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Beware of Athens City Hall’s Trojan Horse

Updated: Apr 11

By Michael H. McLendon

ACC’s process to update its Comprehensive Plan and associated land use/zoning polices is like a Trojan Horse. This Trojan Horse may well lead to the destruction of the traditional neighborhoods and communities of the “Classic City.” Most are unaware of this process, its details, and consequences. It is time to pay attention and speak up before it is too late!!

The Lesson of the Trojan Horse

The Trojan Horse was built by the Greeks during the Trojan War. The story says the horse was placed at Troy’s city gates and the citizens thought it was just a gift. They suspected nothingwas awry and rolled the horse inside the gates ignoring warnings from others. When the public was asleep Greek warriors emerged from the horse, opened the gates, and  let in the Greek Army.

Today the term Trojan refers to a malicious piece of software code that misleads users as to its true intent by disguising itself as something that it is not. Computer users get duped into opening an innocuous email or application not realizing the negative consequences of what they have unleased until some point in the future when they realize “I’ve been had!”

The Comprehensive Plan Process is Like Malicious Code

This Trojan is marketed as a pro forma process to comply with Georgia Department of Community Affairs requirement that jurisdictions update their Comprehensive Plans. True enough to a point.

However, what is being sold is anything but innocuous and transparent as to its real purpose. The ACC Planning Department (PD) survey and community meetings provide a convenient opportunity and cover to say there has been public engagement. ACC’s advertising and brochures are slick and come across as being benign.

In reality, this “malicious code” contains key assumptions and decisions that are already designed-in, so they are not transparent. The details in the planner’s growth presentation chartsreveal a malicious initiative to transform (reengineer) the Classic City into a progressive nirvana.

City Hall wants to replace single family residential zoning with what is called form zoning to build higher density housing. This means constructing duplexes, quadraplexes, etc. in traditional singled family neighborhoods. In other words, building larger and larger concrete/brick gulags across Athens. To do this City Hall would enact policies that would result in driving out current homeowners and destroying traditional neighborhoods allowing developers to do their will.

Their agenda also calls for coercing citizens onto public transportation and bikes as parking spaces are reduced and more streets are turned into replicas of what was done to Prince Ave. Cars are an anathema in their vision of how Athenians should live. After all, they know best!

How Much Growth is Enough?

ACC’s planners argue that Athens must figure out how to accommodate the 30,000 new residents who want to come to Athens over the next 10 years. Their answer is to put development on steroids to build denser housing!

The zealots leave out the fact that ACC is the smallest geographical county in Georgia. As a result, there is only so much growth that can be shoehorned into Athens if we want to preserve our quality of life and our traditional communities.

Some might argue that our quality of life across Athens has already deteriorated because of their decisions to approve and construct over 18,000 bedrooms from 2018-2023.

The scale of this increase is unprecedented in the history of ACC. The scale of growth has exacerbated existing challenges in a “brownfield” of traditional neighborhoods and roads in a “boro” that has existed for over 200 years. Now they want more.

At the same time, the mayor’s budget priorities are upside down and our infrastructure has not kept pace with existing growth and needs. You see, bike lanes and paved greenways are more important. For example, 25% of homes in ACC rely on septic systems, many of which are failing. This situation could become a crisis, but the critical need to address the issue is not acknowledged much less made a priority. Why?

Athenians live in a 121 sq mile area which means any change impacts everything else. ACC ranks 6th in population size of cities in Georgia and its overall population density is now about 1074/sq mile based on ACC data. For context,  ACC’s population density is greater than Columbus (936 sq/mile) and Augusta 627 sq/mile), both unified governments like ACC, which rank # 2 and #3 in the state in terms of population.

Then there is UGA - the engine that drives the ACC economy and why Athens is on the map. Unfortunately, the leadership of ACC has no substantive relationship with UGA’s leaders. As a result, it is impossible for ACC to be in lockstep with UGA regarding planning.

What Needs to Happen

Citizens, demand your commissioner stop this Trojan Horse process and provide total transparency of what is really going on. ACC’s urbanist planners have made too many assumptions and decisions with far-reaching consequences that are not transparent. You have a right to know the details and to vote on these assumptions about the future of Athens.

Commissions, take control and reset the ground rules. Right now, the Future Land Use Map/Plan is projected to be submitted for approval in late summer or early fall this year followed by proposed zoning changes to implement the plan perhaps in early 2025.

