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Some City Officials In Athens Say They Support Zoning Changes To Promote Affordable Housing

ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Athens is considering zoning reforms to make building affordable housing easier. 

Director of Code Enforcement David Riggs outlined his recommendations to the Athens Planning Commission on Wednesday. 

“As we know, the city has some issues with a housing shortage, and we’d like to look at ways where we can improve the ability to develop some of the properties that are existing within the city,” Riggs said. 

At present, Athens requires all residential lots to be 8,000 square feet with a minimum width of 66 feet. Some smaller lots are grandfathered in, while others are planned unit developments with lot sizes that differ from Athens’ base subdivision regulations. 

 According to Riggs, most parcels of land available for development within the city don’t meet this requirement. 

“You typically will have 40- or 50-foot widths, especially in the older portion of the community, and so we wanted to go back to a smaller lot size,” Riggs said.

Other recommendations include approving subdivisions and lot splits within the city of Athens and within a 3-mile radius outside the city limits, and to allow for any lot up to 5 acres not to be considered a subdivision, which would streamline the process of building homes on the lot. 

It was also recommended that creating an easement across a single property should not be considered a major subdivision, again streamlining the development process. 

Mayor Steve Patterson and Service-Safety Director Andy Stone expressed interest in Riggs’ recommendation to reduce the minimum size of residential lots.

Stone said the city’s subdivision regulations and minimum lot sizes are antiquated and need to be updated to reflect the reality on the ground in Athens. 

“If you think about what it is right now, it’s 8,000 square feet. That’s an 80 by 100-foot lot. That is absolutely gigantic for a city,” said Stone. “That’s fine if you’ve got cornfields and suburbs … but in a city that’s built in hills and that we want to promote urban infill … having 8,000 square foot minimum lot sizes is asinine.” 

Patterson said the city needs to investigate what other municipalities are doing not only with residential zones but also with lot coverage. At present, only 30 percent of a residential lot needs to be covered by housing in Athens, leaving a lot of open space. 

“I recognize the need for housing here in the city of Athens,” Patterson said. “It’s way past due for us to be able to act on some of this antiquated code.”

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