Bibb County Superior Court Judge Edgar Ennis Jr. on Monday gave both sides of a Zebulon Road zoning dispute two weeks to respond to legal issues in a case that pits residents who oppose plans for a shopping center against the zoning commission.
Attorneys for 27 residents who opposed the development of a mixed-use shopping center to be built on about 25 acres northwest of Bass Road argued that the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to rezone the property was not appropriate for several reasons, but especially because the commission did not approve a site plan when it agreed to rezone the property.
Bill Larsen, one of the attorneys representing the residents, asked that the rezoning be sent back to the commission.
But attorney Pope Langstaff, representing the commission, said all rezonings require a two-step process. The first step is to rezone the property and the second step is to approve the site plan.
He said the commission should be allowed to finish its process.
“I don’t see the point in stopping halfway,” Langstaff said. “If you let (the commission) finish, we will know what we’re fighting over.”
Langstaff also said the planned development district zoning gives the commission control over what can be built.
Alabama-based Blackwater Resources, which is using the name Development Co. LLC for the project, plans to build a $30-million, 250,000-square-foot shopping center there. John Abernathy, director of development and leasing for Blackwater, has said the development, which is expected to be anchored by a speciality grocery store, would create 350 to 500 jobs.
The property, which includes seven large residential lots now, fronts along Zebulon Road and is adjacent to Northway Church.
Ennis asked attorneys for both sides to respond within two weeks to legal matters raised Monday by Langstaff and Larsen.
Abernathy said after the hearing that if Ennis allows the rezoning to remain in place, “we will be ready to go. ... We would immediately start working with the staff on the site plan.”
Glenn Smith, who has spearheaded the opposition by the residents, said he wasn’t surprised the judge didn’t make a decision at the hearing. Smith has lived on Zebulon Road since 1995, and the new development would be near his home.
“We understand that the process sometimes moves slowly,” Smith said after the hearing. “We appreciate that Judge Ennis will need to take some time to make sure his decision is firmly rooted in Georgia law and will withstand any appellate decision. There are two sides to that coin, and we feel the commission overreached (by approving the rezoning).”
On Oct. 28, 2013, the commission first heard the rezoning request to rezone the property from a residential district to a planned development district, but the matter was deferred at the request of Abernathy, who presented a revised preliminary site plan at the November meeting.
At that meeting, commissioners questioned Abernathy about adding a residential element to the project so it would better fit the requested zoning. Commissioner Kamal Azar said the property could be developed as a small neighborhood village center with proper buffers.
Commissioners Al Tillman, Bryan Scott and Azar voted for the rezoning, with Commissioners Sarah Gerwig-Moore and Jeane Easom voting against it. Although Azar voted to approve the rezoning, he said the preliminary site plan would have to be changed before he would approve it.
Mark Stevens, regional development officer for Macon Mall owner Hull Storey Gibson, attended the court hearing Monday. Stevens said he was following the rezoning case because he is concerned some retailers along the Eisenhower corridor may choose to relocate to the new development.
Information from The Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.