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Winter Homes plans to build new rental homes behind SPARK Academy at Cowart Elementary School in Athens in the coming year.

The developer will buy the land in question — a 6.2-acre plot behind the school and next to Thatch-Mann Cemetery — from Athens City Schools. The Athens school board unanimously approved the purchase at Thursday night's meeting.

Kenny Winter of Winter Homes LLC, of Madison, and another developer, Gregg and Jordan Crow of Gregg Crow Custom Homes LLCC, of Athens, presented development proposals for the land at the school board's Dec. 19 meeting.

Winter said he hopes to turn the property into 30 single lots and build single-family brick homes with two-car garages valued at $160,000 to $180,000. Monthly rent would be $1,350 and up, and the company would take care of monthly property maintenance, he said. A Winter Homes employee said Friday the company hopes to start work on the project by fall and finish the development about a year later.

While Winter proposed building homes for rent, the Crows proposed building homes for sale for $175,000 and $200,000. They said the brick homes of 1,500 to 2,150 square feet with two-car garages and sodded lawns would be built on 27 lots.

The vote

School board members voted unanimously Thursday to sell the property to the developer for the project, including President Russell Johnson, Vice President Beverly Malone, and board members Tim Green, Scott Henry, Shannon Hutton, James Lucas and Jennifer Manville. The land was once going to be the site of a city-school storm shelter, but bids came in too high and could not be rebid until more money was obtained through a grant or other source.

Board members went into executive session before the vote in order to discuss the property sale and a student matter, then emerged and voted without comment. The schools will not release how much Winter plans to pay for the property or other details until the contract is finalized, Tammy Brand, secretary to the superintendent, said Friday.

The impetus

During the Dec. 19 presentation, Winter said his company plans to build homes for rent in order to meet the growing demand for rental property in the city. Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. is building a $1.6 billion plant on Powell Road that, when finished in 2021, will bring 4,000 jobs as well as thousands of other spinoff jobs at related suppliers. Winter said he based the need for rental homes on figures obtained from the company.

He said a lot of the Toyota employees will be in the area for up to five years and will need homes to rent soon. He said many are looking for three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes of about 1,500 square feet with front-entry garages and fully sodded yards.

"It would be similar to what we built next to FAME Academy at Brookhill (Elementary School) at Brookhill Terrace," Winter said.

Protections

Board President Russell Johnson asked Winter during the Dec. 19 meeting how they would propose creating a barrier between the residential and school property. Winter said planting a Green Giant (evergreen) hedgerow or a berm, or both, would help with noise and privacy. He added it could also include some kind of fencing.

He noted each house plan would be used twice in the development and the driveways would come out on Bullington Road.

Johnson wondered whether this would create a traffic problem for renters if they had to wait for school traffic during the mornings and afternoons. Winter said the city bans on-street parking and requires sidewalks. There is already a sidewalk on the west side of Bullington.

Winter told board members his company may also consider selling some of the property to other property developers. Superintendent Trey Holladay told board members any contract approved would contain a requirement to protect the school from undesirable development in the future, even if all or part of the land is sold. He said the school board "would forever have to approve what is built there."

Before the development proceeds, Athens City Council will have to vote on whether to rezone the property from low-density single-family residential district to high-density single-family residential district. (Density refers to the number of homes built on a piece of property.) The council held a public hearing on the rezoning request Dec. 23.

Other business

In other business Thursday, school board members approved the following personnel matters;

• Accepted the resignation of Cowart custodian Amanda Miller; and

• Approved the retirement of Ruth Southers, registrar at Athens Intermediate School, and Scott Southers, custodian at Athens High School.

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