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UPDATE: Selig Files Downtown Development Plans

Selig Enteprise finally filed plans with Athens-Clarke County late Friday afternoon for its proposed development on the Armstrong & Dobbs property between East Broad and Oconee streets. 

As promised, the big box anchor is much smaller: 35,500 square feet, as opposed to 90,000 in the original proposal (which was never filed). The anchor has also been moved from the corner of Wilkerson and Oconee streets to the middle of the development, near the Hickory Street extension that will connect Oconee Street to the Multimodal Center.

The development now includes about half as much commercial space and almost twice as many residential units than when it was first proposed in the fall of 2011. The plans filed have 102,000 square feet of retail space and 375 residential units. The construction cost is $90 million. 

Most of the residential units will be two-bedroom, two-bathroom or three-bedroom, three-bathroom, with a few four-bedroom, four-bathroom units, Selig Senior Vice President Jo Ann Chitty said.

“We anticipate that the primary residents will be students,” she said. “That’s the market.” Some of them could be converted to condos down the road, she added.

Not many people are fans of all the student-oriented apartments (as opposed to units for families and young professionals) popping up downtown. However, Chitty cited planner Jeff Speck’s recent lectures on walkable downtowns.

“There is a strong movement for people who want to live downtown and walk everywhere,” she said.

Chitty also said that more student housing was needed to obtain financing and attract retailers to the development.

“The more residential there is downtown, the better it’s going to be for the businesses, the retailers and the restaurants,” she said.

Selig is seeking “a mix of national, regional and local retailers that will be a good fit for Athens and this space,” the Atlanta-based company said. “No leases have been signed yet, but there is strong interest in this project.”

The development will include about 1,400 parking spaces in two decks that are mostly hidden by apartments and stores. The one exposed wall in one of the decks will look like the new West Washington Street deck, Chitty said.

An entrance on narrow Wilkerson Street was removed from previous versions of the development. Instead, residents and customers will enter and exit via East Broad and Oconee streets. The Hickory Street extension will, according to Chitty, be “beyond what’s called for in the (ACC) transportation plan,” and will be able to accommodate buses and include sidewalks and bike lanes. A left-turn lane will be added to southbound Oconee Street, as well as a traffic signal and crosswalk at its intersection with Hickory Street. The development will generate an estimated 5,900 car trips per day.

Retailers and apartments will line the future rails-to-trails project on the east side of the development. There will be bike racks, a tire pump and a colonnade with outdoor tables along Firefly Trail, too, she said. 

Because ACC requires ground-floor retail in downtown developments, ground-floor residential will require a special use permit, which will need approval from the ACC Commission. 

Selig is also going through an alternative compliance procedure to get around minimum window requirements along Wlikerson Street and part of East Broad Street because the topography makes ground-floor windows impossible, Chitty said. A public art mural could cover a blank wall along East Broad.

If approved, construction is scheduled to start this fall and wrap up in the summer of 2015.

Russell Edwards of People for a Better Athens and Tony Eubanks of Protect Downtown Athens (groups formed to fight the Selig project) said they’re hesitant to comment without more information about the latest plans, such as street-level views.

“I definitely think it’s improved,” Edwards said. “It’s hard to form an opinion without the elevations.”

UPDATED: I just received the elevations and posted them below.

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