1,100–1,400 square-foot homes would sell for a price that’s competitive with similar-size older homes in Normaltown, according to Tingle, where most new construction is two or three times bigger and priced at $400,000 and up. (Full disclosure: Tingle is my neighbor, and I live a few blocks away from the proposed development.) So, not exactly affordable for everyone, but more affordable than what’s currently being built.
What makes a pocket neighborhood different is that, other than two facing Millard, the cottages would face inward, with a common driveway, parking, lawn, fire pit, playground and clubhouse. But they’re not condos—they would be sold as fee simple, just like any regular single-family home. Tingle could subdivide the property and build four houses there by right, but the pocket neighborhood concept—along with a rezoning for slightly greater residential density—would allow him to build seven smaller, less expensive homes instead.
It’s an old concept—think of the historic Addieville community off Barber Street—but not one that passes muster with Athens’ current zoning code.
At an informal presentation at Normal Bar last month, landscape architect Bob Smith pointed to several studies that have found a shortage of “workforce housing”—affordable for people like teachers, nurses and police officers—in Athens. “We’re always looking for ways, especially inside the Loop, to increase density gracefully on the edges of neighborhoods,” Smith said.
Only one of about 30 attendees vocally opposed the development, but several expressed skepticism at first, questioning Smith and Tingle about whether the cottages would just become more student rentals. (He can’t control whether the owners rent them out, but Tingle said he intends for them to be single-family homes and doesn’t think the numbers would work financially as rentals.) By the end, most seemed to have come around to the idea.
Because the ACC zoning code doesn’t allow for some of the hallmarks of pocket neighborhoods, such as shared driveways, and the development would require a rezoning from RS-8 (8,000 square-foot lots) to RS-5 (5,000 square-foot lots), the development needs approval from the ACC Commission. The planning commission will consider the proposal at its Thursday, Sept. 6 meeting.
And by the way: After some debate, it was decided that the correct pronunciation is “MILLard,” not “MillARD.”
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