Athens-Clarke County commissioners discussed a “cottage courtyard” off Oglethorpe Avenue, in the Knottingham neighborhood, at a May 17 agenda-setting meeting. The development would consist of 24 units on a little less than two acres—a mix of detached homes, duplexes, quadruplexes and one existing house—with shared parking and greenspace.
Applicant Matthew Hall, a UGA law professor, has worked on affordable housing issues as a planning commissioner, where Hall said he “became aware of Athens-Clarke County’s antiquated, Jim Crow-era zoning regulations, which are designed to keep housing artificially expensive by creating artificial scarcity by requiring very large lots, which dictates very large square footage, because that’s how developers make money when they have to pay for very large lots.”
The two- and three-bedroom units would average about 1,1000 square feet and sit on 2,500 square-foot lots—well under the 8,000 square-foot minimum for the neighborhood. But putting them on smaller lots will keep them under $300,000, Hall said. The alternative to rezoning for smaller lots would be to build by right, which would likely result in nine large houses that sell for more than $600,000 each.
Hall also said that three of the homes would be kept affordable through arrangements with the Athens Land Trust and Athens Area Habitat for Humanity. In addition, the homeowners’ association rules would require that the houses remain owner-occupied, he said. Without something in writing, though, another developer could buy the project with the intention of making it student rentals, Planning Director Brad Griffin said.
“I think this is a great project. Commissioner [Tim] Denson called it ‘forward thinking,’ but actually it’s very, very traditional,” Commissioner Melissa Link said, comparing it to older neighborhoods like Cobbham and Five Points where there is a mix of housing. “This is the kind of development we should be encouraging in our in-town community.”
Some commissioners did have concerns, though. Denson wanted staff to follow up on any plan to alleviate traffic backups at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary and the Loop. Commissioner Jesse Houle asked about trees, stormwater and ways to hold the developers accountable for keeping their promises about affordability and ensuring the homes are owner-occupied.
“I’m not thrilled about the density happening on this property in this part of our community,” Commissioner Allison Wright said. She also criticized the $100-a-month HOA fee.
Commissioner Carol Myers said the development is a creative way to alleviate the housing shortage in Athens, which is contributing to spiking home prices. “It’s clear that the only way that we’re going to have housing for people at different levels is… to think in a different way about zoning and how we do our housing,” Myers said.
Neighbors have been divided on the project, according to feedback sent to the ACC Planning Department. Some praised it as much-needed affordable housing, while others raised concerns about density and traffic.
Planning staff recommended denying the rezoning request due to concerns about introducing multifamily dwellings to a single-family neighborhood, as well as a lack of parking and the size difference between the existing house and the newer ones. The ACC Planning Commission, however, voted unanimously to recommend approval, with Hall recusing himself. The county commission is scheduled to vote on final approval June 7.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.