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Prince Avenue’s future continues to be a flashpoint for controversy, with local officials at pains to deny that any changes are imminent as a result of the Planning Department’s “corridor studies” for both Prince Avenue and Oak/Oconee Street. “There is no new zoning district” for Prince, ACC Planning Director Brad Griffin assured the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission at their monthly agenda session last week, but the study does suggest that commissioners might want to put medical buildings under the same requirements as other professional offices (which currently are limited to 10,000 square feet).

Local real estate and medical developers “are eyeing this very closely,” ACC Senior Planner Bruce Lonnee told Flagpole. “They’re envisioning a very vibrant future on Prince Avenue for future medical development, as well they should… What we’re trying to do is get out in front of that a little bit; lay the groundwork for how that should be done so we don’t end up with a development that’s completely incompatible.” That could mean raising size limits for professional offices, he said, but applying the limits to medical offices as well.

Given complaints about smells and noise from restaurants and drive-thrus along Prince, new standards might be developed for them as well. Apartments or townhomes might be permitted as buffers between commercial and other residential uses, as well, Lonnee said.

Public comments on the studies have included many concerns about fast traffic and walking safely across both Prince and Oconee/Oak; a wider bridge is recommended where Oconee Street crosses the North Oconee River (to accommodate sidewalks and bicycle lanes). But the planning department has backtracked on suggesting that ACC might want to take over portions of the streets from the Georgia Department of Transportation in order to improve pedestrian crossings or to add street trees—the sort of “complete streets” amenities that the state agency has resisted in the past, but seems now “at least open to talking about,” Lonnee said. The studies also suggest better accommodating bicycles and relaxing the county’s parking requirements for new developments.

Meanwhile, the need for a downtown master plan seems increasingly on commissioners’ radar. They will vote next week on lowering residential density limits downtown (since a consultant’s study suggests that existing water and sewer pipes may not be able to handle allowable densities in downtown’s eastern portion). But without an overall master plan, “we can only look at the pieces,” said Commissioner Alice Kinman last week. Such a plan would take a year or more, Griffin said, and cost $100,000–$200,000. Commissioner Kelly Girtz suggested that commissioners might find the money; the Athens Downtown Development Authority has discussed funding a downtown master plan, but despite soliciting proposals from consultants has not done so.