Locals discuss changes for Highland Avenue

Published 7:43 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

The debate centered around zoning on University and Highland Avenues has been ongoing for years, but the passage of Troy’s City Plan may soon bring it to a halt.

After several public hearings, the city has been working to redraft its comprehensive community master plan, a plan that originally called for a revitalization that would transition from a residential community to needs for Troy University housing.

The draft now stands next in the hands of the Planning Commission, who have to approve it before the city council makes the final call.

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He can’t speak for everyone, but Troy’s Planning Commission Chairman Bill Hopper said he’s close to ready to grant that stamp of approval as it is now.

And, as it is, may call some to compromise.

In the plan’s first draft, a study recommended Highland Avenue have some type of transition to please the residential community and needs of Troy University.

But, Larry Watts, director of Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, said after reviewing comments from the last public hearing, there is still no definite plans for the neighborhood.

Watts said two or three new suggestions were made at the October meeting, but he has not made changes to the actual draft in the commission members’ hands.

But still before the Planning Commission can pass their portion of the plan, another public hearing will have to be held, and Hopper said feedback from that would be considered.

“If there are significant responses or comments those will have to be incorporated into the document,” Hopper said. “If there’s nothing there, perhaps we will look to approve it and pass it on.”

Several who own land on Highland Avenue have hopes the study will make recommendations to rezone.

KT Cole, who co-owns several homes on Highland Avenue with Richard Shaughnessy, said they requested rezoning to an R3 neighborhood almost three years ago. Since, they have been waiting for completion of Troy’s City Plan.

And while Cole said he has no big plans to immediately build apartments, that is something he would like to see done in the first block of Highland.

“We don’t plan on going in there and throwing up apartment buildings right now,” Cole said. “We want to be responsible and want to be good neighbors with the university and the church and make sure we’re doing the right thing for that area.”

If the city plan passes with a recommendation for rezoning, it won’t automatically be rezoned without approval from the Board of Adjustments.

Still, several surrounding the area have spoken opposition to any changes in that area.

Mike Alsup, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said he doesn’t think zoning changes would affect their church severely, but they would have a big impact on their school.

“That was our concern,” Alsup said. “We don’t think having kindergartners back in those apartments is desirable. We are not if favor of that.”

But, Alsup, who used to live next door to the church, said as a resident he had several problems even without zoning changes.

“The college students living behind me made so much noise we eventually moved,” Alsup said.

He said he doesn’t feel as strongly about that aspect since he isn’t a resident of the area, but he said those who live there may have concerns about their property value.

“The largest financial investments in any person’s life is a home, and if a college student moves next to you, your property value goes down,” Alsup said. “I’m definitely not against college students. I just don’t want to be their neighbor.”

Earl Ellis, an officer of the church, said he is opposed to changing the zoning for that area.

“We have a hard enough time with students that live in houses next to the church with the noise and partying and things that go on that have caused disturbances in our church,” Ellis said. “If the neighbors want to change it, that’s fine, but don’t let it be next to our church.”

Jill Johnson, a resident of Hampton Avenue, is another nearby resident who shares these worries.

“I understand there needs to be something addressed for those streets, but I do not believe changing it to a blanket R3 is going to solve the problem, and that’s what we’re hearing,” Johnson said.

Herb Reeves, Troy University’s dean of student services, said building a new alumni center on that road is still in the long term plans of the school.

And, though apartment buildings would not be university affiliated, Reeves said they would be in support of rezoning.

“We don’t oppose the rezoning of it,” Reeves said. “Whatever goes over there, we just hope it would compliment the university and the neighborhood.”

Shaughnessy said if apartments are in he and Cole’s future, they want to construct some that would compliment the architectural style of Troy University and look nice in the neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of housing in that community, but housing that close to campus is something really nice,” Shaughnessy said. “We just think something needs to be done over there in that part of town.”

There is still no date set at this time for the next public hearing.

Hopper, however, said he hopes the plan will be adopted by the Commission in January or February.

Other areas of the plan Hopper said he thinks are crucial are transportation, economic development and industrial areas.

Marsha Gaylard, who also serves on the Planning Commission, said she isn’t sure if she is ready to approve the plan as it is or not.

“I just know at the last public meeting there were some concerns, and I didn’t sit in on any of those residential areas,” Gaylard said. “As soon as we have our next meeting with Mr. Watts, we’ll have a much better idea.”

Other Planning Commission members could not be reached for comment.