Would-be Prince developer condemns ’hood “naysayers”

Courtesy of: Athens Weekly News

By: Brad Aaron

If a developer were to write a guidebook on how to
fail at gaining community support for a project in
Athens-Clarke County, chapter one could be called “The
Taylor & Mathis Method.”

First, chapter one might suggest, pick a neighborhood
that’s already smarting from several attempts by other
developers—some successful, some not—to commercialize
its residential areas. Then propose a structure that
most will consider totally out of scale, preferably
one with a parking deck and drive-thru window, which
would require the demolition of low-income housing.
Call a meeting or two to “address the concerns” of the
neighborhood, at which you should be defensive and
argumentative. Make sure to circulate fliers
advertising your new project—built the way you want
it—even as you “work with the neighborhood.”

Taylor & Mathis is the Atlanta development firm that
wants to build a four story medical office complex at
1140 Prince Avenue, in the Boulevard area across from
Athens Regional Medical Center. After county planning
staff recommended a March planning commission vote on
the project be tabled, the company withdrew its
request from consideration, with plans to resubmit in
time for a May planning commission vote.

“The Taylor & Mathis Method” would also include
writing a bizarre letter to the director of the ACC
Planning Department, expressing indignation toward
staff and contempt for the neighborhood. That’s what
company president Andrew M. Taylor did on March 4.

In the letter—addressed to Brad Griffin and copied to
the planning commission, the mayor and county
commissioners—Taylor is resentful at having to produce
scaled drawings of his proposed building as it would
be seen from all directions. (“Although this request
was unprecedented in our experience, we produced the
renderings as requested—and at considerable expense,”
he writes.) He characterizes concern over the visual
impact of the proposed two story parking deck as
“ill-founded.”

Also on the topic of the parking deck, Taylor notes
that his firm was forced to include spaces for compact
cars in order to maintain a suitable parking ratio.

“As developers,” writes Taylor, “we are not big fans
of compact parking spaces; we dislike them almost as
much as the people that have to park in them.”

Taylor writes that though “some people in the
neighborhood” consider drive-thru windows “inherently
undesirable,” he surmises that “many of the people
that philosophically oppose this type of retail
actually shop at these stores every week.”

“And yet these same naysayers are in favor of
promoting ‘desirable’ neighborhood retail
development,” he writes.

Though it is the primary point of contention for many
residents, Taylor dismisses the classification of his
firm’s proposal as incompatible with the comprehensive
land use plan, deemed as such because it would require
the rezoning of residential property to commercial
use.

“Although this technicality is fascinating to one or
two gadflies who oppose this project (and no doubt
they hope to exploit it as a zoning trip-wire), we
fail to see its importance,” writes Taylor.

While he acknowledges that his firm failed to make
suggested design changes and submit requested
materials in time for the planning commission meeting,
Taylor writes that he was “both surprised and
disappointed” when staff recommended tabling the
proposal.

If the planning commission issues its recommendation
in May, the Taylor & Mathis Prince Avenue proposal
should come before the mayor and commission in June.
For his part, Taylor is apparently optimistic.

“Despite the vocal opposition of a few,” he writes,
“we continue to be encouraged by the many people (the
vast majority, we believe) who realize this project is
a good thing for the community, and an important step
towards quality development in the Prince Avenue
corridor.”


18MAR04 Athens Weekly News