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Commissioners to debate Newton Bridge development

Athens-Clarke County commissioners on Tuesday will consider a rezoning request that could lead to the construction of 216 new single-family homes in North Athens.

A national developer wants to build the subdivision on Newton Bridge Road, and while county staff say that a residential development of some type is appropriate for the area, some ACC commissioners questioned whether the proposal was the right type of housing for the needs of the community.

One concern expressed by some commissioners was the lack of a binding site plan, although a representative of the developer told commissioners that the concept they submitted would be considered binding by the developer. That’s not a legal guarantee, however.

Instead, some commissioners seemed to want the project to be a planned development, which locks developers into certain conditions.

District 8 commissioner Carol Myers expressed her worries about the developer’s reputation, especially in conjunction with the lack of a binding plan.

"I'm gonna want some plans and some things down in print, so I was a little surprised that they would not go about this," Myers said. "I'm also reticent to approve something without a plan development for a company that you know has a lot of complaints at the Better Business Bureau website on its rating is quite low as was brought up by one of the public commenters, but it's right there on the internet for everyone else to see."

District 5’s Dexter Fisher, however, stressed the need for more housing in the county.

"We always talked about housing stock," said Fisher. "216 homes, possibly added to that particular area and of course, as you all know, there's gonna be a lot of growth on Newton Bridge Road in the future."

But, Myers questioned whether this development was the right type of development for the county’s needs. Commissioners last year saw a report that said Athens lacks so-called “missing middle” housing – higher-density duplexes, triplexes, and small apartment buildings. The Newton Bridge Road proposal would be for lower-density single-family homes.

"I just want to be careful and thoughtful and you know about how we're adding that housing in so that we have the right kind of housing for the future," Myers said. "I mean, I don't the argument that we need housing, which I'm totally for needing housing, you that could lead us to say well, let's just approve any kind of housing that's brought forth I think we need to do it thoughtfully."

Commissioner Ovita Thornton, in whose district the proposed subdivision lies, also noted that the area is within a Tax Allocation District, or TAD, which in the case of a planned development, could garner significant community benefits, similar to those that came with approval of a redevelopment of the Georgia Square Mall parcel. That plan included transit stations, youth facilities, and multi-use paths as part of its plan.

Tomorrow’s commission meeting begins at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall and will be streamed live on the county’s YouTube channel.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.