ACC commissioners rejected one major development at their voting meeting last week and put off a decision on another. A high-rise residential building on Mitchell Street will be back, while a subdivision on over 200 acres near Winterville appears to be dead for good.
The proposed development on Old Elberton Road would have consisted of 543 single-family homes and 204 multi-family units on 233 acres of a 367-acre tract near Coile Middle School. It met with unanimous disapproval from nearby residents, as well as ACC planners and elected officials, who described it as a great design in the wrong place.
Hardy Edwards, who said he once farmed the property and still farms 1,000 acres in the area, noted that Athens-Clarke County created a low-density “green belt” on the outskirts of the county more than 20 years ago in part to protect agricultural land. The property is currently zoned agricultural—allowing one house per 10 acres—but applicant Charles Ross of FAE Clarke LLC requested a rezoning to RS-8, or about six houses per acre.
“This is an inappropriate development around that green belt there,” said another neighbor, Jose Pagan. “It impacts negatively the farming, the industry and, of course, the neighborhoods [that] are there.”
The northeastern part of Clarke County is not only home to farms, but also to a number of manufacturers. Grant Whitworth, representing Athena Industrial Park, told the commission that manufacturers there unanimously oppose the development. Whitworth added that he’s currently negotiating with “a large job creator” to come in across the street. “We don’t think it’s the right place,” he said. “It’s not designed for this location.”
For residents who moved out there for “peace and quiet,” as Commissioner Patrick Davenport put it, the character of the rural area was another issue. “It will make the quality of life in this location very difficult,” said Elijah Swift Jr., pastor of New Grove Baptist Church in Winterville, citing traffic concerns.
Ross initially asked the commission to table the rezoning request for 40 days so he could submit a radically altered plan with just 40 homes on the property. After public comment, he then asked to withdraw the request. But the commission signaled its disapproval of any development on the land by voting unanimously to deny the rezoning request, which means Ross cannot resubmit plans for 12 months, according to Planning Director Brad Griffin.
The commission did unanimously vote to allow another developer, Indiana-based Core Spaces, to withdraw plans for a student housing development on Mitchell Street, just south of downtown and east of the UGA campus. Core Spaces representative Rodney King asked for a delay because he recently learned that “family affordable housing is the priority in the community, not necessarily student affordable housing,” he said.
Core Spaces had initially proposed to make 15 of 167 units “affordable” by doubling up on the number of beds in bedrooms until it was pointed out last that this would not be a suitable arrangement for families. Instead, King said he now intends to make a cash payment to the Athens Housing Authority in lieu of providing affordable housing within the development. He said revised plans would be resubmitted later this summer.
Developers have been eyeing 155 Mitchell St. for over a decade. One proposed development fell through for lack of financing. The commission then approved a controversial development aimed at retirees in 2017, but that also did not come to fruition. The most recent proposal is designed for college students—a use that has less support on the commission than senior housing, although the promise of affordable housing could sway some commissioners who might otherwise oppose more student housing downtown.
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