Macon-Bibb County's Planning and Zoning director has released a statement defending the board's approval of a women's health clinic that will perform abortions.

Executive director Jim Thomas posted the statement to their website today.

He wrote the board doesn't have the authority to decide what medical procedures can take place at a facility, and they treated the Walnut Street clinic like any other medical office.

"The board's role is to determine whether a site is being used lawfully, not banning a lawful activity because it is politically unacceptable to certain groups," the statement said.

You can read his complete statement below.

The Planning and Zoning Board hasn't returned our phone call about the lawsuit.

-------------------------------

Five Macon businesses have filed a lawsuit trying to stop a proposed women's clinic that will perform abortions.

We've been telling you about protests at the site of the Summit Center PC clinic at 833 Walnut Street.

Macon-Bibb County's Planning and Zoning Commission voted May 14 to allow the clinic.

RELATED: Macon churches plan to protest proposed abortion clinic

Since then, abortion opponents have rallied at the site at least twice.

RELATED: Abortion protesters hold rally about proposed women's health clinic

Five neighbors of the clinic filed their suit June 13, asking that a Bibb County Superior Court judge review that zoning vote.

They are:

  • Paul Lader, who runs an insurance business at 153 New St.
  • Foshee Holdings LLC, which owns another insurance business at 850 Walnut St.
  • Marion Seckinger, who also owns an insurance business at 176 New St.
  • Krunal Patel, an engineer with an office at 169 New T.
  • and an anonymous person, identified as "John Doe."

The group argues that the planning board acted improperly by approving the business.

Their suit claims that they were never notified of the zoning hearing or told that abortions would be performed at the site.

And they say they fear for their safety, due to more protests expected outside the clinic.

"The Plaintiff Property Owners have legitimate and real fear for their safety, the use and enjoyment of their property for their various business interests, and the future effect this clinic and the type of activity it brings will have on their business success and property values,' the suit says.

The building is currently vacant but has been used as a medical office since 1957, according to zoning records.

Summit Center has not announced an opening date.

Their zoning application says they'll provide low-cost women's health services, including first-trimester abortions.

In May, Summit Center's executive director, Tanya Little, told 13WMAZ: "Macon has a lack of providers and women are having to travel quite far distances to access that care. We are committed to providing safe, dignified care. We trust women to make healthcare decisions that are best for themselves and their families."

-------------------------------

Statement regarding the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of special use permit for medical office performing abortions:

"The Planning & Zoning Commission is aware that many people feel that abortion is morally or politically wrong, and the Commission respects those feelings. However, abortion performed in a timely and appropriate manner is not just a lawful medical procedure; it is a constitutionally protected activity. No local government in this country, or state, has the power to completely ban abortion throughout its jurisdiction, and the power to create obstacles to this procedure when lawfully performed is also strictly limited. This was decided over 40 years ago by the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade.

The type of medical procedure offered by medical offices and facilities has never been a zoning issue in Macon-Bibb County any more than the type legal services offered by a law office. Under our zoning code, a medical office or facility that performs abortions is treated the same as any other medical office or facility; it receives the same permit, and any permitted medical office or facility in Macon-Bibb County could choose to perform abortions tomorrow without getting a new zoning permit.

As to the question of advertising the hearing, the permit granted by the Commission for the Walnut Street facility was a special use permit; the law does not require that any signage be placed on the property before a hearing on that type application, only for a rezoning, but the Commission voluntarily placed a sign on the property well before the hearing at the Commission to better inform the public. The Commission also followed the law on legal advertising in the paper for the hearing and followed its standard practice in providing advertising for any proposed medical facility. The proposed facility is in a business district and is being placed in a building which previously had medical offices in it.

Zoning is about determining the appropriate location of particular lawful uses of property in relation to other lawful uses, not banning a lawful activity because it is politically unacceptable to certain groups, regardless of where it takes place. Finally, the Commission is fully aware of the strong feelings aroused by abortion on both sides of this issue and takes this matter very seriously; however, it must comply with the law and feels that it has done so."

-Jim Thomas, Executive Director of MBC Planning & Zoning Commission