Warner Robins residents win two appeals in rebirth of planning board

chwright@macon.comMarch 26, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Two was the lucky number Tuesday night for about 40 Warner Robins residents.

Two groups of Warner Robins residents won two separate appeals in a two-hour meeting before the Board of Zoning Appeals that reconvened after a two-year absence.

“Tonight, I’d have to say if you don’t approve of (a Planning and Zoning Board decision), then maybe you should appeal, said resident Effie Cast. “And I’d have to say, it’s successful.”

About 40 residents packed into City Hall who opposed Planning and Zoning Board approvals of a special exception for an apartment complex on Gunn Road and a veterans’ home off of North Davis. After much discussion on both issues, the appeals board voted in favor of those residents in two 4-1 votes.

While City Council must approve zoning and rezonings, they do not review special exceptions, variances and home occupations. Sheri Windham, planning and zoning director, said the Board of Zoning Appeals handles appeals to those.

“We very rarely get appeals,” she said.

Much of the meeting was spent on the apartment complex. Tammy Happel, of Happel Holding LLC, wanted to build 64 units on Capitol Avenue and Gunn Road, amid mixed used property. The Planning and Zoning Board agreed to give her a special exception on the commercial property in February.

Residents argued Happel has already demonstrated what her apartments would do to their Williamstown neighborhood. She owns Capital Villas just across the street, and it produces foot traffic, tacky trash and noise.

They also argued the property should go through a rezoning process.

“The only reason I could see for her to ask for a special exception is to expedite the process without” as much administrative review, Cast said. Happel and attorney Kelley Burke, former Houston County district attorney, said someone from the city told Happel she could build the apartments with the exception instead of a rezoning.

Burke said the residents’ problems with the current complex should have no bearing on the next because it’s a separate issue. In fact, he said, many of the existing issues could be handled with a call to police.

In addition, he said the area is prime for development. It’s in the east area of town, right behind a vibrant shopping center with Best Buy and Kroger. Two roads have been extended there, and Gunn Road will soon be widened.

“They have bought homes in the middle of an ocean of commercial and high-density housing,” Burke said. “When they moved there, I just don’t know what they thought would happen.”

In the other matter, residents opposed a veterans’ group home on Linda Drive that the Planning and Zoning Board approved. Kemonde Lindley, who represented Wynette Thomas, said Thomas wanted to house five in-need veterans “who want to help themselves” get jobs and housing.

Residents argued the home could create crime and traffic problems, asking details about the management of the home.

“I am not in opposition to any housing for veterans,” said resident Eleanor Brown, adding her husband retired from the Air Force.

Both Thomas and Happel said they have already put money into their projects. They may now attempt another run through Planning and Zoning.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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