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City Hall in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Austin Steel)

This week's mayor and commission meeting involved discussions about several architectural changes to the Classic City. Though some proposals were denied, others that were approved are sure to cause changes for several residents. 

Historic district approved in Five Points

Proposed historic districts at Milledge Circle and the nearby Castalia Avenue were both approved at the Mayor and Commission meeting on Tuesday, July 3.

All 10 commissioners voted to approve the historic districts.

The push to propose historical conservation in these neighborhoods was a result of demolition of homes and their subsequent rebuilding or remodeling, producing structures some felt were out of character with the rest of the area.

“At Castalia, we saw the tear downs happening at a rapid pace,” said Missy Wilson, a resident of Castalia Avenue at the meeting. “That’s why [residents of Milledge Circle and Castalia Avenue] both moved forward together.”

The effort was also caused by a perception that the Five Points area is becoming more urbanized.

“It’s still very Americana in our neighborhood, children run in the streets, we walk to the grocery store,” Wilson said. “It’s about preserving the character.”

However, some Athens residents rejected the push for conservation, fearing they would lose autonomy over their own homes.

“One of my biggest concerns is remodeling and resale,” said Sharon Wong, a resident of Castalia Avenue. “I don’t want it to be difficult to make improvements to our home.”

Though all commissioners voted to approve the historic districts, District 7 Commissioner Diane Bell, the commissioner of the proposal, expressed her concern for those opposed.

“There’s no one who likes the preservation more than I do, but what I don’t like is the route that sometimes it takes,” Bell said at the meeting. “What I want to address right now are the people that do not want to be a part of, or are being forced to be a part of, a historic district. I want them to know how much I care about them.”

Initial plans on Athens Amphitheater approved

Mayor Nancy Denson and the commissioners have approved a request to rezone land to be used for a new outdoor music venue in Athens.

All 10 commissioners voted to approve the rezoning and move forward with plans for the amphitheater at the July 3 meeting.

The proposed venue will be built on 86 acres of land comprised of areas along Boley Drive, Commerce Road and the North Bypass.

Jon Williams, President and CEO of W&A Engineering, spoke on behalf of the project at the meeting. 

Williams said the proposed venue would contain a “10,000 patron area,” and “be competitive with other major venues in and around the south-east.”

Though all commissioners eventually approved the motion District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby expressed concern over not using the land for residential purposes.

“Why in the world are we taking residential off of our books if we’ve got a housing problem in senior housing, and I do believe we do, and an affordable housing problem,” Hamby said.

He later voted in favor of the amphitheater.

Rezoning for Esprit on Epps denied

Prospects for the proposed 55+ subdivision, “Esprit on Epps,” are dim following the commissioners' votes to deny the project’s request to rezone the 30 acres needed for the project.

The land, which comprises areas along Swanson Drive and Epps Bridge Parkway, was requested to be rezoned as single-family residential, planned development rather than simply single-family residential.

Rezoning would have paved the way for construction of the planned 84 home subdivision, designed for seniors, but was met by stern opposition from residents of the area.

Many of those opposed to the rezoning and “Esprit on Epps” in general cited a possible increase in traffic on Epps Bridge Parkway as a major concern.

“This is a congested corridor — you would not know this unless you lived there because you have to grip the steering wheel and fear for your life,” said Peter Konenkamp, resident of Holly Hills, an adjacent subdivision off of Epps Bridge Parkway.

Residents also spoke of a dangerous left-hand turn on to Epps Bridge Parkway they have to perform in that area.

“Traffic has become a nightmare, I no longer even try to make a left turn onto Epps-Bridge Parkway,” said Joseph Wisenbaker, a resident of Holly Hills.

Others opposed to Esprit on Epps felt that its seniors-only standard would undermine diversity in the area.

“Cities, communities and neighborhoods work best when they are made up of all sorts of people living in close proximity to each other, learning from each other, understanding what they have in common and appreciating and celebrating their diversity,” said William Griswold, a Holly Hills resident.

Not all Athenians were opposed to the proposed rezoning and building of Esprit on Epps, with some listing the need for more senior housing in Athens as a reason to approve.

“I thought that I knew everything that anyone needed to know about Athens, but what I did not know was that there was a lack of housing for seniors,” said Sharon Denero, an Athens resident.

Although the commission voted to deny the request, commissioners Melissa Link, Diane Bell, and mayor-elect Kelly Girtz did not.

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