MACON, Ga. — This week’s Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission decisions could cost the county more money for garbage pickup, ignite a chicken rivalry, launch ‘luxury” living in north Macon, let an old store linger and set the stage for the Otis Redding amphitheater.
Plans for a new convenience store on Forsyth Street heading to downtown hit another snag Monday at the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission.
Developer Jim Rollins has repeatedly appeared before P&Z for approvals on a new building at 1436 Forsyth St., most recently the site of Darrell’s tavern in an old brick dairy. Rollins dropped fuel sales from the proposal to address commissioners prior concerns about fuel tanker trucks turning on that busy road and got a rehearing.
He was back Monday, but in a 3-2 vote, commissioners denied the demolition of the old Handy Andy at the corner of Monroe Street needed to improve access to the planned new building next door and provide landscaping and sidewalks.
“I would personally like to see this building razed and a development for this site, but I think there are too many safety issues that need to be addressed,” P&Z Chair Jeane Easom said after casting her vote against the demolition.
Monday’s decision does not stop construction of the new store, which is patterned after a design approved on Amelia Island, Rollins said, and leaves behind what some consider an eyesore at the corner. The old store built in 1965 has closed, but Rollins said they will “put a coat of lipstick on it” and rent it out.
Design Review Board Chair Chris Clark, who said he was attending Monday’s meeting as a concerned parent and not representing the board, expressed concerns that drivers leaving the store could dangerously try to cut across the one-way lanes of traffic on Forsyth Street to turn left on Monroe.
“I think it’s too close to the intersection,” Clark said. “We need to demand something more at the front door of our city.”
College Street residents Charles and Monya Rutland also objected to the new store and said they were worried about the safety of senior citizens traveling from St. Paul apartments up the street.
“One of the greatest benefits of downtown and intown is it’s walkability and this is less pedestrian friendly,” Charles Rutland said.
Rollins said the store will serve the neighborhood and the community.
“Mercer University students have asked for a place to buy munch goods and they don’t have a good clean new place to do that,” Rollins said.
Monday’s hearing was strictly about the appropriateness of tearing down the old store, which sits in the historic district. The new store, without fuel sales, will be built under commercial zone regulations on the adjacent property. Rollins said he already as tentative approval from state and local traffic officials about the layout and the county wants the old Darrell’s demolished under its blight guidelines.
“They couldn’t stop the store,” Rollins said Wednesday. “And now they’re stuck for 20 years with a store and no landscaping.”
‘Chicken wars’ coming to Hartley Bridge
P&Z approved a new Huey Magoo’s chicken restaurant and future neighboring businesses in a move that could spark a rivalry with the existing Zaxby’s in the 4600 block of Hartley Bridge Road.
“Chicken wars,” declared P&Z Executive Director Jeff Ruggieri.
Applicant Tiffany Spradley, of the El Mina engineering firm in Norcross, said the chicken tender restaurant chain founded in 2004 is the only tenant secured so far for the 8,793 square-foot-building planned on 1.16 acres at 4617 Hartley Bridge Road. Huey Magoo’s will occupy about a third of the building with a 60-seat capacity, drive-thru and office space.
The 3,000 square-foot-restaurant plans to be open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and will hire 15 workers.
Another 3,000 square-foot-restaurant with a pickup window is expected to occupy the other end of the building with a future retail tenant in the middle 2,793 square-foot-space.
Seven Brew Coffee’s ‘really unusual’ drive-thru
Commissioners had plenty of questions about a planned Seven Brew drive-thru coffee shop at 1667 Bass Road, across from the McDonald’s near the entrance to Bass Pro Shop.
Plans call for two lanes circling the building to allow for 20 cars in line without them backing up onto the street, although there will be no access to the shop from Bass Road. The drive-thru will come off access roads within the pre-existing shopping center.
The store is expected to hire up to eight people and will be open Sunday through Thursday for 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
There is no inside seating or ordering, but a picnic area is planned for employees only.
Commissioners were perplexed about the design.
