The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission discussed rezoning on the Oconee Street School lot, a proposal for the creation of halfway houses and a possible Public Utilities Department drive-thru, customer service window during a livestreamed meeting on Tuesday.
The Oconee Street School, added to the National Register for Historic Places in 2018, was originally constructed in 1908, but hasn’t held class since the 1970s.
The school building has previously served as a home to ACTION, Inc., a non-profit geared toward helping people break the cycle of poverty through education-based programs. Other plans for the building have circulated since ACTION, Inc., one developer sought to convert the building into 16 apartments, most likely for student housing.
The Mayor and Commission considered a different plan on Tuesday that would convert the building into an office space and construct a duplex and house on the lot. The duplex and house would be marketed toward college students.
Since the area would be targeted for student housing, District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link expressed concern that the properties would turn into “college party houses,” as is common in Athens.
The commission also discussed a request to allow Freedom From Bondage, an Athens-area women's drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization, to convert homes along Highland Park Drive to halfway houses.
This request was discussed in February, but commissioners were required to hold a second public hearing. Brad Griffin, the ACC planning director said the second hearing is required after a six month period.
The restoration of a drive-thru, customer service window at the Public Utilities Department building was also discussed. Mayor Kelly Girtz said this could enhance customer service options and provide “light-contact service” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod was against the idea, saying that the drive-thru window would create large numbers of vehicles releasing greenhouse gasses into the air. Herod called the plan is disingenuous and said they were using COVID as an excuse to consider the drive-thru window again, after it was turned down by the previous commission.
District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson and Link proposed that the window be a walk-up window to prevent the greenhouse gas emission that Herod spoke about.
The Mayor and Commission also voted unanimously to acquire a permanent easement under and over the rail line to support the Classic Center Arena.
The next regular meeting session will be on Aug. 4 at 6 p.m.