Despite heavy opposition, Macons planning and zoning commission voted Tuesday to rezone 25 acres on Zebulon Road to allow a $30 million shopping center in a residential area.
The opposition included petitions signed by about 250 people, numerous personal letters and about 150 people who crowded into Macon City Hall council chambers. Many of those in attendance displayed signs urging commissioners to vote no.
Commissioner Al Tillman made the motion to approve the rezoning application. An amendment will require a new site plan by the developer.
Commissioners Tillman, Kamal Azar and Bryan Scott voted for the rezoning with commissioners Sarah Gerwig-Moore and Jeane Easom voting against it.
Birmingham, Ala.-based developer Blackwater Resources applied to rezone seven contiguous properties 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 this project under the name Development Co. LLC.
John Abernathy, director of development and leasing for Blackwater, said the project would create 350 to 500 jobs. He said he expects a speciality grocery store to anchor the shopping center.
The commission first heard the Zebulon rezoning issue Oct. 28, but the hot-potato issue was deferred at the request of Abernathy who presented a revised preliminary site plan Tuesday. The new plan increased the buffer at the rear of the proposed center from 20 feet to 40 feet. Also, instead of having one retention pond, the plan showed two smaller detention ponds on the east and west property lines.
Abernathy said a fence could be added between the shopping center and adjacent residential properties.
The rezoning would not set a precedent for future zoning along Zebulon because there is no other property similar to the seven parcels to be developed for the retail center, he said.
Zan Thompson, land planner and owner of ZT3 Placemaker Studio who was hired by some opponents of the proposal, said the center would not work.
Blackwater asked for the property to be rezoned from a residential district to a planned development district, which is designed for mixed uses. However, Thompson said, the proposal included retail and did not include residences or office space.
Its a site plan that we know is unbuildable, Thompson said. If you rezone this site, everyone who lives along Zebulon will have retail views from their homes.
He pointed out that for about 20 years the commission has denied nearly all zoning permits for project along Zebulon Road east of Sonny Carter Elementary School and Northway Church. The two institutions have served as a transition between large retail shopping centers to the west and residential neighborhoods to the east.
The placement of the church and school was intentional, and its a sign of good planning, not bad planning, Thompson said.
Commission members questioned Abernathy about adding a residential element to the project so it would better fit the requested zoning. Azar said the property could be developed as a small neighborhood village center with proper buffers.
We are willing to commit to a residential component if approved, Abernathy said, but he didnt know if the project would be feasible if it was smaller.
Gerwig-Moore said she was concerned about the property being rezoned without an acceptable site plan.
After the vote, the obviously disappointed crowd left the meeting.
Clearly the planning and zoning board had concerns about the plans presented, said Glenn Smith, who lives on Zebulon and has opposed numerous proposed projects along the residential section of Zebulon Road over the years.
He said the commission basically told the neighborhood to trust us to make a good decision when it receives yet another revised site plan from the developer. Now our life investments are in the hands of this commission to trust them.
Abernathy said after the meeting he was committed to working with the zoning commission to make the development more of a mixed-use project with a residential component.
He expects to have finalized plans within three or four months.
However, the process may be held up.
Thompson was visibly upset after the meeting. When asked if a lawsuit was possible, he said, You can bet on it.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.