Monday, December 19, 2005

LPDS and other mismash

[Monticello Pres. is a regular contributor to Athens Politics.]

I was asked to fill in for the vacationing (and working) Athens Politics folks today. And they even asked if I would like to submit about the on-again, off-again, on-again La Puerta del Sol (LPDS) rezoning petition on Cedar Shoals Drive (CSD). I'll toss out a few other nuggets for the sake of staying well rounded.

I will begin by clarifying that I have never been an LPDS opponent - I have been an opponent of the rezoning of the Cofers site on CSD. I have frequented Caliente Cab and Pollo Crillo in the past and enjoy Bruno Rubio's work. I respect him as a businessman and as a restauranteer.

There are LPDS opponents among us, I cannot deny that. But the overwhelming majority of the folks that I work with and have talked with are concerned about one issue and one issue only - the rezoning of this site. You may not have realized that after reading much of Blake Aued's writing, but he consistently puts forth a disappointing attempt at journalism. To my knowledge, Blake has still not spoken with the President or Vice President of the homeowner associations opposing this project. He and his bosses apparently have other motives and the truth seems to get in the way of those, unfortunately.

So why are so many eastsiders opposed? Well, it's about precedent. Don Nelson, of the local Banner Herald's business section, wrote sometime in the past about the LPDS issue. He said that rezoning requests are always considered on their own merits and precedent doesn't matter. This is the closest that anyone with the ABH has come to vocalizing the opposing logic, by the way. He then went on to write, just a few paragraphs later, that the current rezoning request should be approved because the gas station and gym have C-N zonings. So precedent doesn't matter - but it does. And that is precisely the problem. Once this property is rezoned to C-N, which gives a whole hell of a lot more latitude than a restaurant, there is no going back. This property is forever more C-N. And it starts us on the slippery slope for the rest of the CSD corridor to also go C-N. And, I'll repeat, that gives a whole hell of a lot more latitude than just a restaurant and/or bakery. It gives us another Barnett Shoals Road or Atlanta Highway. And, quite frankly, that is just not acceptable. (Please also note that the gas station and gym have C-N zonings from a grandfathered decision of a previous zoning criteria decades ago).

Ast the old addage says, you also have to walk a mile (or at least a few steps) in our moccasins. You have to see that so much local and currently zoned C-N space is sitting idle. Vacant. The old Willowwood shopping center with its outparcels needs a new business infusion. The newly built - and long time process - of Ansonborough needs tenants. The Cedar Pointe development that will one day include commercial space at the tip of Cedar Creek - if the developer can find the money to continue. The stalled Tower Place would certainly need such a tenant but for 2 reasons. First, it hasn't seen a construction worker in months. Second, it has been deemed too close to a school (Gaines Elementary and Hilsman Middle) to allow a restaurant selling alcohol. Then you have the WalMart outparcels and soon to arrive Lowes outparcels. Moving down Lexington Hwy there was even another site available when this process started - already zoned C-N. The old Edwards Pharmacy just inside the loop. But it was deemed unattractive by the buyer's agent (who happens to be the seller's consultant), and it sat for a few months before becoming a latin-themed restaurant. Wow, what an idea!

You also must have a sense of history. And as many of you have heard me say, this property was previously rezoned to allow the Cofers home-and-garden business. Without the addition of a PD designation, this business would not fit within the C-O designation previously held by this address. The Cofers petitioned area neighborhoods for their support - and ultimately received it. But they ran that business unsuccessfully for a few years and now have a vacant building on their hands. Now it's time to sell and they want yet another rezone - all the way to C-N - to help bail them out of this mess. How wonderful that would be.

Bottom line, this whole issue with the eastside neighborhoods started when the LPDS petitioners came seeking our support before submitting their plans to the process. As they stated, they didn't want to get into this issue if we didn't want their business there. We reviewed their plans and offered our thoughts - as they are listed above. We concluded that we could not support the rezone. Next step... the request went straight to Stuart Cofer's friends at the A-CC Planning Commission for their stamp of approval. And we were on the other end of the spin machine.

When you have hundreds - if not thousands - of local residents opposing a petition, there are going to be a variety of reasons for the individual oppositions. So, yes, noise has been a concern of some. Traffic issues have been of others. The alcohol issue across the street from the high school is a tough one to get beyond for many. Not because of sales to underage students - but because of the sharing of CSD (and the same red light) by students and their families with drivers under the influence of alcohol. These are concerns, for sure. After all, big nights for a restaurant and bar are also big nights for CSHS football games and basketball games. But the biggest concern is that of the rezoning. The C-N designation for that site forever more and the precedent it sets for the properties along the CSD corridor.

