The third time appears to be the charm for the proposed Episcopal House student dormitory on South Lumpkin Street. The Athens Clarke County Planning Commission on Thursday approved “Option A” for a planned development, with conditions, from the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta to develop 1.13 acres into a residential facility with 112 beds, common living spaces, retail businesses and a chapel.
One of the conditions is that the University of Georgia approve the church’s parking plan, which allows visitors to the chapel or retail establishments to enter and leave via University Court. The residents will park in an underground lot accessible from Lumpkin Street. UGA has wanted to grant the diocese a license, not an easement, though one has been in place for 50 years, according to attorney Jim Warnes, who represents the diocese. If the diocese violates terms of the license, it can be revoked.
Option A, Warnes said, is clearly the best option, and he hopes the Board of Regents will approve the agreement. If the regents fail to approve the agreement, the Episcopal Diocese wants to be able to fall back on Option B, which will have both residents and visitors coming from and leaving by Lumpkin and parking in two different underground lots. The university, Director of Community Relations Allison McCullick told the commission, remains opposed to Option B because it isn’t safe.
Planning Commissioner Lucy Rowland reminded the other members that the commission’s role is to recommend and that the Mayor and Commission can consider Option B as well as Option A—should the diocese ask them to do so.
The planning commission also heard from Warnes about a proposal along Epps Bridge Parkway on 31.09 acres for a new subdivision targeted for older residents. The land is near Chestnut Grove Baptist Church and the Holly Hills subdivision, a few yards from Timothy Road. The purpose of the Thursday night meeting was simply to gather comments, both for and against the proposal.
No plans for new subdivisions have been submitted and approved, and the houses then built, in Athens since new grading regulations were adopted in 2005. Warnes said there is no senior housing available in Athens—referencing a claim contained in information compiled by Envision Athens—and that this subdivision will fill that need since Athens is touted as a great place to retire. The subdivision will create “a community” for residents 55 years old and older, though there is no legal way to prevent someone younger from purchasing one of the homes, which will sell for $300,000.
Smaller lots will mean more green space, as well walking trails and other options for passive recreation. To build as many houses as the plans indicate, developer Greg Wohl of Atlanta will need a zoning change, from RS-25, which has a density of 1.4 units per acre, to RS-8, single family residential, planned development. It comes with a density of 3.8 units per acre. Wohl will also have to resort to mass grading and will need to address potential drainage problems.
Wohl told the planning commission that traffic along the Epps Bridge corridor will increase only 1.58 percent, a number disputed by residents already living along the corridor.
Jane Sullivan, president of the homeowners association in the St. Ives subdivision, said there’s no reason the property can’t be developed with the RS-25 zoning, which would mean fewer houses, fewer cars and fewer car trips along heavily traveled Epps Bridge Parkway. She asked the planning commission to deny the application until a full traffic study is conducted, believing the new subdivision will add substantially to what is already a traffic mess. Cars routinely are bumper-to-bumper along Timothy Road, from the Atlanta Highway to Epps Bridge, Sullivan said.
Holly Hills resident Nathan Kinion told the planning commission that the proposed subdivision will make property values fall and that the numbers about traffic are just “smoke and mirrors.”
LaKeisha Gantt, a member of Chestnut Grove Baptist and a resident of the Jones Swanson area, said she was concerned about increases in traffic in the area, noting that few retired people in Athens can afford $300,000 houses.
Several planning commission members agreed that traffic on Epps Bridge is going to get only worse in the coming years. Hank Joiner said that perhaps traffic should be studied thoroughly because more housing projects are likely to erupt on the busy corridor.
The last business of the planning commission was to recommend approving a request for a special use permit for Pet Lab Express, a diagnostic lab on Lumpkin. The business will need to erect a screening buffer, provide better parking, install access from the sidewalk and put in permanent edging.