Valdosta Daily Times

October 11, 2012

Multi-use building promises attraction for students

City to decide on plan, rezone

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta City Council considered a plan for a massive multi-use complex during Tuesday’s work session, and will decide whether to approve the current plan for the project at tonight’s meeting.

The project will fill a 3.78-acre block at the corner of North Oak Street and West Brookwood Drive, across from the Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building and adjacent to two small parcels belonging to VSU.

While the project is being planned and constructed by McAlister Development Co., Inc., out of Charleston, S.C., it is intended to cater to VSU students, serving as a campus housing community with exclusive and public parking as well as commercial space on the bottom floor.

The plan will include three stories comprising 216 multi-family residential units and a bottom floor to house 12,000 to 15,000 square feet of commercial space available to a variety of small businesses. The residential units will number from one to four bedrooms.

"The intent of the project is to provide a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development where VSU students, faculty, employees and visitors can eat, shop and live in close proximity to the VSU campus," states an official letter from McAlister Development.

The sidewalks surrounding the development will measure between 18 and 21 feet, offering "plenty of room to have some outdoor display of merchandise," said Consulting Engineer Bill Kent.

This relatively large curbside space will allow businesses like cafes to offer outdoor seating and clothing shops to set up rack displays within a safe distance of roadways, Kent said.

Motor vehicle traffic to the area was a major concern of the City Council during Tuesday's meeting. To that effect, Kent argues that once the newness of the area wears off, the complex will attract mostly pedestrians.

"It's important for folks to know when they see or hear about this project that most of the traffic generated by this project will be pedestrian-oriented," Kent said.

Students living in the complex who own vehicles will be offered permit-exclusive top-level parking in the proposed parking deck that is part of the complex, while lower levels will be offered to the public, Kent said.

The plan appears inappropriate and too dense for the area at first, according to Tuesday's presentation of the issue by Matt Martin, Planning and Zoning Administrator for the City of Valdosta. The existence of historic buildings that would have to be removed to allow the development further compounds this opinion, the presentation states.

But the long-term implications and the future land use and development pattern of the area seem to make the block a viable option, given significant growth pressures from VSU, a strong need for additional commercial development and more private-sector housing near the campus and the effort to offset commuting traffic through the area, the presentation states.

The Greater Lowndes Planning Commission held a public hearing Sept. 24 to discuss the impact the development would have on the area, and recommends approval of the plan subject to nine conditions.

Per the conditions, 1) the commercial space is not allowed to house animal clinics or boarding services, automotive uses, daycare centers, dry cleaners, personal care services, telecommunications, used merchandise stores or pawn shops and utilities substations.

2) Residential use shall be limited to multi-family dwellings with no more than four bedrooms, and the overall development will not exceed 439 bedrooms.

3) Existing parcels will be combined into one tract of land, and the development will be managed by a single entity.

4) All buildings will observe a 10-foot minimum setback from all property lines, street frontage adjacent to commercial properties will consist of pedestrian walking areas with landscaping and street furniture, and a decorative retaining fence will be constructed along West Brookwood Drive to channel pedestrians to the corner of the property for street crossings.

5) A traffic study will be performed to analyze the needs of the complex, and minor street improvements necessary to the project will be required by the city engineer.

6) A tree inventory will be performed, removal permits will be submitted and approved by the city arborist, and contributions will be made to the Tree Bank Fund for removed trees.

7) A minimum of 15 percent of green space will be necessary, there must be no more than 85 percent of impervious surface will be allowed on the site and stormwater management must exist underground.

8) All other applicable development standards and requirements must be followed.

9) Finally, from the date of final approval, the project must begin within three years and be completed within five years or the approval will expire.

Part of the first condition states that no outdoor display of merchandise be allowed, and that alcoholic beverage sales and outdoor seating will be allowed by permit, which was also a matter of contention among the Council Tuesday night.

"VSU would welcome any private developer who wanted to build housing that would certainly expand the housing market," VSU Foundation CEO John Crawford said. "Along those same lines, any time you can bring businesses closer to campus, it's good for the student body, faculty and staff."