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August 3, 2016

We Have a Second Chance to Improve the 100 Prince Development

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An artist's rendering of the 100 Prince development as seen from Childs Street.

The plans for Homes Urban’s proposed development along Prince Avenue and Childs Street are being re-submitted with no alterations for a vote at the Aug. 4 planning commission meeting. Rarely do you get a chance for a redo, so this allows for a few questions to be answered for those who may have not followed the story the first time around.

So the Prince Avenue development is going to look like the Bottleworks, right?

Maybe if you squint really, really hard. Taking the three buildings in this portion together, it will be on average two stories taller, with two of the buildings sporting some Hardi-Plank, and it will have a large parking deck. Don’t forget the pool.

But if this doesn’t get approved, then someone could put up a 100-foot building there— just like that Selig situation and The Mark?

No. Its current Commercial-Office zoning limits maximum building height to 40 feet. It is the developer’s proposed rezoning that will turn the parcel into Commercial-Downtown. The planned development is 12 feet taller than what is allowed under current zoning.

Isn’t there talk about protecting Prince Avenue with zoning overlays to preserve its unique character?

The talk is getting louder recently—this would be a fantastic thing for this important corridor.  

Well, that is great news!

Not so fast. This parcel has not been included in those discussions.

Why is that? You just said it is a commercial lot bounded by a thriving single-family neighborhood. That sounds just like the Prince Avenue/Boulevard neighborhoods we are trying to protect.

There is this non-binding Downtown Master Plan that suggests St. Joe’s property should be considered a part of downtown and redeveloped as mixed-use. A lead author on this plan is a member of St. Joe's building committee involved in the redevelopment of the Prince Avenue property.

Wait, hang on a second. Wouldn’t that be a huge conflict of interest—maybe something that should be mentioned every single time that plan is referenced?

Yes. You would think so.

What about the Childs Street parcel? That’s bordered by single-family housing on all sides. Aren’t the seven buildings here best described as infill? Isn’t there increasing concern about the importance of protecting historic neighborhoods from inappropriate infill?

Yes. “Overrun by Infill” is the title of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation’s spring 2016 newsletter.  

Well, that is great news!

No. Although you would think this would be the first parcel to protect, the planned development will have seven 39-foot-tall, 6,000 square-foot buildings as infill here because, well, “nothing is ever perfect,” the catch-all response to criticism of this project.

Why doesn’t the developer just build something more to scale on both of these parcels?

At least two reasons were mentioned at neighborhood meetings. The first is that the price St. Joe has set for the property precludes it.

But price is negotiable, right? I mean this just a property owner setting a price, nothing special about that.

Sure, it happens all the time in real estate, and if the community insisted on a to-scale development, then the price would have to come down and the numbers would work.

And the second reason?

Apartment complexes have to be a certain size to support full-time office staff and amenities. However, there are a number of smaller complexes throughout the Boulevard area. Many are managed by a local property management group, not on-site personnel.

Seems reasonable. Then more of the profits would stay in Athens, instead of heading to Greenville, SC, right? But come on, you are being unrealistic. There can’t really be a project like that. Be honest: You are just afraid of change of any kind.

There actually is one that is in the early stages just down Pulaski Street. A mixed-use development that exemplifies what can happen when maximal profit is not the primary motive. The kind of development that works with the landscape, the historical structures and the neighborhood. That proposed change is welcome.

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