Former Blue Gator Balcony Will Remain

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The recently completed balcony on the second floor of the former Blue Gator building on Court Street will remain as the ordinance approving the structure to hover over the city sidewalk narrowly passed Athens City Council on Monday with a 4-3 vote.

The original proposal presented to Athens City Council by Gator Guys LLC — the owners of the building at 63 N. Court St. — requested that a balcony four-foot in depth be permitted on the second floor of the structure. The four-foot balcony was voted down by Council in March.

Some Council members, city administrators and citizens expressed concern regarding the balcony, specifically about the number of people who may have access to the balcony and the potential rowdy behavior exhibited by future tenants.

In an attempt to compromise, a new ordinance was put forward requesting a three-foot balcony. However, before the ordinance could go through all three readings and a vote could be taken by Council, the building’s owners completed the balcony at the three-foot depth — leaving some members of Council with a bad taste in their mouth.

Bryan Wharton, one of the owners of the building, previously told The Messenger that in order to get state approval for occupancy of apartments on the second and third floor, the balcony had to be completed. He said the inspection on the building was earlier this month, prompting the developers to complete the balcony prior to Council approval. He told The Messenger that the developers were optimistic that Council would approve the compromised depth, but wouldn’t elaborate on what the owners would have done if the completed balcony was not approved.

Prior to the vote on Monday, an amendment was proposed to again shorten the depth of the balcony — this time to 24 inches. Councilwomen Chris Knisely, Chris Fahl and Michele Papai voted in favor of the amendment, but their votes weren’t enough to pass the amendment.

Fahl said that the developers did not stress to Council about the May inspection deadline when the project was proposed. She added that it’s not fair to other businesses in the city who follow the rules and seek municipal approval when necessary.

“It gets my ire up as a planner,” she said.

Fahl, Papai and Knisely voted against the three-foot balcony on Monday evening while Council members Steve Patterson, Elahu Gosney, Kent Butler and Jeff Risner voted in favor of it.

The former Blue Gator building was constructed in the 1920s and has served as a bar, lounge and entertainment center for decades. The building has remained vacant since 2008. The structure now houses student apartments on the second and third floors and a new restaurant will be housed on the ground floor.

The owners of the building had to seek Council approval for the balcony since it hangs over the city’s right-of-way, the sidewalk.

Papai said that she was appreciative of the efforts the Gator Guys LLC have taken to improve the building, but said she and some members of the city’s administration still had safety concerns with a balcony on Court Street.