Demolition moratorium could affect plans for block at The Varsity

The Athens-Clarke County commissioners approved a demolition moratorium on Tuesday for an area that includes the Varsity and the properties purchased recently by the Gordy family, the owners of The Varsity. (Photo/Joshua L. Jones, Athens Banner-Herald)

The Gordy family, owners of the iconic Varsity restaurant at Milledge Avenue and Broad Street, have only themselves to blame for a demolition moratorium that could halt, or at least slow, their plans for acreage surrounding the business for as long as a year, Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Jared Bailey said Tuesday.

 

“We were flat-out told that this was not going to be developed for years. We were flat-out lied to,” Bailey said shortly before he and his colleagues voted 9-1 to institute a demolition moratorium for properties in the National Register of Historic Places-designated West Hancock Avenue Historic District, the area bounded roughly by Broad, Hill and Franklin streets and The Plaza.

The area affected by the moratorium includes a number of properties in the blocks immediately adjacent to The Varsity acquired in recent months by various entities of the Gordy family, with structures targeted for demolition.

It was those demolition plans, and nothing else, that prompted the commission’s consideration, and Tuesday approval, of the demolition moratorium, Bailey said prior to the vote.

Commissioner Jerry NeSmith was similarly frustrated by the Gordys’ apparent reticence to discuss their plans for the property around The Varsity. Attempts over some period of time to meet with Gordy family never came to fruition, NeSmith complained Tuesday.

Representatives of The Varsity have said very little publicly about any plans that they may have for the acreage they are assembling around the business.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Varsity Vice President John Brown, who has previously indicated that the Gordy family has no immediate plans for the acreage they are assembling, said the restaurant “is not leaving Athens.”

In fact, Brown said Tuesday, the family has sold property in an adjoining county — Oconee , according to other sources — to finance its property purchases in Athens.

Beginning in 2015, in an effort that is ongoing, Gordy entities have been acquiring property around the restaurant. As of earlier this year, the Gordys had spent more than $2 million in those efforts.

Its acquisitions thus far have included three homes, including a residence at 853 Reese St. that is more than 150 years old. Now in some disrepair, the home had previously been the residence of some prominent black Athenians. It was, in fact, the area’s role in local black history that prompted the National Register designation of the neighborhood.

Mike Morris, the local attorney working with the Gordy family, insisted Tuesday that the Mack-Burney House and other residential structures acquired by the Gordys in the area affected by the moratorium “are literally falling in on themselves … they are uninhabitable.” Additionally, Morris said prior to the commission’s vote, the houses “pose a health and safety hazard.”

Nonetheless, some in the commission’s City Hall chambers on Tuesday, including Commissioners Melissa Link and Kelly Girtz — Link’s district includes the West Hancock Avenue Historic District — suggested that a deeper look at the residences, particularly the Mack-Burney House, might be needed. Link suggested that county building inspection officials should assess the structures.

Brown indicated Tuesday that the Gordys would be willing to work with any individual or group that might want to move one or more of the houses. Commissioner Harry Sims, who was born in the neighborhood, said Tuesday that he would like to have some conversation with Brown and the Gordys about the future of the Mack-Burney House.

The demolition moratorium approved Tuesday, which won’t affect new construction or renovation, is designed to provide some time for surveys and other studies of the area — which is currently the focus of some planning for future development involving the county government, the Clarke County School District and other entities — to assist in determining what types of zoning guidelines or other policies and programs might help preserve the culture of the neighborhood and ensure that housing within its boundaries remains affordable.

 

More

Sat, 2017-06-24 3:09am

Video: Four Eyes at AthFest

Sat, 2017-06-24 3:00am

Video: Ruby the Rabbitfoot at AthFest

Around the Web