Board Approves Blue Gator for Student Apartments
Many nearby business and community members supported the decision to allow the parking variances, calling the current building an “eyesore” and a “big blue monstrosity.”
“The building as it currently stands is very unattractive,” said Ron Luce, director of the Athens County Historical Society, which neighbors the Blue Gator. “It does not fit in any way shape or form, in my opinion, with the rest of the buildings on Court Street. The model I have seen suggests a very attractive building consistent with the buildings on North Court Street. I believe the design would greatly enhance that end of town.”
The major deliberation at the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting was over the building’s available parking. As it stands, Kasler Construction is prepared to supply 20 spots of the required 38. The 20 spots are for the future tenants, and the remaining 18 were appropriated to the future first floor commercial business and dismissed. The 20 tenant spaces were farther from the building than permitted by city code, requiring an additional variance.
Casa Nueva, Athens County Historical Society, Athens Chamber of Commerce and Tony Sylvester of Tony’s Bar all issued statements of support for the project.
Wendy Jakmas, president of The Athens Chamber of Commerce, said, “It absolutely thrills me to see the transformation of three such buildings [Pigskin, People's Bank and Blue Gator] from tired and defaced with graffiti, drab and in some cases dilapidated to attractive, multipurpose sites that speak directly to the recommendations cited in the comprehensive plan.”
Nearby landlord Kay Ledwith, however, opposed the project and raised some concerns about the parking situation.
“To have 20 people living across the street with no parking [is an issue]. Every time they go to the grocery store there’s going to be a problem. It isn’t easy to haul your groceries from over on Carpenter Street,” she said.
It is unclear when the first floor will be occupied by a business. Kasler Construction’s attorney Chris Gerig stated the company would attempt to lease the first floor quickly.
“It’s absolutely part of the plan to have this occupied. There would be no financial incentive whatsoever for my clients to have this site empty. I can’t promise you because we can’t identify the tenant yet, but to have an empty space would serve no purpose; they would just be paying tax,” Gerig said.
John Valentour, an architect working on the project, said the building will appear shorter from Court Street because of the plan to move the third floor back 14 feet in an attempt to minimize the profile.
The Board of Zoning Appeals ruled 3-2 to allow the variances. Rick Mayer, John Golzy and Kay Tousley voted to approve the variances, while Betty Hollow and Greg Lavelle opposed them. The next step for the project is to gain approval from the Planning Commission.