Student Apartment Project Granted Zoning Code Variance

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Developers of a proposed student apartment building were granted a variance from the zoning code Tuesday by the Athens Board of Zoning Appeals.

The variance was needed in order for the $15 million Athens River Gate project to move forward at its 10 South Green Drive location.

David Anderson of Homestead U, one the companies developing the project, told The Messenger last month that the plan is to have the project completed by June of 2016, in time for fall semester at Ohio University. The apartments will have a total of 232 beds.

A variance from the zoning code was needed because the project covered 77.5 percent of the property, while the code allows 60 percent coverage. The five-member board of zoning appeals voted unanimously to grant the variance.

An attorney for the developers said the project will result in about $300,000 in annual real estate taxes, with $225,000 of that going to Athens City Schools. The property, which has been the location of New Life Assembly of God Church, has been tax-exempt. The project is expected to create about 100 construction jobs, generating about $150,000 in income tax revenue for the city, the attorney said, as well as about $340,000 in permit and water tap fees for the city.

Among the reasons that the city considers lot coverage is that it impacts the amount of green space a project has, and it impacts the amount of storm water runoff.

In their proposal, the developers included measures to help remediate those issues. For example, while city requires trees with a trunk diameter of 1.5 inches, plans for the project call for trees with 4-inch trunks. Also, they are using grass pavers for part of the parking.

Regarding storm water, the grass pavers are permeable and part of the parking will be permeable concrete.

"We've worked really hard to come to his one variance and to minimize it as much as possibile," said David Fisher, attorney for the developers.

Attorney Ken Ryan, representing a group of commercial real estate owners in Athens, argued against granting the variance.

"I would submit that they (the developers) have not demonstrated that this is such a unique situation that it would require a variance," Ryan said.

The Athens River Gate project had been to the zoning appeals board in May, at which time is was denied variances for lot coverage, parking, building height and the amount of square footage for the number of proposed apartments/beds. Last month, the developers submitted revised plans.

"Basically, what they've done is chop off the third floor of residential units of this building," Code Director John Paszke told the zoning appeals board. That lowered the height of the building and reduced the number of beds and the number of parking spaces needed, leaving only the need for the lot coverage variance.