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$150M colossal chicken chiller to bring 175 jobs; P&Z wrestles with convenience stores

Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning nixes convenience store, upholds permit in commissioner’s “worst decision” on the board

MACON, Ga. — About 175 new jobs are expected in east Bibb County at a planned $150 million cold storage automated warehouse for the poultry industry.

Monday, the Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission approved the project which will result in a 250,000 square-foot-facility built in two phases at 917 Joe Tamplin Industrial Blvd. at the corner of Riggins Mill Road.

John Ripple, senior vice president of automation for Agile Cold Storage, said this would be the company’s third operation in Georgia after nearly identical facilities in Gainesville and Cartersville.

Poultry coming into the building would be flash frozen and stored for distribution, Ripple said.

The project is expected to break ground later this summer with Phase 2 construction beginning after Phase 1 opens.

The first building will be 150,000 square feet and 60-feet tall with a capacity of 22,000 pallet positions and require 100 workers.

“This will primarily be focused on our poultry customers and provide blast service and export to Savannah,” the application stated.

Phase 2 will add 100,000 square feet, reaching 125 feet tall, and housing 50,000 pallet positions and seven cranes in an Automated Storage and Retrieval System or ASRS operation.

“It’s a massive building,” P&Z Commissioner Josh Rogers noted in the administrative briefing on the agenda items.

“The added height for the ASRS portion of the structure will allow a significantly more efficient operation to occur,” the application stated. “This design reduces the structure’s footprint and increases the energy efficiency of the operation.”

The project, slated for land currently owned by the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, will have a 150 foot-buffer of undisturbed trees around most of the building except where a stormwater retention pond will narrow that buffer to about 60 feet.

Credit: Conner Hendricks
About 175 new jobs are expected in east Bibb County at a planned $150 million cold storage automated warehouse at 917 Joe Tamplin Industrial Blvd. at the corner of Riggins Mill Road.

‘Probably the worst decision’

Old codes and policies caught up again with planning & zoning commissioners as they navigated a lengthy agenda with over 20 items to consider at Monday’s hearing. One of the most complicated matters involved denying an appeal of a staff-issued permit for a new convenience store.

Although a recent change in the code requires a convenience store’s fuel pumps and tanks to be at least 500 feet from homes to avoid harmful fumes, developer Tony Widner submitted an application for a new store at 1193 Wesleyan Drive before the new distance requirement was added to the Comprehensive Land Development Resolution.

Because a convenience store formerly was allowed in the C-5 Neighborhood Convenience Center district at the corner of Northside Drive, Widner secured his permit without the commission holding a hearing. Monday, Widner came before P&Z after an appeal was filed by neighbors opposed to the store who didn’t have a chance to voice concerns before staff issued the permit.

Commissioners also didn’t have the opportunity to weigh in on the plans because the application was grandfathered in for approval.

“If I had heard this, I wouldn’t have approved it,” P&Z Chair Jeane Easom said before Monday’s hearing as commissioners discussed an appeal of that store permit.

Neighbor Mark Strozier, who happens to be P&Z’s communications manager, appealed the staff decision due to concerns about additional flooding from the proposed development and the existing prevalence of nearby stores and gas stations.

“As an employee of Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning appealing a staff decision, this is awkward,” Strozier admitted as he began his testimony. “However, I’m before you today as a citizen and homeowner with a very real problem that needs to go on the record.”

Strozier told the commission that he was trying to protect his property from damage and erosion due to stormwater flooding from Langford Creek that has gotten worse since he bought his home in 1989. He fears the problem will be exacerbated by the new construction near the creek’s flood plain.

More than a dozen people submitted written objections to the store permit and Strozier was joined by neighbors Pam Webster and Forrest Edwards in speaking against the project at Monday’s hearing.

“Our neighborhood has always been very family centered and this vice mart is not,” Webster said.

“I can’t help but imagine the future of an establishment like that will continue to deteriorate after a period of blossoming,” Edwards said. “I feel like it’s a detriment to install another convenience store in our neighborhood.”

In the administrative meeting before Monday’s hearing, P&Z’s attorney Pope Langstaff briefed commissioners that the law requires the permit to stand because it was appropriate at the time it was issued, even if the application would be rejected now because of the store’s proximity to homes.

Once the appeal was filed, P&Z issued a cease-and-desist order to temporarily suspend the permit to allow the appeal process to go forward. Staff also realized the property was near the flood plain which required an additional development permit.

In the interim, P&Z received a report from county engineer Charles Brooks about flooding.

“After reviewing the floodplain maps along with the development plans and hydro report, the proposed C-store development will actually decrease the flow to Langford Branch,” Brooks stated in an email.

P&Z Commissioner Tim Jones seemed conflicted about denying the appeal.

“I live right around the corner,” Jones said. “It’s personal, but I also understand the law.”

Commissioner Rogers pointed to the information they learned months ago about potentially harmful benzene being detected 500 feet from fuel pumps and tanks. That knowledge led to the new distance requirements now in effect.

“It’s a horrible place. It’s a terrible place,” Rogers said in the pre-meeting.

During the hearing, Rogers vented his frustration about having to deny the appeal for legal reasons because of the environmental concerns that have come to light.

“I think this absolutely sucks,” Rogers said. “This is probably the worst decision I’m having to make in my time on the board.”

The board voted to deny the appeal based on Langstaff’s legal advice.

Convenience store with fuel pumps denied

In recent weeks, developer Jim Rollins made multiple trips to P&Z and the Design Review Board seeking approval for a new convenience store at the corner of Forsyth and Monroe Streets.

As the plan evolved, the existing store built as a “Handy Andy” in 1966 and the old Darrell’s Neighborhood Grill would be demolished for new construction.

Members on both boards had multiple concerns about fuel tanker trucks safely getting in and out of the property, increased traffic in the neighborhood and the site plan lacking details about sidewalks and landscaping.

Multiple commissioners and board members commented on the speed of traffic coming in from Vineville and off Interstate 75.

“They fly down there,” Easom noted.

“I’m concerned just in general about negative effects for property values and livability. Doesn’t seem like a good location,” Rogers said. “It’s a highly pedestrian corridor and will be even more so with a new store.”

Jones questioned whether tanker trucks will be traveling down Monroe Street.

“Monroe is already traveled by mail trucks,” Jones pointed out.

Rollins specified that fuel would only be delivered between 9 p.m.-10 p.m.

“When everybody’s trying to get to sleep,” Rogers added.

Commissioners discussed deferring the application to get more information about sidewalks and to await a review from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

June 6, after the Design Review Board expressed safety concerns over the site plan, they deferred the item to seek more information.

Monday, DRB Chair Chris Clark shared concerns with P&Z colleagues about motorists using the layout of the new store as a cut-through to circumvent the traffic light at Monroe Street.

“Somebody’s going to get killed,” Clark said. “Everybody going downtown deserves a safe trip and this doesn’t make it.”

P&Z commissioners agreed.

“I think this is an inappropriate use for this location,” Jones said.

“I feel the same way,” Commissioner Bryan Scott said.

Easom said since commissioners were leaning toward a denial, deferring until the next meeting to further develop the plans would be futile.

Commissioners voted against allowing the new store.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at fabian_lj@mercer.edu or 478-301-2976.

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