The Valdosta Daily Times
McAlister Development Company appealed to the Valdosta City Council Thursday evening over an issue with the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) that is preventing the company from beginning construction on a mixed-use development intended for college students.
In October, Council approved the rezoning of the block bounded by Brookwood Drive, North Toombs Street, West Ann Street and North Oak Street to community-commercial for the development of a four-story living and shopping complex intended for student living.
At the Nov. 5 meeting of the HPC, McAlister requested permission to relocate or demolish 11 houses standing on the block to make way for the development.
The HPC approved relocation of the houses with the condition that McAlister make a “good faith effort” to relocate the houses for a period of 90 days, after which time McAlister would be allowed to apply for demolition of the remaining houses.
McAlister began the process, but relocation of the houses “got a little cumbersome,” according to attorney Bill Nijem, speaking on behalf of McAlister.
“McAlister doesn’t own the property yet, so it’s tough to contract with people to move these houses,” Nijem said. “And nobody knows what’s going to happen if these houses aren’t removed. We’re in a catch-22.”
Nijem explained that McAlister could not apply for loans for the multi-million-dollar project when demolition permits were still not issued, and without the loans, development could not begin.
At the center of the issue, McAlister was aiming to have construction complete by the start of the fall semester of 2014, to cater to new students looking for living solutions. Missing this window could spell major losses.
McAlister approached the HPC with the issue, and suggested that the commission approve demolition permits effective in March, pending the
continued good-faith effort to remove the houses. This would allow the company to make some headway.
“We’re running out of time, and we need an official date of issue for the demolition,” Nijem said.
Nijem reported that McAlister spoke with more than 200 realtors about the availability of the houses and with Habitat for Humanity (which remarked it was less expensive to build new houses). The company advertised the houses—sold for $10 each plus the cost of relocation—and currently has 10 to 15 individuals interested in purchase.
Nijem explained the company is taking care to ensure these interested parties plan to relocate the houses to a vacant property and not simply dismantle them for materials, and the process has been slow and not very promising.
After hearing Nijem’s appeal, the Council Member Deidra White motioned to postpone a decision on the appeal with the condition that the HPC reconsider McAlister’s concerns at their next meeting Feb. 4. The motion was seconded and passed unanimously.
“I’d like to give the process one more chance to work,” White said. “I agree that this development is good for the city, and that it will have a positive impact by a private developer that will help protect single-family housing by creating walkability.”
The City Council also unanimously approved:
• an ordinance to establish qualifying fees and dates for the 2013 City of Valdosta Municipal Election. Fees to run for office were set at $465 for City Council seats and $35 for school board.
• a bid for Scott air packs for the Valdosta Fire Department that will allow firefighters to breathe in smoke-filled areas, at a cost of $247,885.
• the abandonment of an easement within the Drury Inn development area.