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Planned inmate re-entry house in Macon might be too close to private school property

Macon-Bibb P&Z also approved new use for the old Bennigan’s restaurant on Riverside Drive
Credit: Liz Fabian
Built in 1976 to house Le Chateau Great Steaks, this building at 2460 Riverside Drive was a Bennigan’s Tavern in the ’80s and ’90s. Enterprise will put a truck rental location on the site.

MACON, Ga. — New owners of a building on Cavalier Drive will have to wait at least six months to learn if they can use it as a re-entry home for inmates released from prison.

Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning executive director Jim Thomas explained the state of Georgia requires two public hearings for this type of rezoning.

“This would be a unique use,” Thomas said in the administrative pre-meeting. “Most of Cavalier Drive is light industrial, warehousing. This would be a departure from that. The biggest problem this proposal has, you really can’t decide anything today.”

One of the partners in proposal, Bob Fickling, said they plan to house eight men who served time as non-violent offenders in the former insurance office at 4528 Cavalier Drive.

“It’s a re-entry residential home for some of the guys getting out of prison who don’t have a place to go,” Fickling said. “We would provide them a place to go so we can cut down on recividism.”

Fickling and his partners would provide transportation for the men and training in soft skills to help them find jobs.

Due to the nature of half-way houses, the state requires a second public hearing in six months and a decision within three months after that, zoning director Randi Doveton said.

Commissioner Tim Jones wants more information about the program and potential liability since the property is across the street from land owned by Mount de Sales Academy. The school’s athletic fields are down the street and the Bibb County School System also has its bus barn near the proposed home.

“I don’t want to put a kink in people’s rehab, but I’m not sure this is the right location for it,” Commission chairwoman Jeane Easom said.

Commissioner Gary Bechtel also questioned whether the state would permit transitional housing so close to a school athletic complex.

“I appreciate what you’re doing and I think it’s a valuable service, but we just don’t want to get out ahead of our skis,” Bechtel told Fickling.

Fickling said the group recently purchased the property thinking it would be isolated enough.

“We thought we were way out,” Fickling said. “You go out there at night and you can’t see anything.”

Easom noted: “Seems like you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you are, but then it comes up that Mount de Sales owns that property.”

The Catholic school has nearly 80 acres of undeveloped land across the street from the building.

Jones also expressed concerns about the residents wandering down to a football game or other athletic events.

“Tim brought up a good point,” Bechtel said. “If a resident goes to a football game and makes trouble, what is your responsibility? What is the state going to do?”

Fickling said further research is needed.

Commissioners told Fickling to come back with answers in January for the second hearing.

“Mount de Sales is very close and it would be difficult,” Bechtel said of the proposal.

Easom encouraged Fickling to find out what Mount de Sales plans for that property before the next hearing at the beginning of the year.

“We can’t move beds in or anything?” Fickling asked, but was told “no.”

“The state requires that lengthy additional hearing process so our hands are tied on that,” Thomas said.

Late 20th Century restaurant gets new life

The old Bennigan’s Tavern restaurant, a hotspot of the ‘80s and ‘90s, will get new life as a truck rental lot at 2460 Riverside Drive.

The Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission approved the conditional use permit for Enterprise Truck Rental next door to its current car rental location at 2480 Riverside.

“We don’t have a current truck rental in Macon,” said R. J. Diaz, representing the applicant at the hearing. “We’d love to put it in this property and bring it back in service for the city.”

The 1976 building was built as Le Chateau Great Steaks and most recently was home to Metropolis Curry & Kabob and Agave Azul. It has been vacant for months.

Diaz said the company plans to bring the building up to date and mirror the rental location next door.

Considering the COVID-19-related shortage of rental vehicles, Commissioner Gary Bechtel asked Diaz: “Do you have any trucks to rent right now?”

“No, sir,” Diaz replied.

The commission unanimously approved the conditional use application.

Other action:

3134 Pio Nono Ave. – Developer Ashok Patel asked to defer until Aug. 9 his application for a new convenience store with alcohol sales and six fuel pumps. Patel wants to build a 5,200-square-foot building including 1,250 square feet of rental space.

146 Hines Terrace – Commission allowed Amanda Crowley to modify her brick stoop to return to the original design, which included a curved wall and columns flanking the steps.

524 Poplar Street – Rosson Signs granted permission to erect a 50-square-foot-sign on the front of Famous Mike’s of Macon. The Design Review Board did not grant a variance for the 70-square-foot-sign originally submitted. The applicant also was asked to submit the lighting plan for future review.

596 Cherry Street – Commissioners followed the Design Review Board’s recommendation to allow a walk-up ATM in the exterior wall of the corner building at Second Street.

1067 Washington Ave. – The commission approved modifications to the landscape design that includes a hedge, wrought iron gate and widened driveway. Design Review Board also needs to see any future plans for a future side deck.

3201 S. Lizella Road – Conditional use granted to allow a mobile home in the agricultural-zoned property. Adjacent properties have site-built, single-family homes but other properties in the area do have manufactured homes. Commissioners stipulated the mobile home must be covered in brick within six months, as owner Jay Whittington indicated was his intention.

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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