The Planning Commission’s progressives will likely say yes to the proposal. And true to form, the mayor will orchestrate a commission vote on his proposal as the last item on a 20-30 item agenda while severely limiting public transparency and engagement to pressure to vote yes.

The mayor and city manager will try to stampedeyou to vote yes claiming the need to move ahead to meet a state mandated deadline to submit a comprehensive plan. Do not take the bait. Once you vote to approve the future land use plan you have effectively voted to approve the progressive  land use and zoning details that will destroy our traditional neighborhoods.

Stop this process now and get an extension from the state for submission of the comprehensive plan to get this right. The world will not stop. And start the following actions to reset the process.

1. Analyze the consequences of what has happened as a result of the 1998/2008comprehensive plans so there is a baseline going forward. Before focusing on “What will Athens Look Like in 20 Years” we need to ask, “What happened to Athens over the last 25 years?”

2. Understand the consequences to the community and neighborhoods of the 18,000 + bedrooms already approved or constructed. We should know that before anything else is approved.

3. Determine how much “growth” is enough for the smallest county in Georgia to optimize quality of life and other desired attributes. We know from grocery shopping that you can only put so much into your buggy before it overflows or in a grocery bag before it rips. The same for ACC. There is a limit to how much is enough to preserve quality of life and ensure Athens is affordable.

4. What would a build-out of existing zoned parcels look like? Commissioner Hamby has asked this question before, but ACC’sgovernment has ignored his request. Why?

5. Engage UGA in a collaborative planning effort. It is obvious the mayor is not equipped to take on this critical challenge, you must.

6. Engage surrounding jurisdictions as an active partner in ACC future planning efforts. For ACC to think that it alone can absorb the population growth it assumes is delusional. This go it alone attitude is doomed to fail creating major impacts across ACC as well as in other jurisdictions. Again, you will have to do it.

7. Set ground rules for  ACC’s planners to first protect our traditional single-familycommunities, quality of life, and address core infrastructure needs like failing septic systems. Right now, there are no ground rules, and the planners are free to do whatever they want. That is not good government. It is unaccountable, secret bureaucracy at work.


Summary Thoughts

The smallest county in Georgia cannot be all things to all people who want to come to live in Athens. Not everyone who wants to come her can live here. Such a commonsense facts-of-life areforeign to those who have visions of transforming a 200-year-old “boro” into a progressive nirvana.

The mayor has demonstrated City Hall cannot be trusted. From my perch, it seems that forces are at work to force long-time homeowners out of their homes to make way for a transformed Athens. That is not right.

City Hall has not wanted a public conversation about how much growth is enough because sunlight would undermine their progressive urbanist agenda to transform the “Classic City.” But that is exactly what needs to happen and should have happened before the planning zealots were turned loose.

Let us rely on good old “Classic City” common sense and not be rolled over by a secret, progressive agenda. Trying to reengineer the “Classic City” to conform to the progressive urbanist world view is a bad and unaffordable idea.

It is time to fight back. Demand transparency and accountability.  

1,826 views6 comments


It’s funny people believe the deterioration of Athens began in 2018. As a lifelong resident and someone that worked at several local businesses, I can assure you this started with companies like Landmark Properties. Athens hasn’t been Athens since Gwen O’Looney…everything after her brought Athens down a corporate hellscape.


Expertly stated facts. Thank you. In 2018, when the mayor and 4 "activist-minded" commissioner's were elected, (quoting from the socialist activists), the socialists were estatic that they were instrumental in electing "the most progressive Mayor and Commission in ACC history." Since then the socialist's platform has been adopted by the Mayor and Commision. They put in place laws and practices to fulfill their goal - to fundamentally change the culture of Athens.


Well said Mr. McLendon,

If you (the public) think you can trust anything that Girtz, Houlle, “Missing /Lying Link & “Wait till this all blows over Meyers” , you haven’t been paying attention. Vote them out!


Apr 09

the commissioners showed their planning expertise when they approved the Portland loo for $314,000. they are a qualified bunch.


I'd like to point out that the mayor and commission can be trusted. But not to look out for the interests of long time residents and property owners who pay the taxes which support their progressive agenda. They can be trusted to pander to the left leaning college community who still believe that socialist/marxist philosophy works. Don't try to confuse these people with facts which run counter to their beliefs. They will NOT listen.

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