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Selig Files Plans for Downtown Athens Development

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.

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The development now includes about half as 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 estimated 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 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. 

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. 

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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. It’s scheduled to vote on the request Thursday, June 6 (public comment will be take) and is only supposed to consider the narrow issue of whether ground-floor retail should be allowed.

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“That’s what staff’s review is going to be held to, and that’s what the Planning Commission is supposed to focus on, not the big picture,” ACC planner Gavin Hassemer said.

The “big picture” decision will be left to the ACC Commission at its Tuesday, July 2 meeting, should the planning commission issue a recommendation June 4. However, even if the commission turns down the special use application, Selig could still build the development with retail on the ground floor.

At the same time, Selig is also going through an alternative compliance process to get around minimum window requirements along Wikerson Street and part of East Broad Street because the topography and lack of space for on-street parking make ground-floor storefronts with windows impossible, Chitty said. A public art mural could cover a blank wall along East Broad.

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“The way the (topography) goes with the road, and the way the buildings have to be constructed, it’s almost like a retaining wall,” Hassemer said.

The alternative compliance process was put into place as part of downtown design guidelines approved in 2006 to give developers more flexibility to meet the guidelines. “It gives them a chance to give and take,” Hassemer said. The ACC Planning Commission has final approval on that aspect of the plans.

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