A revised proposal for an eight-story apartment building on Mitchell Street near downtown and UGA now includes 18 affordable units.
Fifteen percent of the 123 units (256 total bedrooms) will be set aside as affordable for people making 80% of the area median income through the Athens Land Trust, Mayor Kelly Girtz said at the commission’s Feb. 16 agenda-setting meeting.
The set-aside continues the recent trend of using affordable housing as a negotiating tactic in rezoning requests. Earlier this month, the mayor and commission narrowly approved a massive student housing development on Lexington Road after the developer made a similar affordable housing promise.
Commissioner Melissa Link pushed for an inclusionary zoning policy so that developers know what to expect, and ACC isn’t put in the position of negotiating for each individual zoning request. “It feels like every voting session, every agenda session, we’re in this scramble,” she said.
Girtz said he plans to appoint an ad hoc committee to develop policies based on a recent set of planning commission recommendations on affordable housing, such as inclusionary zoning, which requires or uses density bonuses to incentivize developers to set aside units at below-market rents.
Despite the inclusion of affordable housing, the Mitchell Street development is not without its detractors. A similar proposal won approval from a commission with a different makeup in 2017 based primarily on being condos for seniors, rather than student rentals. But the current iteration is aimed primarily at students.
The ACC Planning Commission voted 5–4 to recommend rejecting changes to the binding 2017 design. “It was a close vote coming out of the planning commission, and I suspect it will be a close vote for us, as well,” Commissioner Allison Wright said.
At a called voting meeting before the agenda-setting session, the commission also approved a resolution calling for the state legislature to repeal Georgia’s “stand your ground” law and, by an 8-2 vote, a contract to purchase new Tasers, with commissioners Mariah Parker and Jesse Houle opposed.
Other items discussed at the Feb. 16 meeting will be voted on Mar. 2. Those include the Mitchell Street development, a master plan for the Bethel Homes redevelopment and a decision on whether to reroute a portion of the Firefly Trail along Moores Grove Road near Winterville.
The latter issue drew a number of speakers in support of keeping the trail on the historic railbed, although commissioners are split. Some cite property owners’ opposition and the overgrown nature of the abandoned railroad, while others are concerned about the safety of placing a trail used by families next to a high-speed road, as well as the legality of deviating from the SPLOST project description voters approved.
In addition, it appears that, after three years of on-and-off discussion, commissioners have abandoned the idea of raising the minimum price for an alcoholic beverage at a bar or restaurant from $1 to $2. A downtown health and safety study had concluded that the change would help prevent binge drinking, but the commission’s Government Operations Committee passed out the assignment with no action.
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