Story last updated at 12:02 a.m. on Saturday, January 31, 2004
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Changing Prince: Community, commuters in battle
Stress developing along avenue
By Allison Floyd
one of the managers of the Daily Co-op Grocery, Gordon Bryant knows the traffic
patterns on Prince Avenue.
But when a police officer asked his advice about what part of day brings the worst speeding, he couldn't narrow it down much.
The conflict between commuter and community rages all day along the busy thoroughfare just outside of downtown Athens, and residents, business owners and planners predict it will only get worse as land values and the success of Athens Regional Medical Center spawn large office buildings that draw traffic like a magnet.
One project like that, a medical office building planned across Prince from the hospital, has focused the debate about the character of the busy street and the traffic that plagues pedestrians and bicyclists as they go about business in their neighborhood.
It's so bad already, Bryant compares eating in the small sidewalk cafe outside The Grit to the experience of dining on the shoulder of an interstate highway.
little slip of the wheel and your lunch would be all over their windshield,''
So, when neighbors look at a plan for the new four-story office building behind McDonald's - where a handful of small shops and Prince Rondeval Apartments stand today - they know that the change will bring more cars. The official estimate is 1,800 more cars a day. (Editor's note: A correction was made to this article Feb. 4, 2004.)
The developers of the project have met with neighbors at least twice, and satisfied most of their aesthetic demands and concerns about cut-through traffic.
But people who live in the area - a short, but harried bike ride away from downtown and the University of Georgia - continue to debate the broader issue about the future of Prince Avenue.
''It's going to get horrible. It's already horrible,'' downtown resident Rosa Knape said after she gathered a bag of groceries at the Daily Co-Op. She plans to move back to Normaltown, where neighbors would stop in the street and return her cat if she sneaked out of the house. But the speed of the traffic annoys and scares her, she said.
The new office
building, which will include 80,000-plus square feet of offices and shops facing
Prince Avenue, will enhance pedestrian safety by reducing the number of curb cuts
and improving the intersection at King Avenue, according to Abe Abouhamdan, an
engineer working with the developers.
Locals didn't seem to take much issue with those details when they met with developers in a question-and-answer session last week sponsored by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.
But they challenged them about the size of the building, whether a two-story parking deck proves that the building means to draw cars and whether developers should have considered adding houses to the mixed use development.
The destruction of Prince Rondeval Apartments - an unsightly but inexpensive apartment building that will be razed as a part of the project - is already sparking debate with affordable housing advocates.
While neighbors needled developers about how the office building fits into the community, Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation Director Amy Kissane pointed out that the developers of a single project can't answer questions about the broader community.
''That's a discussion this community needs to have,
not just with this project, but with Prince Avenue as a whole,'' Kissane said.
The Athens-Clarke Planning Commission is slated next month to consider a rezoning application for the building. While many residents, planners and officials say that professionals and locals should set down a more definite plan for the corridor, there's no schedule to do that.
And, they agree, it's a transitional time for the corridor. St. Joseph's Catholic Church might sell its 6-acre campus; one of the area's best-known businesses, Allen's Hamburgers, closed at New Year's; and the federal government might close the Navy Supply Corps School.
The type and size of developments that come to the corridor now could set the tone for years and could swing that difficult balance between community and commuter.
''There's definitely some conflicting uses there,'' said Athens-Clarke Commissioner David Lynn, whose district includes Prince Avenue. ''There's a conflict there, and I'm not sure how to reconcile that.''
While most constituents want to slow traffic and find ways to make the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists, Lynn said others argue that Prince Avenue is a thoroughfare connecting Athens and Gainesville, not just a neighborhood street.
Lynn admits he doesn't know how to strike a balance.
''If I could wave a magic wand and bring back those antebellum mansions (that once lined Prince), I would,'' he said. ''Do we need to do some proactive planning on Prince? Of course. I am partially to blame for not getting that started earlier.''
If commissioners approve the rezoning necessary for the office building, it could be the first of many large projects.
''I think it's unrealistic to think there will only be one building of that scale,'' said Bruce Lonnee, the county's senior planner.
If economic conditions call for more office space near the hospital and the government hasn't made an official plan to direct that development somewhere else, developers will likely choose land close to the hospital, Lonnee said.
''I'm worried about that end of Prince Avenue,'' said Lynn. ''I'm not panicking about it. But I don't want to look back and know we didn't do anything.''
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald
on Saturday, January 31, 2004.