Home Politics Balcony Debates Over Blue Gator Renovations

Balcony Debates Over Blue Gator Renovations

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Blue Gator before any renovations had started.

Court Street, home of the annual citywide Halloween party and weekend bar hopping, has always been illustrated by the tenants living in balconies that hang over the street. One such residence may soon be up for renovation regarding the amount of space available above the first floor.

Sixty-three N. Court Street, or the Blue Gator, came up for discussion during Monday’s Planning and Development Committee meeting. City council members worked towards a goal to ensure that possible renovations to the building’s balcony were both safe and aesthetically pleasing.

Land owner and landlord, Bryan Wharton, hopes council will amend the current ordinance, which only allows renovations to buildings on Court St. to extend to 18 inches, to be rewritten to allow his balcony to extend four feet from the face of the building.

“Our goal was to have a nice appearance from the street and make it a positive project from uptown,” Wharton said.

The council members presented two concerns, one being the safety of those on the balcony and those below because of beer bottles and other items sometimes being thrown from Court St. balconies. The other concern involved setting a precedent for future renovations.

Wharton plans on re-creating the building to house eight tenants. He also wants to split the apartments into two separate living spaces with four tenants occupying each along with a divider on the balcony between the two apartments.

“We are certainly in favor of dividing that [the balcony] in half,” Wharton said.

Concerns over the possible new precedent continued to dominate the conversation when At-Large Rep. Chris Fahl mentioned the city’s right-of-way downtown in terms of above ground level rights.

“[The balcony] sort of reminds me of New York City when they had the fight about air rights,” Fahl said. “If we start giving right of ways for the first floor, the second floor, where does it stop?  It has more than the permanency of a balcony, it is not a normal every day right of way.”

Overall, the council planned to consider Wharton’s request along with the recommendations of the city code office, the police and fire departments and the city planner. A few members were in favor of approving the renovations to improve the look of the city.

“I have lived in this town most of my life and I feel like I have seen everything that can happen here,” Jeffrey Risner, Second Ward representative, said. “And one of the great things about Athens is we are kind of diverse and we do have rules and regulations but we have ways to get around them if it makes [the city] look better.”

The Blue Gator has been vacant since its closure in 2008. The renovations would, according to council, ease the worries of the city fire department that informed council that a vacant building is more of a fire hazard than an occupied one.

“I think it is aesthetically an improvement on what is there,” At-Large Rep. Elahu Gosney said. “It is a major improvement to this building and that Court Street will look better. I would like to see more outdoor restaurant seating. If you look at safety there are porches on many houses in town. But I do not ever recall any serious incident about any of these uptown porches in the past.”

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