The ACC Planning Commission critiqued a preliminary planned development on Little Oak Street last week that would plunk a luxury housing complex into the middle of an established neighborhood in East Athens near the UGA campus.
The plan for the project calls for rezoning 10.8 acres from single-family residential to multifamily. The rezoning would allow for the higher density needed for developers to build 67 two-and-three-bedroom cottages for a total of 173 beds. Some of the cottages would be slated as “workforce housing,” though one Little Oak Street resident, Tom Roberts, wondered what that term means. If the rent for one bedroom is $550 a month, “that’s not affordable,” he said.
Other neighborhood residents also spoke out against the proposal, including Shirley Taylor, who said she has lived on Little Oak Street for 40 years. She was concerned about the traffic the housing complex could bring. She also said she doesn’t want people there to be taken advantage of.
Georgiana Olive, who said she has lived on nearby Inglewood Avenue for 19 years, said the students who will live in the cottages will not be “vested in the community.” She opposed changing the zoning for the students at the expense of the community.
Planning commissioner Matt Hall said the proposal is “deeply problematic for the neighborhood.” He favored the existing RS-5 zoning designation (single-family homes on 5,000-square-foot lots), with substantial affordable housing, which could bring new residents “who are a part of the neighborhood for a long time,” as opposed to luxury rentals. Planning commissioner Jim Anderson said the proposed project would “destroy community spirit,” while planning commissioner Kristen Morales (also a Flagpole contributor) said destroying historically black neighborhoods is “a scourge on our city.”
Commission chair Maxine Easom said the people who waited for more than an hour to speak against the proposal were “an indication of community spirit.” The Inglewood area was at one time a mill village, and the neighborhood is “a very historic part of Athens.” Easom is the co-author of a recently released book about the history of East Athens.
Also during the five-and-a-half-hour meeting Aug. 6, the planning commission considered another preliminary planned development along Lexington Road, across the street from the police station, that included an affordable workforce housing component. The project needs a rezoning to place 784 parking places and 501 residential units with 1,058 beds on 41 acres next to residential Shadybrook Drive.
Included would be flat-style apartments, garden-style apartments and garden-style duplexes, some of them multi-story, with studios and units with anywhere from one to five bedrooms. Two standalone commercial buildings would front Lexington Road. With not enough parking spaces for the predicted residents, presenter Bob Smith said his client plans to provide a shuttle to the University of Georgia. The site is near a public bus stop. Most of the renters would no doubt be university students.
Speaking against the proposed housing complex was Tess Cunningham, who has lived on Shadybrook Drive for 25 years. During that time, she has been involved in Athens Tomorrow—a community planning initiative—and in studies for the Lexington Road corridor. Greenspace and open space were two concerns that came up during those studies, she said. A complex as large as the proposed one “is going to be a huge impact on our way of life,” she said. “This density is exploding.”
Seventy-five of the residential units would be reserved for renters qualifying for affordable housing. The project calculates “affordable” as someone earning 60–120% of the area median income.
“There’s a theme that we need more housing,” said planning commissioner Alice Kinman. “We need more housing, but not student housing.” Morales said she wants such a massive development to “be an asset to this section of the road,” not just “an Omni Club.” Hall said he likes the idea of affordable units but that the entire complex is “too dense and too high.”
The planning commission did not vote on either plan. They could be resubmitted in the coming months, possibly with changes based on planning commission feedback, for a recommendation to the ACC Mayor and Commission.
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