Another High-Rise for the Wealthy?

What 155 Mitchell Street could look like if the Commission changes its zoning as requested by the developer.

Here they go again.

The Mayor and Commission are considering rezoning a property on Mitchell Street, which is situated between downtown and the university. The proposed development is a 100-plus-foot tower, much like other recent high-rise residential developments downtown, only taller. This is a massive increase in scale over what would be allowed under the current zoning, making it a big ask on the part of the developers that would would result in tens of millions in additional revenue for them if the Mayor and Commission approve the project.

Who Benefits?

What does Athens get in return if this proposal passes? 258 bedrooms of game-day condos. Yes, second or third or fourth homes for well-heeled UGA football fans. As reported in a Flagpole article published June 2, the developer acknowledged this fact during a Planning Commission meeting, saying, “We’re looking at people who already have a mountain house, already have a beach house, already have an Atlanta house, but want to come to Athens.”

Several commissioners have spoken favorably about the development, arguing that it would be housing density where we need it most, that it would serve a different demographic than students downtown, that it would reduce our dependence on cars. None of this is true.

This development has more parking spaces than bedrooms and a drive-through auto court to boot. Everyone who stays there will drive. People who come to Athens for seven weekends a year are not residents, and the condo tower where they stay would not be housing; it would be a private hotel. So if approved and built it would do nothing to add to Athens housing stock for any income level and would displace actual housing that could be built on that site. And this proposed development is certainly not intended for a different demographic than other recent developments. Nearly everything that has been built in Athens recently is for the same demographic; whether expensive single family infill, luxury student apartments, or, now, luxury football vacation homes, it is all being built for the wealthy.

“We’re looking at people who already have a mountain house, already have a beach house, already have an Atlanta house, but want to come to Athens.” -Mitchell Street Developer

We need better balance. It’s what our community has asked for repeatedly. While actual Athenians struggle to find housing they can afford, it seems painfully out of touch for the Mayor and Commission to seriously consider approving this development.

Please contact the Mayor and Commission (agenda item 15) and tell them to vote NO on the Mitchell Street rezone. Come to City Hall on September 5th at 6:00pm and tell them that we want Affordable Housing for All, not more options for those who already have the most.

Better Ideas for Housing In Athens

Here’s a preliminary list of policy changes that ACC could implement to move us in the right direction, by increasing the availability of affordable housing, unlike the proposed development.

  1. Fund Our Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

$250,000 to $500,000 of annual funding would quickly make this an effective financial tool able to leverage millions of dollars of investment in affordable housing.

  1. Institute an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance.

Inclusionary zoning, where new developments are required or encouraged to include affordable units, would harness our robust student housing development market to assist the funding of affordable housing.

  1. Bring Unused Properties Back into Use Through Partnership with Our Not-For-Profit Affordable Housing Providers.

Empty houses represent both a drain on the surrounding neighborhood and  an opportunity to seamlessly add more housing where it is needed most. Moving these houses back into use through affordable housing providers would ensure their affordability.

  1. Reduce the Minimum Lot Size in Single Family Zones.

Allowing lots as small as 2500 square feet, coupled with house size limits, provides an alternative to building large and expensive single family houses as infill, currently the only viable option within our single family zones.

  1. Institute Preferential House Size Thresholds within Our New Infill Housing Ordinance.

Our new infill housing ordinance disadvantages small lots, making it prohibitively difficult to build on our smallest lots in our densest neighborhoods, where lower priced single family homes are more likely. Adding language to suspend the new setback restrictions for houses under a certain size would encourage the construction of smaller houses on these smaller lots.

  1. Allow Accessory Dwelling Units in Single Family Zones.

Accessory dwellings, whether included in the primary structure or separate, are a low-impact, easily-managed way to bring mixed-income housing into all of Athens’ neighborhoods. Quality of life concerns are mitigated by a requirement that one of the units be owner-occupied, verifiable through our homestead exemption.

  1. Establish a Property Tax Abatement Program for Low-Income Homeowners.

Development in many neighborhoods is a cause for concern because of the effect that it has on the property tax assessments of existing residents. Rising property values and subsequent higher property taxes are a real hardship for our low-income residents. The answer to these concerns is not to restrict additional housing, which would exacerbate rising property values, but to alleviate the tax burden on those who are most harmed by the increases.

Athens for Everyone

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