After a lengthy debate, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission narrowly voted to rezone a parcel of land on Lexington Road to allow for a new student housing development and new affordable housing in a special called session Tuesday evening.
The plan will allow the developer, Trinitas, to build a new student housing complex on the land as long as it also builds affordable housing units. According to the legislation, the number of workforce dwelling units must equal 15% of the number of non-workforce housing units, and must be completed in phase one of the development. The development will take place in the area between Shadybrook Drive and Lexington Heights.
The accepted plan was a commission-defined option developed by District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker. Parker voted for the plan alongside District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link, District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson, District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle and District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards.
The other five commissioners voted against the plan, and Mayor Kelly Girtz broke the tie by voting in support of the plan.
The predominant argument against the plan was while more affordable housing is needed in Athens, the extra student housing is not. District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby said that the county shouldn’t have to allow the company to build more student housing in order for the county to get more workforce housing.
“We need to be making sure that we’re not doing some sort of commission quid pro quo-type things where if you do this, then I’ll vote for that,” Hamby said. “We don’t have to allow a four-story building next to a single-family neighborhood.”
Link said she understands the community has concerns, but said the benefits of the project will outweigh its flaws. She said allowing student housing projects on the East side of Athens could encourage more businesses to open in the area.
District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton said the commission shouldn’t approve a project that it knows is flawed. District 8 Commissioner Carol Myers said the project wouldn’t prioritize the Athens community.
“Trinitas does not own this property right now. They have an option to buy on this land. The commitment here is to their profit, not to our community,” Myers said.
Despite half the commission’s objection, Girtz said the project would help alleviate some of the county’s pressure to build more student housing as the University of Georgia grows, as well as the county’s “deep and dramatic” crisis regarding affordable housing.
In a work session immediately following the special called session, commissioners also discussed a master plan to redevelop the north downtown area of Athens. Robert Cheshire, the county’s capital projects director, presented maps of the proposed redevelopment plan. The plan would focus heavily on maintaining and adding affordable housing in the area, Link said.
The redevelopment also takes environmental sustainability into consideration, with solar-power-ready designs, said Christina Davis, development manager at Columbia Residential, a construction company which specializes in low- and moderate-income housing.
The public can make comments on the master plan until Feb. 19, and the final version of the plan will be released to the public on Feb. 23, Cheshire said. It will be submitted to the mayor and commission for consideration on March 2.