I have lived in the Normaltown area, first as a tenant and then as a homeowner, for over 25 years. To say things have changed is an understatement.
In the early ’90s it was a rental haven of students, townies and minorities, along with a few elderly people living in their family homes. You did not see parents walking their kids to school at Chase Street. There were no bars in Normaltown, and the Navy School kept to itself.
Fast forward to the present, and we have four restaurants, three bars, a hair salon, retail and a medical school, not to mention all of the young families with children. Want to drive down Chase Street at 7:30 a.m.? Forget it.
However, I see this as evidence that the plan to boost intown housing is working. I am a strong supporter of the idea of concentrating development in the city center and preserving the green space on the outskirts of the county. One only has to look at what is going on at the Oconee Connector to see how bad things can be.
I believe that the city center is the perfect place for new kinds of housing, whether it be “net-zero,” passive solar, tiny house or some other kind of alternative building style yet to be determined. UGA professor Gary Grossman’s comment that “if someone wants a crazy house, they can buy some acreage out of town and build it there” is completely misguided. New kinds of houses should be in town so people can be exposed to new ideas.
If the infill ordinance of “context sensitive design standards” is adopted, that will basically mean that what we have now is what we will have in the future. In all of Clarke County you will only be able to build houses that look like what is nearby. No dormers if there aren’t any. No flat roofs if there are only gables. No brick veneer if there is only siding. No two-story houses in neighborhoods that don’t have them. This, despite the fact that two-story houses use fewer materials, are more energy efficient and have a smaller total footprint than their single-story counterparts. This ordinance would be managed charm for the whole county.
If this ordinance had been in effect several years ago, the group of houses that have been built on Pulaski would not be there. Some people might say, “Great, I hate that style of house,” but I feel that without those houses, and the people who have invested so much effort in building them, Athens would be a lesser place. Is it really that painful to walk or drive by a new, different house?
Don’t think for a minute that this ordinance is going to do anything to promote affordability or stop tear-downs. If anything it is going to drive the prices of the existing larger houses higher, and it will not stop the demolition of outdated housing stock. If people can’t have two stories, they will knock down some small house and dig some enormous basement and have one and a half.
This ordinance is a king-sized bad idea. Imagine if you told all new bands in Athens that the best music had already been created, and that from now on all they could do is play music that sounded like old Athens bands. No one would go for this… Would they?