athens risingNews

Athens Rising

Rolling on In: Food carts may be coming downtown soon, if only for an afternoon. The Athens Food Cart Festival will be held from 12–6 p.m. Mar. 31 on College Avenue between Washington and Hancock. The idea sprang from a graduate course in UGA’s College of Environment and Design, and is now moving into a practical phase, with vendors from Atlanta and Athens attending the gastronomic gathering. Although the event’s primary priority may be to build support for more permanent hosting of food carts in the downtown area, it also contributes to a growing recognition of Athens’ culinary scene as an integral part of the community’s arts reputation. With several nationally recognized restaurants, pubs and chefs already, and a growing organic farming industry in the region supporting thriving local markets, food carts seem like an obvious fit. The next question might be how to integrate all of these efforts into something as significant as AthFest.

It’s No GOP Primary, But…: The Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation is looking for nominees for its annual Preservation Awards. Nominations are due by Apr. 20, with the awards presented June 4 at the Morton Theatre. Categories include Outstanding Historic Rehabilitation, Publications & Programs, Outstanding New Construction in a Historic Area and others. Past recipients have included not only diligent restorations of historic homes and mansions, but quirky adaptive reuses like Transmetropolitan and Hendershot’s on Oglethorpe Avenue, and the community garden behind Hill First Baptist on Hancock. Visit the ACHF site for more information or to make your nomination.

Normaltown Rising: One contender for those awards might be the recently renovated former service station at the corner of Satula and Prince in Normaltown. Now home to Sips Espresso Café, the space had been underutilized for years. But now it stands as an iconic anchor for the neighborhood, its canopy enclosed into a porch looking out across the street to the UGA Health Sciences campus. Normaltown has been undergoing a renaissance over the last few years, with new businesses like Ike & Jane moving in alongside venerable institutions like Normal Hardware. Athens Regional Medical Center’s new signs, along with UGA’s polishing up of the former Navy School campus and renovations to its buildings, are also brightening up the area. And, I’m sure everyone is waiting for that 9/11-era black fence around the campus to come down, finally reintegrating it with the neighborhood.

There’s still much work to be done on Prince Avenue. While Sips will be populated, in a few short months, by determined new doctors-in-training poring over anatomy notes on laptops, broader questions about the future of Normaltown in terms of housing, new development and traffic are all unanswered. Bike lanes may one day extend down the street if the regional T-SPLOST is approved by voters in July, but it will still be a five-lane highway for most of its length, with a confusing application of on-street parking and dangerous crosswalks.

The area will soon be hit by the kinds of tear-downs and infill that have so concerned other neighborhoods closer to the main UGA campus. King Avenue has seen several new houses go up in the past year. Likewise, permits have been applied for to demolish a house which occupies a rather large lot on Talmadge Drive. Much of the area around the hospital is zoned to houses on lots as small 8,000 square feet. With many of the lots in the neighborhood more than twice that size, subdivision and infill seem pretty likely to become big issues for the area. These same concerns prompted a rezoning of Boulevard back in 2008.

Rising Seniors: Barnett Shoals Road is looking quite a bit different right now, with two new residential complexes—one geared toward seniors and one marketed to sophomores and juniors—popping up quite quickly out of the ground. The senior development comes as an alteration of the Lakewood project, a New Urbanist-styled master-planned development that came along right as the housing market was stalling. Many projects have been retooled as housing for seniors before, but interestingly, none of these have occurred in walkable parts of the community. As often as Athens is recognized as a great place to retire, it’s surprising that more upscale housing for aging baby-boomers hasn’t cropped up in Normaltown, along the river or elsewhere.

It’s unfortunate that the student housing model is still dominant in Athens, even after the recession. The introduction of a project in the downtown area, scaled similarly to the one at Lakewood and filled with empty-nesters, would certainly have an interesting effect on the retail and business makeup of the district. As we consider whether to alter the allowable residential density downtown, it’s worth considering what other kinds of housing could be incentivized, rather than simply trying to discourage student apartments. The need for age-specific housing will only grow as the baby-boomers reach retirement; siting it in areas that are walkable and easily served by transit will benefit those citizens as they grow older and less able to drive. It may also have all sorts of beneficial side effects.