Blake Aued recently wrote a thought-provoking piece, “Keep Atlanta Highway Snellville” (City Dope, May 25), that deserves more discussion. Improving the commercial prosperity of Athens’ suburban commercial corridors is important to the economic health of our county. Drilling deeper into the issues that discourage commercial development is necessary in order to understand and address those issues.
Blake’s point of view seems to be that, rather than changing ACC’s land use regulations in certain commercial corridors, we should continue to insist that Atlanta Highway and Lexington Road be treated the same as our urban commercial corridors, such as Prince Avenue. He calls for a false choice between improving the commercial viability versus improving the walkability of those streets.
Currently the building and commercial zoning regulations of Atlanta Highway, Lexington Road, Prince Avenue and West Broad Street are virtually identical. Yet these streets face very different challenges. I will limit my discussion to Prince Avenue and Atlanta Highway, because I am more familiar with them.
The Prince Avenue commercial corridor is adjacent to intown residential streets and homes virtually its entire length. The land use regulations for Prince Avenue do not adequately protect the residential streets, homes and residences from traffic, overwhelming structures, light or noise. Thus, plans for any new development are bound to bring objections from the neighborhoods. No developer wants to face that controversy, and no neighborhood wants to let new development negatively affect their safety and quality of life. Thus, addressing issues in our land-use laws along Prince Avenue and other urban commercial corridors will not only protect the neighborhoods, but encourage appropriate commercial development.
At very few places along the Atlanta Highway commercial corridor do commercial districts come into conflict with residential neighborhoods. Atlanta Highway is a regional shopping destination. Very few customers are within walking or biking distance to businesses on Atlanta Highway. While walkability is a desirable feature, it is not in high demand and would make little difference in the commercial prosperity of the area. The desire for traffic-calming along Atlanta Highway is seldom mentioned.
Businesses on Atlanta Highway are discouraged from expanding significantly, because they would be required to comply with current ordinances requiring stormwater detention, lighting, street and parking lot trees and a few other changes—all adding up to a very expensive proposition. Moving their business and jobs to another county may be more attractive as a result.
Building design, placement and landscaping is dictated by ACC’s laws based on some principles of New Urbanism, treating this suburban street the same as urban commercial districts. No front yard parking, maximum 10-foot setbacks from public right of way, street trees every 10 feet, street windows and street-side customer entrances are examples of these requirements. Forcing suburban commercial streets to appear as urban streets discourages new business development or the expansion of current businesses. The result is empty land and empty stores.
What ACC’s government should be doing is changing our land-use ordinances to solve the issues on Prince Avenue and the problems on Atlanta Highway, recognizing that urban and suburban commercial corridors are very different.
NeSmith represents District 6 on the Athens-Clarke County Commission.