Story last updated at 2:11 AM on Dec. 12, 2004
Compromise on medical building is worth a new try

It will be at least another month before developers of a medical office building proposed for Prince Avenue and people living in the vicinity will know whether, or in what form, the project will move forward.

As currently proposed, the building would be a three-story, 75,000-square-foot structure at 1140 Prince Avenue, near its intersection with Nacoochee Avenue and directly across Prince Avenue from Athens Regional Medical Center.

Developers and neighborhood residents have been wrangling over the proposal for the past year. Those discussions have prompted the project engineer to remove two proposed entrances to the tract, modify the design from four stories to three stories, and to plan for additional landscaping.

Residents have not been swayed by the modifications, and contend the building is still too big for the area. They also argue the office building will bring almost 3,000 additional cars into the Prince Avenue corridor daily, with at least some of those cars using their neighborhoods' streets. And there has been some concern that the project will displace residents of the 33-unit Prince Rondavel apartment complex on Nacoochee, which is a part of the limited supply of affordable in-town housing. The complex is populated mostly by Hispanic workers.

But it is the size of the proposed building that remains the major sticking point. Residents contend the structure will be out of scale with the rest of the area, and that its size places it well outside the character of neighborhood-based businesses called for in the zoning classifications assigned to the tract.

For their part, the developers contend a smaller building won't be economically viable. And at last Tuesday's Athens-Clarke County Commission meeting, Mike Morris, the attorney representing the developers, said they have not developed any formal alternatives to the plan now on the table.

At that meeting, as it became clear that there were not likely going to be enough votes on the commission to clear the way for the project, the developers opted to wait a month to take their chances with a new commission. They'll use the time until then for additional discussions with neighborhood residents and the government's planning department staff.

As of today, five of the 10 commissioners have indicated they oppose the current plan for the building, based on neighborhood opposition and concerns about the propriety of the zoning classification being sought by the developers. The balance may tip away from the developers in January, as outgoing Commissioner Cardee Kilpatrick is replaced by Elton Dodson, who has indicated he cannot support the project as it is currently contemplated.

The dispute over the proposed medical office building is illustrative of what is likely to become a continuing source of friction between residents of the Prince Avenue corridor and developers. Given the presence of Athens Regional Medical Center and the relative proximity of St. Mary's Hospital, the corridor is an attractive, and logical, location for medical offices and other health care-related businesses.

It is encouraging that developers of the currently proposed office building have been willing to work with the neighborhood, and have been willing to make some changes in their plan. The upcoming shift on the county commission is an indication the developers may have to try even harder to come up with an acceptable plan, and a sign they should give more serious consideration to scaling back their proposal. But at the same time, neighborhood residents should also be giving some consideration to the fact a new medical office building represents a potential benefit to the community, as it brings new jobs here.

If a real spirit of compromise can develop in the short time remaining before January's commission meeting, developers and residents may be able to forge a "win-win" compromise, for themselves and the rest of the community.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, December 12, 2004