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  Commission Meeting Notes: - 9/4/01 - 9/17/01 - 9/18/01 - 10/02/01 - 10/4/01 - 12/4/01 - 1/2/02 - 1/15/02 - 2/5/02 - 2/19/02 - 3/19/02 - 4/02/02 - 4/16/02 - 5/21/02 - 6/18/02 - 7/16/02 - 10/08/02 - 10/15/02 - 11/12/02 - 1/21/03 special - 1/21/03 - 2/4/03 - 2/6/03 pc - 2/18/03 - 3/4/03 - 3/6/03 pc - 3/20/03

Notes from Commission Regular Business Meeting, Oct. 2, 2001

First, I must admit that I did not make it through the entire meeting. Even though I left at 11:15 after 4.5 hours, there were many items left on the agenda. I am sorry to say that I missed many important items such as the Greenspace property evaluation, Barnett Shoals road widening, the Five Points fire station property multi-use option, bus stop improvements, the Southeast Community Park revisions, and outdoor lighting restrictions, to name just a few. Perhaps someone who was able to make it through this marathon session can fill us in on the outcome of these issues.

Mayor Eldridge is recovering from surgery and Commissioner Sims was acting mayor.

The following contains highlights of some of the items on the agenda that I observed:

  • Commissioner Jordan moved that the lighting ordinance reconsideration be voted upon and this was moved to the bottom of the agenda.
  • Rick Parker, Executive Director of the Athens Housing Authority, stated that the Authority provides affordable housing opportunities and that 80% of the tenants are employed or elderly and 15% receive government assistance (welfare). He presented a check to the commission ($100,000 +) as part of their income and stated that he hoped the money would go back into affordable housing initiatives.
  • Under old business was the submittal of a grant application to the GA DNR to provide funds to accomplish goals set forth by the Rails to Trails Committee. Commissioner McCarter stated that people should not get their hopes up too high for this project since the right-of-way for the projected trail has not yet been obtained.

Moratorium:

A public hearing was held on the proposal for a temporary high-density building permit moratorium in RM-2 zones while a study could be conducted on the balance of housing units in the County and new regulations could be developed to promote a good balance.

About 40+ people spoke about this issue (the room was packed). About a quarter of them were against the moratorium (mostly developers and contractors) although all were sympathetic to the needs of the residents of Garden Springs. The people against the moratorium were concerned that this would result in economic hardship not only to themselves but also to their employees, especially in light of the fiscal slowdown. They questioned whether or not the moratorium was legal and if it would accomplish anything in helping the park residents. Many of the 500 residents of the park pleaded with the commissioners not to destroy their neighborhood and about how there are few affordable family housing alternatives for them in the county. Others who spoke in favor of the moratorium included teachers, demographers, ministers, the chairman of the Democratic Committee, and graduate students. Many good arguments were made for the need for the ACC government to consider community over profit and take immediate steps to address the issue of affordable housing. One person stated that what is happening to Garden Springs (bulldozing a neighborhood) would be illegal in other states such as Florida. It was a moving experience to witness all the impassioned pleas and perhaps they reached the commission.

After the comment period, the commissioner discussion began. Sheats asked if eviction notices had been served and whether this really means that the residents have to vacate after 60 days (October 31). The eviction notice is only the 1st letter and that other proceedings would occur if people had not moved within the allotted time. Sheats also suggested that HED? should look at funding for purchase of blocks of homes in existing modular home parks for relocation of the residents. In addition, he suggested that an ordinance is needed that would allow at least 18 months for relocation in similar situations.

Barrow stated that the rules must be changed. He stressed the need to reverse the new RM-2 zoning and to use TDR’s to increase density in this area. This would give control over what type of housing is placed in this zone and requirements could be made for construction of some affordable housing. He also stated that the moratorium is legal and that zoning can be changed before building permits are granted. He stated that a time out is needed on apartment building and that there already is a recession in the Real Estate market due to a glut of existing apartment buildings.

McCarter stated that the new RM-2 zoning has lowered density due to a moratorium in 1998 that revoked the former RM-2 zoning. Therefore, the new zoning has not created this problem. He stated there is a surplus of apartments but has reservations about the moratorium. He also thought TDR’s are not the answer. He stressed that the commission must start discussing affordable housing at the next work session.

Barrow replied (after motion for moratorium Option A was made) that TDR’s could be the answer to affordable housing and that ACC is not driving a hard enough bargain for high-density development rights in this area.

Jordan believes the commission is not taking the emergency seriously and that the Land Use Plan has let us down in preventing unwanted development. He also stated that something must be done at the next work session.

The vote was taken with only Barrow and Sheats voting in favor of the moratorium. Nothing was decided on whether a housing study will be done but this may be decided at the work session. The room was less crowded after this point.

During the next comment period, at least 5 people spoke in favor of a skateboard facility in the new Southeast Park, including one mother of a skateboarder.

Rezoning from EI to I:

The area in East Athens under discussion was rezoned from I to EI in December creating a non-compliance of a few businesses within the new EI zone. There were three options:
Option A: EI to I on 17 parcels
Option B: EI to I on 22 parcels
Option C: EI to I on 5 parcels on Hancock Industrial Way including those now in non-compliance.

During the comment period several residents spoke in favor of Option C and voiced concerns about the impact on their quality of life and property values of zoning the larger area to heavy industrial. The commission had met with representatives of the community during September to hear their concerns. Two representatives of the Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor of the other options.

During the commission discussion, Carter made a motion for Option A with provisions for no feedlots or waste transfer facilities. He believed that this satisfied the concerns of the residents. Cardee seconded the motion stating the need for flexibility to attract new businesses. Sheats made a motion for Option C and Jordan seconded the motion. Jordan asked if provisions had been made for air quality standards (I think the answer was no). Jordan also questioned the impact of the coverage allowed in I zones (how much of the parcel can be utilized). Up to 95% of the land can be covered in I zones with 10 and 6 foot setbacks. 85% coverage is allowed in EI. Jordan stated that almost all companies already comply with the EI restrictions and that Option C takes care of those that do not. He believed Option C puts some control over industry uses. Chasteen stated that the community supports Option C. Vote: Option C – 4 for and 5 against; Option A – 7 for, 2 against.

The room really emptied out after this vote leaving only a few night owls. Shortly thereafter, I also left. From the paper I gather that the Barnett-Shoals road widening was passed as well as the beginning of the Five Points fire station design without any mixed-use provisions.

Elizabeth Little