Courtesy of: Athens Weekly News

Op-Ed: With development, timing is everything
By: Tony Eubanks

Having spent the last several weeks in the midst of
what is becoming yet another development versus
neighborhood battle, I would like to share a few
observations about the process.

The developers apparently followed all the rules in
submitting their proposal for 1140 Prince Avenue.
However, despite the fact that this development would
reduce over two acres of residentially zoned land in
the Boulevard neighborhood to a parking lot, the rules
don’t require neighborhood involvement until after
plans have been submitted. There is an inherent flaw
here in that the developers have made a significant
financial investment that reduces the likelihood of
meaningful community input (the community does have a
right to input when zoning is an issue). The mere fact
that money has been spent stacks the deck toward an
“us versus them” scenario from day one.

The lack of early community participation almost
inevitably leads to “The Threat”: If you don’t like
our proposal, things could always be worse. This is no
basis for accepting development that goes against
existing zoning and seems to conflict with the future
land use plan, and the result is wasted resources and
an end product that leaves nobody truly satisfied.
Either or both of these points are frequently raised
in publicly financed developments as well. The Classic
Center design process was one example and the new
downtown parking deck will be another.

Which brings us to the land use plan. The lots in
question on Prince are designated
Commercial-Neighborhood, the lots on Nacoochee are
designated for residential mixed use. Does including a
coffee shop and a pharmacy in a doctor’s office
complex of this size really qualify as mixed use?
Boulevard resident Charles Apostolik’s observation
that there is a “basic distinction between a
development that is designed to serve and benefit the
neighborhood… and one that only incidentally serves
the neighborhood” rings so true. It is not, after all,
Athens Neighborhood Medical Center.

The challenge we face in using the land use plan
effectively is that it is a guide, one which calls for
flexibility and creativity by allowing room for
interpretation by those whose interests it is to
serve—the citizens of Athens-Clarke County. As such,
it will never serve its intended purpose when
interpretation is made unilaterally. In the proposal
for this project, the developers address the land use
plan with one sentence: “This project fits in very
well with existing surrounding uses and the Future
Land Use Plan.” Does that answer all of your
questions?

Our neighborhoods care about what happens to our
environment and we are going to get involved. We have
ideas and resources to contribute. The question is
when are those contributions to be allowed? We are not
about the knee-jerk “NO!” We are about “How can we
make this better?” Until we define the role that
neighborhoods are allowed to play and when they are
allowed into the process, we are going to be fighting
one battle after another, and there will be no
winners.

Already the developers for 1140 Prince, planning
department staff and surrounding neighbors have spent
considerable time and resources on a project that just
doesn’t fit. Those resources would have been better
utilized in working together from the beginning to
design something that we could all consider great. If
there were a mechanism by which seemingly competing
interests could come together before the process is
underway, the role of government could be reduced and
property owners and neighbors could find mutually
beneficial solutions to development issues. The end
result would be a process that works for all of us.

Tony Eubanks is chair of the Historic Boulevard
Neighborhood Association and business manager for
Athens Weekly News.


12FEB04 Athens Weekly News