Faced with a groundswell of opposition to a proposed $30 million shopping center off Zebulon Road, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission voted Monday to delay a decision until next month on the necessary rezoning for the project.
Birmingham, Ala.-based developer Blackwater Resources plans to buy seven contiguous parcels totaling 25 acres between 5801 and 5885 Zebulon Road. The company plans to build a shopping center with 200,000 to 250,000 square feet of retail space, including five outparcels. Blackwater is developing the project under the name Development Co. LLC.
More than 130 people filled Macon City Hall council chambers, some standing along the walls, during the meeting. Many in the crowd carried signs opposing the rezoning.
After about two hours of testimony and discussion, commissioners voted 3-1 to defer the matter until Nov. 12, with Commissioner Al Tillman voting against the deferral. Commissioner Kamal Azar was absent.
Since just four commissioners were at the meeting, Chairwoman Sarah Gerwig-Moore said if the vote split 2-2, the matter automatically would be deferred. Eventually, applicant John Abernathy, director of development and leasing for Blackwater, asked for a deferral that was granted.
Don Hendrix, who lives near the proposed shopping center, said after the meeting he was disappointed by the lack of a decision.
I think they should have gone ahead and voted, he said.
During the meeting, Abernathys attorney, Duke Groover with James-Bates-Brannan-Groover law firm, said the rezoning was logical because the property west of the proposed project was zoned the same as what was requested.
This is a simple extension of that, Groover said.
The rezoning was appropriate because the commission would have great control over what is planned there, he said. We understand the concerns of the neighborhood. ... The commission has to balance the legitimate concerns of the neighbors ... against the rights of owners to market and sell their property.
Abernathy said the seven parcels where the shopping center would be built are distinguished from other residentially owned property in the area because the parcels are not part of a subdivision, are up to 900-feet deep and are larger than other nearby residential lots.
The shopping center is expected to employ between 350 and 500, depending upon the uses, he said.
The site plan earlier submitted to the commission, showing a 20-foot undisturbed buffer between the proposed center and residential property lines, could be widened, and the detention pond might be relocated, he said.
Land planner Zan Thompson with ZT3 Placemaker Studio, hired to represent some residents opposing the rezoning, pointed out that for nearly 20 years the commission has denied nearly all zoning permits for projects along Zebulon Road east of Sonny Carter Elementary School and Northway Church. The school and the church have served as a transition between large retail shopping centers to the west and residential neighborhoods to the east along Zebulon Road.
You have held a line in the sand, he said. We will lose another neighborhood and another beautiful road in our community. We need to hold this line.
Glenn Smith, who lives at the intersection of Zebulon and Foster roads, has fought every commercial development proposal since he moved there in 1995.
Well, obviously, Im disappointed, Smith said after the meeting. They had an opportunity to defend the neighborhood today, and they did not do that.
Sometimes a zoning decision is not all about economics, its about the quality of life, he said. I hope the commission will have a chance to ponder what they have heard today ... and it will make a difference.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.