Planning commission to vote on proposed amendment

The Athens Clarke County Planning Commission will hold a meeting today to decide on whether or not to proceed with its amendments and rezoning of the Milledge Avenue District.

 The commission will vote on whether or not to proceed with the amendment and allow it to be presented to the Mayor and County Commissioners at their April meeting.

 This item mainly involves land use, parking issues and the conservation of trees.

 It is also being paired with a request to allow the Milledge Avenue District to obtain historical designation.  The overlay and historical designation will work together as a pair, to cover the most land, allowing for thorough preservation of the area.

 The overlay has been so controversial that is has required its own committee of area residents, business owners, and Greek representatives, many at the Planning Commission are certain that it will be allowed to proceed.

 According to Amber Eskew, preservation planner of the Planning Commission, many think the amendment and historical designation should have happened a long time ago.

“We have not had much in the way of negative concerns for the overlay or other amendments,” Eskew said. “I think most people see Milledge Avenue as so iconic when it comes to Athens and protecting it so overdue that they are more surprised it didn’t happen sooner than fighting it now.”

 This item has been on the agenda for over a year and is important because the previous moratorium for the area will soon expire.

 The moratorium was adopted by the Mayor and Commission, and requested a temporary halt to any kind of construction work on Milledge Avenue, with the exception of a very few special circumstances.

 According to the minutes from last April’s Mayor and Commission meeting, the moratorium called for the “acceptance of all applications for all demolition permits, for all relocation permits or for building permits for exterior construction or renovation” for all of Milledge Avenue from Broad Street to its intersection with Lumpkin Street.

 “The goal has always been to proceed with the overlay and historic designation together,” said Eskew.

 For all of Milledge residents, however, this would mean a change in the rules for land use in this area.

 “The overlay is a regulatory based approach addressing some land use and site planning criteria that cannot be controlled through historic district guidelines,” Eskew said. “The change created by this ordinance allows for those land uses with the L(13) note to be processed as permitted uses that do not require public hearings versus special uses, which do require public hearings for those properties outside of the overlay boundaries. This is a very important part of the overlay.”

 According to the Planning Commission’s website, L(13) refers to buildings affected by the proposed document, including boarding houses, rooming houses, dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, institutional categories, semi-public hall, lodges, and clubs.

 Buildings, however, are not the only component of the proposed amendment. Parking and trees are also issues of concern.

 “The proposed tree changes apply to all properties on Milledge and that the proposed parking changes to shared parking would be just for this area of Milledge,” Eskew said. “The changes to the Greek house parking requirements, however, would be for all houses, not just those on Milledge.”

Not very much will change regarding the parking issue. According to Eskew and the report, there is already an equation in use that determines the amount of required parking spaces. This change would reduce the number of parking spaces required by about a third, and would only be a bother to Greek organizations during their weekly chapter meetings. However, bike parking spaces will be increased and other forms of transportation will be recommended.

“The amendments proposed directly address the concerns brought by the committee,” Eskew said. “They seek to find a better way to embrace Greek organizations on Milledge and ease some of their parking constraints while satisfying adjacent property owners that the side streets won’t be further hampered with parking problems on chapter, meeting nights, football games, parties, etc.”

Moving on to the tree issue, according to the report, the tree preservation section is for all trees greater than eight inches dbh (diameter at breast height). The report also notes that this applies only to trees in the front yards, and is in accordance to existing countywide protection regulations.

The main idea according to Eskew is “to limit tree removal in front yards, yet at the same time allow those removals that can’t be helped, provided new trees are added back.”

The proposed amendment seems likely to bring a positive change overall.

“There are always people out there who don’t want any more regulations that they see limiting the development of their property,” Eskew said. “The amendments try to make sure that new development respects the more residential character of the now commercial area.”

For those interested in attending the meeting, it will take place at the Planning Department Auditorium located on 120 W. Dougherty Street in Athens at 7:00 p.m.

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