RDA works on formalizing building standards in Commercial Circle area

chwright@macon.comNovember 12, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Brick buildings with signs at ground level may become the standard along the eastern end of Watson Boulevard, near City Hall.

The Redevelopment Agency board voted unanimously Tuesday for Executive Director Gary Lee to create formal recommendations for an overlay district that would create uniform building standards for the area. The board wants to vote on the recommendations at a special session before its next scheduled meeting Dec. 10.

Meanwhile, the final decision on new building standards and at least two other redevelopment projects may be on hold until a new mayor and council are seated in January.

“They’ve got a lot of decisions to make,” Lee said after the meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting centered on plans for Watson Boulevard, which Lee has dubbed the “government corridor.” Board members attempted to understand why plans approved for the area hadn’t been strategized for implementation. Eventually, they agreed to wait on a study consolidating plans and asked Lee to at least bring them a written recommendation for the facade standards he wants to set, so they could start somewhere.

Lee has talked about facade standards along Watson Boulevard for about a year but hasn’t formalized those ideas. He wants new buildings to mirror the aesthetics of the new Law Enforcement Center, which opened this summer at Armed Forces and Watson boulevards.

“You’re not trying to do anything extravagant, just something with character,” Lee said. “It doesn’t have to look exactly like that, but we want to lift the standards.”

Lee said at least two new buildings in the area -- between North Davis Drive and Ga. 247 -- have voluntarily agreed to follow the city’s recommendations for brick buildings.

“You could make it a long process for them, but you couldn’t really stop them” from doing what they wanted without overlay requirements, Lee said.

The last overlay City Council enacted was along the western end of Russell Parkway, after the extension was completed. City Council voted in May 2012 to remove that overlay because developers avoided the area.

“I know that was a real issue for developers,” Lee said. “It won’t be as stringent as that.”

After the RDA board approves the standards, the Planning & Zoning board will make recommendations to City Council, which will make the final decision.

Waiting on new leaders

With only three council meetings left this year, the building standards may be still on the table when the new mayor and council take office in January.

Lee said the formation of a tax allocation district will definitely be awaiting the new leaders. The current council and RDA board opted to halt the project until then, he said. The TAD, a common state tool that uses increased property tax revenue to spur redevelopment, rolled over from last year as an initiative for this year.

“I’m not trying to kick the can down the road. I’m trying to do it,” Lee said.

Also, the new officials will need to participate in an interview for a Carl Vinson Institute of Government study that will consolidate redevelopment plans for the Commercial Circle and Watson Boulevard corridor into a realistic implementation plan. Council members who will remain in office for 2014 will be interviewed in the meantime, Lee said.

He added that a sidewalks project for Commercial Circle is ready to begin, but he would rather wait until after plans are finalized for buildings in the area. If new buildings are to be constructed or refinished, the work could tear apart newly done sidewalks.

“If you want to trigger it, we can trigger it now,” Lee said. “But we’re just trying to consciously do that right.”

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

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