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UGA student, Conyers native helps reshape Olde Town
City of Conyers Planning and Zoning Director Marvin Flanigan and UGA architecture student and Conyers native Erik Lauritsen - photo by John Ruch

For University of Georgia architecture student Erik Lauritsen, working with city officials on a massive rezoning plan for Olde Town isn’t just a great resume-builder. It’s also a homecoming.

Lauritsen grew up in Conyers, buying ice creams at the soda fountain in the neighborhood he’s now helping to preserve and remake for new generations.

“Being from Conyers, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the city,” Lauritsen said at the April 16 Conyers City Council meeting, where he gave a presentation on his zoning work.

Lauritsen once lived on Milstead Avenue, and his family now resides on Flat Shoals Road. He’s a fourth-year UGA student working on a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture. 

He and fellow student Laurah Young chose to work on Olde Town rezoning as part of a special program in hands-on urban design offered by UGA and the Georgia Municipal Association.

As the News previously reported, the rezoning intends to tighten historic preservation in Olde Town, while also encouraging younger people to move into denser mini-neighborhoods with community gardens. The official new zoning code is ready for a series of public meetings, kicking off July 15 with a town hall and continuing July 28, Aug. 14, Aug, 20 (see page 2, “Meeting Place.”

Lauritsen told the News he recalls going to Olde Town frequently as a kid. The main attraction “was the soda fountain right on the corner. Those were good days.” 

But from an urban planning point of view, Lauritsen said, “People just aren’t using Olde Town for what it once was”—the city’s center. Today there is little to attract younger residents into moving in, and no real green space. 

“Right now, where in Olde Town Conyers can you go and kick a ball around?” he said. 

“I definitely think the [zoning] changes the city is making are for the better,” Lauritsen said. “I think there’s going to be big changes coming for Olde Town.”

Lauritsen and Young labored on the plan this entire school year, working closely with city planner J.P. Alexander under the supervision of planning director Marvin Flanigan. Lauritsen traveled to Conyers from Athens once or twice a week to meet with Alexander.

“This was a great challenge,” Lauritsen told the News. “It was a great opportunity to further our knowledge and work experience.”

It was also a lot of work. For everyone in the special program, including other students teaming with other cities, it was extra work on top of their normal courses. And the other students worked on designing single structures, such as a plaza. Lauritsen and Young were the only ones to tackle rezoning an entire neighborhood.

While the work with Alexander and Flanigan kept them busy, Lauritsen said, it also inspired him. He’s even thinking about pursuing a master’s degree in city planning.

“I’m walking out of here with a whole new understanding of how [zoning] ordinances work and are created,” he said.