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Macon-Bibb P&Z rejects new solar field, approves new homes and trade school

South Bibb neighbors fought the nearly 780 acre green energy operation off Hartley Bridge Road

MACON, Ga. — When developers of a proposed solar energy plant presented their plans last month, Hartley Bridge Road area neighbors packed the hearing room to share concerns.

The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission gave representatives of Cubico Sustainable Investments and Venus Solar an extra month to talk to the residents about concerns that included their perceived potential for declining property values, damage to the roads during construction and adverse effects on wildlife and the environment.

The project would cover multiple parcels of farmland off Mount Pleasant Church, Shines, Fulton Mill and Hartley Bridge roads and Dove Drive.

Monday, John Golitz explained that the developers missed the deadline to request another deferral so he had to appear without his partners.

They wanted more time so company representatives could meet with opponents and other interested parties next month.

Neighbors spent the past month collecting nearly 400 signatures in opposition.

Over the last four weeks, Golitz said the companies were busy determining the details of the project to know exactly how the nearby property owners will be affected.

“We’ve made significant progress in our technical aspects of the development and are now ready to meet with the opposition and anybody else who would like to learn more,” Golitz said.

P&Z chairwoman Jeane Easom mentioned the developers were supposed to have met with neighbors before coming back to the board.

Golitz explained that the parameters of the project were still being defined and he wanted to have a better idea of those details so he could better brief the public.

“The development of the solar farm is highly technical and there’s a lot of give and take between us and Georgia Power and that involved substantial amounts of engineering and discovery, map processes, capacity in lines,” Golitz said.

Hartley Bridge Road resident Larry Shipp told the commission: “In all due respect to the gentleman that just spoke, I don’t think he could say a thing or give us an advantage in our neighborhood.”

Shipp echoed concerns about damaging the environment and was worried about the natural spring on the property.

“I saw an eagle sitting in there months ago,” Shipp said. “There’s no advantage to our people in our neighborhood to this coming here. We don’t even get the power from it, so why would we want it in there?”

Golitz admitted there is no agreement yet with Georgia Power, but the solar partners were battling deadlines to respond to the utility’s request for proposal that is also open to other entities. There were no guarantees the project would go forward. The partners are also scouting other locations, Golitz said.

In response, Easom and P&Z commissioners Josh Rogers and Tim Jones said they don’t feel this project is right for the neighborhood.

“I think solar power is something that is needed but I don’t think you have the right area,” Easom told Golitz.

Although P&Z commissioner Gary Bechtel said he didn’t mind the companies taking more time, Rogers said it wasn’t fair to the neighbors to have to come back again during a workday, as the commission meets at 1:30 p.m.

“I don’t think any amount of additional testimony is going to make it compatible,” Rogers said. “We expressed our expectations very clearly last time that in the time between the meetings that you meet with the neighbors. It seems almost hostile not to do it and then to come back and expect to defer again when people have arranged their schedules to be here, and that’s difficult to do.”

Commissioner Bryan Scott led the motion that denied approval for the project, which led to a round of applause from the neighbors.

New houses, healthcare trade school coming to northwest Macon

Nurse Patricia Duncan told P&Z commissioners she wants to do her part to train the next generation of medical workers.

“We have a critical shortage of healthcare providers,” said Duncan, who has been a registered nurse for 30 years.

Duncan wants to open a healthcare training center in a house at 3770 Napier Ave., not far from Brookdale Avenue.

The Wonderland Training Center will train people to work in nursing homes, assisted living centers and personal care homes, according to the application.

“We are also looking to start an evening Certified Nurse’s Aid Program in the summer,” Duncan said in a letter submitted to P&Z.

She expects to draw students from all over the state and Southeast.

Commissioners were concerned about where students would park on the property that housed a single-family dwelling Duncan will be renovating.

“I’ve already paid $3,000 to have all the trees cut down,” Duncan replied.

She plans to pave both lots on the land, which removed the commissions concerns.

They granted conditional use approval for the center.

Three Oaks Construction and Hofstadter Associates plan to build 12 new single-family homes in a detached cluster development at 4770 Ayers Road.

The developers plan Phase II of the Charleston Plantation subdivision that stalled in the economic downturn after the first phase was developed in the early 2000s, according to the P&Z staff report.

“The subdivision shall be targeted for retired members of the community who are looking to build a quality brick home between 2,000 – 2,400 square feet, with minimal yard and maintenance,” Chad Hofstadter said in the application.

Home prices will start at $350,000 with the houses mirroring the layout of Legare Court across Troon West.

Commissioners granted the conditional use of the property for the new houses.

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.

RELATED: Zoning board votes down 780-acre solar farm in west Bibb County

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