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New Downtown Plans Are Worse than Selig

A rendering of the development as seen from Oconee Street.

Did you hate Selig Enterprises’ plans for the Armstrong & Dobbs property on the eastern edge of downtown? Wait ’til you see this.

Atlanta-based Selig and its new majority partner, Athens student housing developer Landmark Properties, have submitted new plans drawn up by Oconee County’s Williams & Associates for the eight-acre tract between East Broad and Oconee streets—and they’re worse than ever.

For the record, I was one of the people who thought the Selig plans, especially the second iteration, were OK; not perfect, but as good we were going to get. Being right is no fun sometimes.

As promised, the development is slightly smaller than the proposal Selig abandoned last year: about 60,000 square feet of commercial space versus 100,000, 890 apartment bedrooms versus 990 and almost 1,200 parking spaces versus more than 1,400.

Selig wanted a residential building along Wilkerson Street. Instead of a building, the new Landmark plans call for a retaining wall that’s up to 10 feet high, on top of which will be a surface parking lot. Who needs a downtown when there’s a retaining wall next door?

The retaining wall will run around the corner and up Oconee Street to the development’s main entrance. As with the Selig plans, that entrance will serve as the legally required Hickory Street extension connecting the Multimodal Center to Oconee Street. But it won’t run all the way to Multimodal. Landmark isn’t acquiring the Dixie Canner property or the old Jittery Joe’s Roasting Co. building, so the road will just dead-end before it gets to East Broad Street.

View a PDF map of the proposed site plan here.

Access from East Broad Street will be through a driveway between the Oconee/Thomas Street intersection Hickory Street. Other than that, the development won’t address East Broad Street at all. You’ll just see the side of a parking deck if you look to your right while walking down the hill from downtown to the river.

Back to the retaining wall: It’s an ingenious tactic to avoid having to go to the Athens-Clarke County Commission for approval and all the messy public comment that entails. ACC code requires ground-floor commercial space in downtown buildings. Selig, recognizing that Wilkerson isn’t suitable for retailers, asked for and received a variance. By putting a parking lot and retaining wall along Wilkerson, Landmark skirts that issue altogether.

It appears that Landmark will be able to use Selig’s easement for a sloping bike and pedestrian path connecting the development to the future rail-trail behind it. Oddly enough, plans for the first leg of Firefly Trail just came in on Tuesday—yet neither ACC commissioners nor rails-to-trails committee members have seen them.