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P&Z denied Forsyth St. store demolition, so why is it gone?

The Summit Group sought to demolish the Handy Andy at the corner of Monroe Street to make room for new store.

MACON, Ga. — The old Handy Andy store at the corner of Forsyth and Monroe streets was demolished in recent days, despite Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission denying the demolition in September.

The news perplexed the folks at P&Z and The Summit Group’s Jim Rollins, the man whose request the commission had denied.

“It was a surprise to me as I noticed it was coming down Friday afternoon,” Rollins emailed The Macon Newsroom Monday afternoon. “I was told by contractor he had (a) permit to demo.”

Monday morning, P&Z Executive Director Jeff Ruggieri set out to get some answers after getting calls about the building being razed.

“We are aware of the demolition of the structure at 1408 Forsyth St.,” Ruggieri said in an email response to an inquiry from The Macon Newsroom. “We are currently working with Commission legal staff and the applicant to find a proper resolution to this unpermitted and unapproved activity.”

Ruggieri sent a letter to P&Z commissioners Monday stating he was working with attorney Pope Langstaff to determine how the demolition was conducted contrary to the commission’s decision.

Rollins, an associate broker, said he was not involved in hiring a contractor or pulling permits, but learned Monday that Jeff Surles’ Southern Equipment LLC obtained a demolition permit from Macon-Bibb County’s Business Development Services on Sept. 9  – three days before P&Z denied the certificate of appropriateness.

Earlier this year, Rollins sought approval for the demolition from the Design Review Board and P&Z. He proposed building a new convenience store modeled after one on Amelia Island on the site of the former Darrell’s tavern at 1436 Forsyth St. The store’s corner lot was needed for landscaping and truck access.

In July, when P&Z appeared poised to deny the new store’s application, Rollins dropped fuel sales from the proposal to comply with new regulations prohibiting gas pumps or tanks within 500 feet of a residence, even though the application was filed before the change in the code.

In September, after P&Z denied the demolition of the older convenience store, Rollins told The Macon Newsroom the new store could still proceed on the adjacent property.

As for the 1965 store, Rollins said at the time that they would put a “coat of lipstick on it” and rent it out. That existing business closed and within two weeks the air conditioning unit was stolen, he said Monday.

“While not visible from outside, store roof deck in two places was completely rotten and most of roof would have to be replaced,” Rollins said. “Lipstick would not have fixed this building.”

A ‘blighted building’

Grading equipment was still on the site Monday morning, after the building was razed Friday.

Design Review Board Chairman Chris Clark fought against the new convenience store project due to traffic safety concerns. Saturday, he noticed the building was gone which renewed his frustrations about the project.

In his opposition to the project, Clark said he feared motorists would cut through the parking lot to avoid the traffic light at Monroe Street, or cross the one-way lanes of traffic on Forsyth to turn left on Monroe.

During the September P&Z meeting, commissioners voted 3 to 2 against the demolition, but Chair Jeane Easom had mixed feelings.

“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,” Easom said before voting against the demolition.

Monday, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller said the county earlier had approved the demolition of the old Darrell’s, which was on the commercial blight list for being in disrepair and no longer having a roof. That building was torn down weeks ago.

Under recently strengthened blight laws, the county sends a letter to owners of property in disrepair, calling on them to make repairs or tear down the building or else the county could condemn the structure.

The Handy Andy store was expected to be added to the next round of commercial blighted structures, said Macon-Bibb County’s Director of Code Enforcement, J.T. Ricketson.

Inspectors had visited the store and took pictures, but it was not officially on a blight list yet, Ricketson said.

“It was not submitted to the lawyers yet to look at it and see if it met the criteria,” Ricketson said. “It was under consideration and it was a blighted building because the roof was caving in. From our opinion it met the criteria.”

The Macon Newsroom obtained copies of P&Z’s Proposed Construction Work Review documents, permits that Surles requested in late August about the proposed demolitions of the Handy Andy and old Darrell’s building.

On Oct. 3, P&Z signed off on the demolition of the old tavern, but not the mid-century modern store at 1408 Forsyth St.: “The building at the above address is not approved for demolition. Demolition of this structure requires a Certificate of Appropriateness.”

That notice was filed 24 days after Surles obtained the demolition permit from the county’s building services department.

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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