There is current discussion about a Special District Overlay (SDO) for CSD. The Planning Department has started the process for this. And this will help us avoid messy issues like this in the future. It will more clearly define what businesses and what zonings are available along the CSD corridor. This SDO will allow a compromise between those wanting commercial development down this road and those concerned by such "progress". As for the LPDS request, though, it would not be governed by such a proposed SDO. So we will review the recently re-submitted plans. And we will see how the A-CC commission decides to vote in early February. Stay tuned.

Carl with our checkbook
Blake Aued wrote last Friday about Commissioner Carl Jordan's desires to bury utility lines along Baxter Street. Budget overrides are obviously of no concern to him. Instead, he's more concerned with hundred-watt bulbs and equal urination opportunity in downtown bars. It sounds like the other commisioners (at least a majority) may have a bit more fiscal discipline and will act appropriately.

Merry Christmas
I trust all will have a Merry Christmas and a safe New Year. If you do not celebrate Christmas, then please have a Happy Holidays and a safe New Year.

If you were offended by the Merry Christmas offer, then find a hobby ... you obviously have too much time and too few distractions in your life.


DoubleDawgDareYa said...


Pardon my ignorance on such issues, but is there any way at this stage (since, as I understand it, the proposal has been resubmitted to the Planning Commission) for LPDS to be included in such a SDO proposal? It seems to me that if that could be done, those opposed on the basis of rezoning could be appeased while at the same time allowing LPDS (this of course would not solve the other issues; oh well, that's why it's a compromise).

Without getting into the entire debate all over again, which I don't intend to do at this time (although others might, and that's fine), I did want to address briefly one of your other reasons for opposition. You cite many other east side locations, either for the purpose of proposing them as alternative locations for LPDS or to demonstrate other failed developments. I'm not sure which, but either way it seems that LPDS is getting blamed and punished for the failings of other developers. If that is so, I believe it is patently unfair to do so.

I'll leave it there for now; I've got to get back to work and I'm sure you'll have a response for me.

monticello_pres said...

Double Dawg,
I would agree that inclusion to the SDO could accomplish a lot and foster compromise. But the timing is off and can't be reversed at this point. The Commissioners will hear the proposal in February and could only table their vote for 30 days as I understand it. SDO won't be here by then.

But even the design of the SDO helps my biggest concern - the slippery slope arguement. So I will listen with open ears to their revised plans and certainly try to find any happy median available.

As for your take on the opposition due to other failed developments, I can't argue that it isn't fair. And without sounding like a total @$$, I'll just offer that life isn't fair. There are some embittered folks based on previous developments and until we can see folks succeeding when they play within the scope of the rules (zonings), there's just not much incentive to allow folks to go outside of the rules. It could be a huge miss - and Bruno Rubio may be sitting on the next great eatery for Athens. But his timing and the location appear to be problematic for a large number of east siders.

I have to run as well. But more later if you care to listen. My opinions and viewpoints will remain as transparent as I can possibly make them.

Adrian said...

Thanks for presenting a well-reasoned point of view on this matter. It is about time that someone brought some more facts rather than continued the same old rambling.

My big question is whether the C-N designation was called for by the 2000 land use plan -- because planning and commitments should be honored. Some have implied that the designation was called for by saying that the restaurant plan was compatible with the land use plan, but I'm sure what the truth is. If C-N was called for, then I would have to favor the LPDS supporters because the entire purpose of a land use plan is to plan for the future, and so the time to raise opposition was before that plan was made, not now after it is a settled matter. In such case, it would be unfair for those interested in the Cofer property to be opposed over a settled matter and also pay for the failures of other developers. However, if the C-N designation was not called for, then the planning history (as characterized here) should be respected.

That aside, I'm going to have to go after the alcohol argument again. You have presented another side that I was not aware of, that potentially drunk drivers may be too close to the school. However, those that think that way are still missing the big picture. The town is already full of establishments that serve alcohol, and Cedar Shoals Drive is packed with homes. It is no matter that impaired drivers may be entering CSD at that particular intersection because if there were no such establishment there then impaired drivers would be returning to homes on CSD or Whit Davis Road from Barnett Shoals Road or beyond. It is unlikely that having a restaurant at this spot would change the number of impaired drivers that actually drive through that intersection. (And it's hard to say whether a slightly impaired driver over 21 is any worse than the average teenage driver!)

If we can figure out what the settled planning actually calls for, maybe we will have reason to discuss the philosophy of the planning. CSD has already been developed very densely with homes, and whether the previous residents approved of that may be unknown in this discussion. The fact that CSD is now so dense makes C-N designations rather appropriate -- however, it may be only appropriate with restrictions set by an overlay district that can limit the scale of new projects to avoid the problems of Atlanta Highway or Barnett Shoals Road.