Second cup of zoning for local business

The plan is no longer up for review April 1. After this story originally posted last week, the writer received notice that the application for special use had been pulled while the lot is being re-surveyed.

A slow drip.

Working through any re-zoning process can be a drawn-out percolation. And that’s surely the case for the East Broad Street parking lot that serves the Jittery Joe’s Coffee Roaster and Tasting Room.

Lot owner Don Bennett and the Jittery Joe’s Roaster and Tasting Room team seek approval for an off-street parking lot – a no-no as far as Athens-Clarke County’s long range development plan for downtown is concerned. After submitting and withdrawing a plan in November, after resubmitting and being denied another time in February, the applicants come armed with a proposal that improves on previous plans.

In a decision that could not only affect the emerging character of the East Broad Street section of downtown but also directly impact a beloved local business, the Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission will approve, deny or table a special use permit for the lot at an April 1 meeting.

“The lot is definitely a must for my business,” said Tasting Room owner Seth Hendershot. “The roaster could survive, but the coffee shop couldn’t.”

At the February 4 planning commission meeting, commissioners denied the special use permit on its face due a poor site plan. Plan applicants Don Bennett and Jittery Joe’s CEO Bob Googe withdrew the request and submitted the upgraded plan coming before the April planning commission session.

The zoning ordeal began back in October of 2009 when planning officials ordered the lot closed to public access, according to Athens Banner-Herald reports.

Creating a special use in this case could have far-reaching effects on downtown, planning staff said. If the city grants a special use, other less popular or attractive businesses could demand the same treatment – access to parking lots instead of existing street parking. Planners aren’t trying to attack local business – Jittery Joe’s and Starbuck’s have to be weighed equally, Senior Planner Rick Cowick said.

“We try to treat everyone equally,” he said. “Our charge is to implement what is adopted by the community,” he said, referring to voter-approved comprehensive development standards.

For David Spooner, a resident of the nearby Chicopee-Dudley neighborhood, it doesn’t matter whether or not Jittery Joe’s receives the special use – he walks.

Spooner understands fully the city’s fears of compromising the entire code for future development, but there’s room for exception in this case.

“Jittery Joe’s is a great asset to this community,” said Spooner, an assistant professor in UGA’s College of Environment and Design. “If anyone should get a break it should be these guys.”

High-density development is coming to the area “like a freight train” as the multi-acre Armstrong and Dobbs lot is up for sale.

“It’s just a matter of time and economy, so why not let them park there in the meantime,” he said.

The new plan may appease planning commissioners like Lucy Rowland who said she was “interested in seeing this happen if a better plan had been submitted” at the February review session.

Bennett and Googe’s original plan lacked certain qualities the city needs to see in off-street parking. Improvements to the new plan include:

  • An up-to-code paved surface, a must for any in-downtown parking lot.
  • Four feet added to the curb cut that improves entry and exit, easing the traffic burden on East Broad St.
  • Five fewer parking spaces.
  • Improved landscaping to help with storm water issues.

The new plan meets “a lot more of the standards,” Cowick said. “It’s a workable parking lot now. It will function.”

Cowick said it’s easier for the Mayor and Commission to decide up or down when the comprehensive plan principle of whether or not the city wants off-street parking is the only question.

And while the planning commission may still recommend denial, Jittery Joe’s lack of access to street-level parking “makes a good argument” for Mayor and Commission approval of the special use permit, and the planning department recognized that, Cowick said.

Off-street parking is a necessity for Seth Hendershot’s Tasting Room. Foot traffic makes up 30 percent of his business and the building is allotted only three spaces in an easement between the roaster/Tasting Room and Dixie Cannery next door. The spaces are short-term – 20 minutes for loading and unloading, technically – which affects the Tasting Room’s spring, summer and fall business “when people want to hang out,” said Hendershot, who rents the Tasting Room space from the Jittery Joe’s corporation.

Planning officials raised concerns as to why the parking decks along East Broad St. can’t meet parking needs. Hendershot said he’s tried to negotiate with both Georgia Traditions and 909 for access to their decks, but to no avail. The planning department wondered why the county-owned deck up the hill wouldn’t do.

“Convenience is a big factor in people wanting to come to your place,” he said. “If people have to cross a busy street and come down that extra 30 or 40 yards, they are less willing to do that. It’s the nature of business. They’ll just keep driving.”

Other options for parking in the East Broad Street area may soon emerge. At the March Mayor and Commission voting session, Mayor Heidi Davison asked City Manager Alan Reddish to look into clearing out room for street-level parking on Hickory St., a spur that runs from East Broad Street directly in front of the roaster and Tasting Room.

Cowick said the planning department is ready to work out and wrap up the situation.

“We look forward to getting this issue resolved,” he said.

Other items on the planning commission agenda include a special use permit for a proposed renovation of the Arnocroft house, the former Junior League museum, into a Chi Phi fraternity.

If you go:

The planning commission meets at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the 120 East Dougherty Street government building. Get there early – public comment is high up on the docket. The planning commissions decision needs a final Mayor and Commission approval at a voting session at least one month from now.

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