County commission approves funding for Bethel-area redevelopment


By Joe Johnson

The Athens-Clarke County Commission Tuesday night voted to spend nearly $40 million to redevelop the low-income Bethel Midtown Village apartment complex with the Athens Housing Authority.

Commissioners voted in favor of signing a memorandum of understanding between the county government and the Athens Housing for the North Athens Downtown Development Project.

The memorandum, which is scheduled to be signed at a ceremony this afternoon, provides the intent for the county to use approximately $39 million from the SPLOST 2020 Affordable Housing Project budget, if the referendum passes on November 5, 2019, to support the North Athens Project.

The project would consist of the renovation or redevelopment of the approximately 12-acre site now including 190 apartment units, known as Bethel Midtown Village, as part of a mixed-use, mixed-income development and that may include adjacent tracts and uses.

The 190-unit apartment complex is located on about 13 acres in an area bounded by Hull and Hoyt streets, College Avenue, and Hickman Drive.

In a statement that was released prior to Tuesday’s commission meeting, Mayor Kelly Girtz stated that the North Athens Project “would improve, replace and increase the housing for low and moderate income households in the target area.” Girtz stated that the Athens Housing Authority “has committed to an extensive input process” that will include residents of Bethel Midtown Village, community stakeholders and interested citizens.

“This initiative would replace and increase the number of affordable housing units with state of the art, high quality affordable housing units, improve the quality of management of the units, and improve development opportunities for a variety of uses,” Girtz stated. “This project would truly transform not only this site and the lives of its residents, but it also has the potential to provide reinvestment into the surrounding area, including downtown Athens.”

Bethel Midtown Village, reportedly has been plagued by a host of problems, including cockroach and rat infestation and a high crime rate.

Earlier this year, U.S. Postal Service officials suspended mail delivery to the complex after a series of incidents of gun violence that included a fatal shooting.

The redevelopment could also include smaller tracts of government-owned properties in the planned development area, including the Dougherty Street Government Building, where the signing ceremony is set to take place at 4 p.m. today.

Private companies would be part of the redevelopment project, including Columbia Residential, which the AHA previously used to raze the Jack R. Wells Homes public housing complex off Hawthorne Avenue and replaced it with the mixed-income Columbia Brookside project.

The North Athens Project would be part of a planned $44.5 million Affordable Housing Project, one of more than two dozen infrastructure projects that would be funded with a continuation of the county’s 1 percent Special Local Option Sales Tax, should voters approve it in the Nov. 5 referendum. Continuation of 1-percent SPLOST would raise an estimated $317 million over the next decade.

Construction of a new county courthouse and a 5,500- seat arena for the Classic Center would also be paid with the planned SPLOST funding.

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