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Athens council to allow loft apartments

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — The city is ready to let downtown business owners have loft apartments, but for now, that privilege comes with restrictions.

On Monday, the City Council approved loft apartments as conditional use in the central business district. Public Works Director James Rich said that means each downtown business owner must get approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustments for a loft.

"It's going to allow this on a limited basis to get us started," Rich said.

That's because the city is undergoing an overhaul of its zoning ordinance to update zones and address new issues, such as allowing loft apartments. The guidelines won't be as restrictive once the city adopts a new zoning ordinance.

The conditional-use provision approved Monday allows only two people to live in a loft apartment, and one of those individuals must own a business in the same building. The conditional use prohibits clotheslines, outdoor grills and recreational items on sidewalks or balconies.

Councilman Johnny Crutcher said as part of the zoning ordinance update, the city will look at whether to allow someone who constructs a building on a vacant downtown lot to include a loft apartment. The central business district basically is the area between Hobbs, Green, Houston and Clinton streets.

Councilman Ronnie Marks said currently the guidelines require loft owners to add a sprinkler system, estimated to cost up to $18,000 for a 500 to 600-square-feet area.

"I hope we can waive that," Marks said. "We need to get with our fire chief and look at other cities and see if that has to be adhered to or not. I just think it would hurt other prospects for downtown like other restaurants or businesses."

Councilwoman Milly Caudle said she will check with cities like Florence on what guidelines they use.

Six people spoke in favor of loft apartments. Clyde Cantor, owner of Market Street Antiques, wants to live in a loft at her building.

"It decreases the amount of insurance, electricity costs and taxes I have to pay because I'm paying all of that on one building," she said.

George Van Kirk of Madison, who attends First Presbyterian Church in downtown Athens, said church members think loft apartments are "a great new direction for downtown."

Decatur loft apartments

In Decatur, loft apartments are permitted in B-5 zoning districts. Most of Bank Street Northwest is zoned B-5, as is the downtown area between Fourth Avenue Southeast and First Avenue.

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