“Why don’t you have the lanes merge into one for pickup?” Commissioner Tim Jones asked.
The drawings showed serving carts outside the 510 square-foot-building, which commissioners assumed would indicate that workers would be taking coffee out to the cars instead of handing cups out the window.
“Somebody’s going to walk across two lanes? That’s dangerous,” Easom said.
The local representative for the applicant said he wasn’t sure how the operation works.
Commissioner Josh Rogers noted: “There’s actually not a drive-thru window. It’s not like a drive-thru like you would think of at all,” Rogers said. “You order at a menu board and people are staging the drinks on those little tables. It’s really unusual.”
“Then you’re going to have coffee sloshing all over the place,” Eason remarked.
“Well, we don’t have any specific rules that’s a violation,” P&Z Executive Director Jeff Ruggieri replied.
Although this would be the first store in Georgia, there are two dozen locations across the country including several in Arkansas and Missouri, and one in Greenville, S.C.
Ruggieri said he was familiar with the franchise and drive-thru layout.
“Unfortunately, (I) was involved in the opening of the first one of these in my old community and it was an absolute nightmare – that outside left turn between the person on the inside, not knowing when to go and there’s not a lot of room there to make that turn,” Ruggieri said.
Despite the concerns, commissioners unanimously approved the shop, which will break ground after the first of the year.
Easom had a word of caution about the design to send back to the owners.
“Express our concerns,” she said. “It probably won’t do any good, but I’d hate for somebody to get hit.”
Denial could prompt Ryland trash pickup rate increase
Ryland Environmental, the Dublin company under contract to pick up trash for Macon-Bibb County, might be asking for more money after P&Z denied the company’s proposed diesel fuel tanks at 1320 Guy Paine Road.
The company’s president, Todd Yates, said with rising fuel cost the company needs to be buying its fuel wholesale.
“Since fuel shot up, it has affected us and I’m going to have to go back to the city of Macon-Bibb and ask for fuel relief on our contracts,” Yates said.
P&Z now restricts fuel tanks within 500 feet of a residence, but Yates cited other adjoining properties that have pre-existing tanks or store hazardous chemicals.
“They may be illegal,” Rogers replied.
If the sites are grandfathered in, there is very little P&Z could do, he said.
“We’re in a tough spot. We have a very hard rule,” Ruggieri said. “There’s no way to approve it.”
Rogers suggested Yates ask the county if Ryland could fuel up at Macon-Bibb’s fueling station on Seventh Street.
“I don’t think they’re going to let me do that,” Yates said.
“It would be to everyone’s advantage,” Rogers replied. “The county already has an appropriate facility and are buying in quantities bigger than you are.”
“If you could talk them into it, I’ll say ‘OK,’” Yates said.
North Macon “luxury” mixed-use neighborhood approved
Developers who secured multi-family residential rezoning in July off Forest Hill Road and Northside Drive brought their “Apex of Macon” subdivision design to P&Z Monday.
The Crown Group out of Valdosta was approved to build 50 three-bedroom, two-bathroom duplexes, 42 townhomes and four, three-story apartment buildings with a total of 168 units.
Matthew King, who has built similar developments in Tifton, Valdosta and Perry, said he took the commissioners’ advice about parking that they shared in the summer and worked with engineers to tweak the design.
The plans call for “luxury” units, two pools, a splash pad, a golf simulator and workout facilities.
King plans to begin construction in February by putting in the infrastructure for the whole development and beginning building the duplexes first, then the townhomes and finish up with the apartments in a little more than two years.
This development will back up and connect via a road with a roundabout to another “luxury” apartment complex off Riverside Drive that was approved last year.
Church daycare found in violation of zoning laws
Pastor Lyanta Tomlin began his P&Z testimony asking for forgiveness for running afoul of zoning regulations with a daycare and fence at his New Life Christian Church in the old Blockbusters at 4235 Mercer University Drive, which is next to the closed CVS drugstore on the corner of Log Cabin Drive.
“I want to apologize,” Tomlin told commissioners. “We just want to do it right.”
