You may or may not be aware, but a proposal to rezone a tract of land on Springdale was recently denied here in Athens. The property is located at 348 Springdale street(pictured) right in front of Stanton Way and adjacent to the end of Rocksprings. Currently, there are two existing houses and a tennis court on the site. The property was recently for sale and is now under contract with a builder/developer. In general, the rezone proposal was submitted to increase the density of the land. The property is currently zoned RS-15 which means it can be subdivided into 15,000 sq. ft. lots. That would currently yield around 6 houses or lots. The plan submitted wanted to achieve 14 townhome sites for an “age in place” style development. Basically, the builder was planning to develop the site into high end town homes targeted to a 50 + age group. In theory, it would be very similar to the “Villas at 5 Points” which are located where Westview meets Lumpkin. It sounds simple enough but rezones can sometimes be quite difficult.
The proposal was denied, but in my opinion the overall idea was sound and could fill a much needed void in the market. I do think that the proposed development was flawed and needed to be improved. But I do believe the location could be utilized for an “age in place” development if it was done wisely. In my job, I often talk with clients that would love to live close in to town with plenty of space and low maintenance. We have a huge population of people that are getting ready to retire. You may have heard of them. They are called “baby boomers”. That being said, Athens is now an ideal place for people to retire. We all know that Athens has a lot to offer young people and families. But when you think about it has a lot to offer someone over 60 as well. In some cases, people just want to come back to live in Athens because they went to school here and love our city. So what happened? Why wasn’t it approved?
Keep in mind these are just my opinions and you can agree or disagree. First, of all when someone wants to increase density in Athens people tend to get their guard up. Their guard goes up because increased density often brings the dreaded “college students”. I say this with some distain because I don’t understand why so many people in town dislike the students when our entire economy is based on them living here. In any case, this proposal was not targeted or designed to sell to UGA parents. Granted, sometimes you cannot keep a parent from buying a nice property in any location. But I feel confident the builder intended to market this project to older citizens. However, some folks in town do not agree. They felt it was a cover to build more student housing. I have to admit that student housing is not the ideal use for the neighborhood. Nevertheless, Towne Club, a wildly popular student community, is located on Springdale and has been for many years. In fact, there are many rental properties in the immediate area. Regardless, Springdale remains a great street and a desirable location to buy. On the other hand, there are some that just don’t think it would work because of the site’s location. I can understand some of those objections, but there just aren’t many sites like this left in the 5 Points area. The location is a block from Cloverhurst and down the street from Milledge and Baxter. In theory, any resident could walk to dinner or a football game.
As I stated earlier, I think the plan as proposed would need to be improved, but I was disappointed to see how vehemently it was ridiculed and denied. Many residents in the area dismissed it immediately and never gave it much of a look. For instance, many people on the “Friends of Five Points” list serve immediately rejected the idea. That being said, the builder did not hold an open forum to discuss or educate people in the area about the proposal. It may have been helpful if residents could have had an opportunity to hear or see the vision for the property. Every citizen of Athens is entitled to their opinion. And many of us have different ideas about what is good for our beloved town. I never want to discourage conversation, and this project is an example of poor communication and little conversation. It may have had a chance with a little more positive input and of course some changes.
Thanks to our fantastic university we have a very diverse population. It is one of the best things about our town. We have so many different people with different world views living in this small college town. I think Michael Stipe once said, “What makes Athens so great is that it is so very southern yet so very accepting of different people.” Maybe he never said that, but I was once told that he did and I liked it. If he didn’t say it than someone did. So we have a great town with all these great people living here. But we need to do a better job of communicating and discussing our growth and development. It seems one segment of the population is quick to dismiss a new development and another segment is a little too quick to embrace it. Maybe there is a happy medium. Athens has developed a reputation of not being “business friendly”. For example, remember the huge objection to the Walmart grocery store downtown? I am not sure all those people against Wal-Mart were wanting a large student housing development instead. It serves as an example to “be careful what you wish for.” Well this has turned into quite the rant. In closing, I just think that when someone wants to invest or develop in our community residents and builders both need to listen a little more and yell a little less.