Usually its welcomed news to a neighborhood when plans for a long-vacant commercial building include a new owner who will renovate it and add new landscaping.
But when a sign variance permit to allow an electronic graphic display sign at 1948 Hardeman Road came up at the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission, some neighbors complained not only about the proposed sign, but fussed about existing crime in the neighborhood, that the new owner might contribute to that problem and that it would hurt the historic nature of the area.
The property is a triangle-shape site where Hardeman Avenue and Forsyth Street split.
Goodwill Industries plans to renovate the 1,400-square-foot building on the property and use part of it for a donation center and part of it for a coffee shop. It plans to sell pastries at the shop from Edgars, Goodwills culinary arts program.
The building has been a gas station, donut shop and dry cleaners, but it has been vacant for a number of years, said Jack Rosson, owner of Rosson Sign Co., who applied for the sign variance for Goodwill.
Its quite hideous looking, Rosson said. Goodwill is buying the property and completely refurbishing it. Its really one of the few businesses that can go there and exist.
Cheryl Mayfield, who lives at an apartment complex across the street from the site, said she represents the owner of the apartments and its residents. We oppose the sign, she said. ... It will take away from the historic element.
Mayfield was concerned about the signs light flashing and filtering into apartment windows. She also said she thought vagrants would increase with the business there.
Commission Chairwoman Sarah Gerwig-Moore told her a backlit sign -- that would stay on all the time -- was already allowed on the property and that the commission was only addressing the electronic sign issue. Gerwig-Moore asked Mayfield which would she prefer.
We prefer a non-lit sign, Mayfield said.
Rosson said current zoning regulations do not allow flashing electronic signs and the sign would dim on cloudy days and at night.
Louise Barfield, who owns three houses on Forsyth Street, complained about cars being broken into and that other illegal activity already takes place at another businesses in the area.
The Goodwill center will draw people at night, who will rummage through containers and garbage cans, Barfield said.
Its unfortunate, in my opinion, that the neighborhood is missing the point, said Raymond Smith Jr., chairman of Goodwill Industries who has served on the board 17 years. There is a vacant building (there now). The less we have vacancies the better a neighborhood is. We have offered, and I dont know any other retail place that would do this, to turn the digital sign off at 10:30 (p.m.). It is a manned donation center, there will be no boxes there.
Goodwill is buying the property for about $150,000 and plans to spend another $150,000 beautifying it for the community, Smith said.
Its going to be nice looking, nicely landscaped, well maintained, he said. Compared to what it is now, I would think the neighborhood would be jumping up and down with joy.
Gerwig-Moore said she understands neighbors concerns, but I think the use will improve the neighborhood. I think a permanently lit sign would be worse.
The commission voted 3-2, with commissioners Al Tillman and Arthur Hubbard voting against.
Proposed downtown church withdraws application
In another matter, the commission agreed to a withdrawal request for a conditional-use application to allow a place of worship at 442-446 Second St. in the downtown entertainment district.
Nicholas Rizkalla, who said he was representing his father Michael Rizkalla for the Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church, asked for the withdrawal after it became clear the commission would likely deny the application.
The commission had deferred the matter at its Oct. 8 meeting after much discussion about whether the use would be defined as a church, and it wanted to get a legal opinion. The opinion of the city attorney was A church is defined as any permanent building where persons regularly assemble for religious worship. At that point, all distance requirements become applicable.
Rizkalla said Monday the space would be used for a private worship place, only for Coptic Orthodox. We only have five members now. A priest would come once a month and offer communion. Its not for the entire public. ... Its not necessarily a church open to other people.
But Gerwig-Moore said it didnt matter how many people attended or what it was called, its a private worship place which would affect the uses of other nearby property that plan to sell alcohol. State and local laws require a minimum distance between churches and businesses that sell alcohol.
Rizkalla said he wasnt trying to stop other businesses from opening.
We want to make it where we can do what we want to do, and they can do what they want to do, he said.
After some discussion, the commission agreed that if Rizkalla agreed to withdraw the current application, they would agree to transfer the fee that had been paid to a future location for the church. Rizkalla withdrew the application, and the commission unanimously agreed to transfer the fee.
Other items on the agenda were:
738 Third St.: Conditional use to allow continuation of nonconforming use (machine shop), CBD-2 District. James Vaughn, Mid-State Auto Machine, applicant. Approved.
3902 Northside Drive: Conditional use to allow a learning center/school in an existing building, PDC District. Jon Jordan, Provost Academy Learning Center, applicant. Approved.
CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS:
570 Mulberry St.: Certificate of Appropriateness for design approval of signage, CBD-1 District. TailsSpin; Macon Signs Inc., applicant. Approved.
737 Walnut St.: Certificate of Appropriateness to allow exterior modifications, CBD-2 District. Nathan Hodgson; ZZ Properties, applicant. Approved.
4171 Bloomfield Road: Variance in distance from a residential structure to allow an electronic graphic display sign (EGD), C-2 District. Danny Patel, applicant. Approved.
1948 Hardeman Ave.: Variance in distance from a residential structure to allow an electronic graphic display sign (EGD), C-2 District. Rosson Sign Co., applicant. Approved.
3072 Riverside Drive: Variance in height requirements to allow a freestanding sign, C-2 District. Shawn Smith, Site Enhancement Services, applicant. Approved for 60 feet high.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.