Last year, P&Z emailed Tomlin that a conditional use permit for a daycare would require a hearing, but he did not follow through.
His church was only approved for an after-school program for members’ children, not a daycare, P&Z staff explained during the meeting. The violations came to light when neighboring retail strip owner DS Patel complained a new fence was blocking the path of trash trucks that were accessing his dumpster by going behind the church. He compiled 427 signatures against it.
Ruggieri explained to commissioners that Tomlin’s unauthorized daycare does not meet zoning standards: “It doesn’t meet any of the rules, smaller lot size, smaller lot width and doesn’t meet the site setbacks.”
“It needs variances in every direction to be a daycare, which is not how you’re supposed to do variances,” Rogers said. “We never would have permitted a daycare at this location.”
Commissioners discussed the need for childcare when they considered this conundrum.
“There is absolutely a childcare crisis,” Rogers said.
“That’s my biggest concern,” Easom said. “Where are these kids going to go if it’s not allowed.”
Commissioner Bryan Scott said he was inclined to approve the daycare, which is licensed through the Georgia DECAL Bright From the Start regulatory agency.
“The state felt it was a suitable location,” said Scott, who motioned for approval with Tim Jones seconding the motion.
The commission unanimously voted to approve the church’s daycare and deviate from the minimum standards in this case, but did not solve access issues for the three buildings.
When the CVS and the other two buildings were built by the same developer in 1997, no easements were put in place to allow access through the lots to the other properties because they were owned by the same person.
“These should have been taken care of when the properties were sold, but they weren’t, so you’ve got a mess, and one that’s not easily corrected,” Easom noted.
Otis Redding Center cleared for construction
After a weekend of celebrating her late father’s 81st birthday, Karla Redding-Andrews barely had enough voice left to give her name and address before testifying at P&Z about the new Otis Redding Center for the Arts.
She and architect Bob Brown came to seek conditional use for an amphitheater at the corner of Cotton Avenue and Cherry Street.
The Design Review Board gave its blessing to the plans last week after the initial design was deemed incompatible with the downtown historic district, particularly a blue, metal screen at the corner with a lighted sign.
“I actually do like the metal. I think it’s very interesting. I think the plan is exciting,” said designer Carrie Robinson who sits on the DRB.
Brown agreed to make sure the lighted sign could be dimmed to appropriate levels before the DRB voted to approve the plans.
Redding-Andrews told the board the new center would serve up to 150 kids every afternoon and employ 10-15 “very worthy musicians.”
Plans call for offices, practice rooms, and a recording space in the existing brick buildings in the 400 block of Cotton Avenue that most recently housed attorney’s offices before the 2018 Nu-Way fire next-door. A glass atrium provides a transition from the old buildings to the new space.
“We know we’ve taken this historic property that’s been vacant for a number of years and made it fit,” Redding-Andrews told the DRB last week. “It even makes the parking deck look good.”
Monday, P&Z had already signed off on the certificate of appropriateness for the project when Brown explained the amphitheater plans at 650 Cherry Street.
The new portion of the center will feature fold away glass doors on the side that open to create a stage for the amphitheater.
The statue of Otis Redding Jr. will anchor the corner. It was removed from Gateway Park during construction of the new Otis Redding Bridge near Riverside Drive.
In other business:
- 0700 Walnut St. – New signs approved for Cadence Bank.
- 502 Cherry St. – Signs approved for the new Bohemian Den location.
- 185 Stonewall Place – Plans approved for construction of new single-family home.
- 170 Buckingham Place – New windows approved for the side porch.
- 304 Ironwood Court and Poplar Pass – Site plan revisions approved for 70 single-family lots in the Highlands Plantation subdivision. Fifteen townhome buildings will built consisting of four to six units.
- 6161 and 6101 Thomaston Road – New cluster homes approved for 105 lots in an expansion of the Lochwolde subdivision. Builders agreed to use Hardie board siding and not vinyl above the brick at the ground level.
– Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at email@example.com or 478-301-2976.