A Bibb County judge is considering the fate of a proposed high-end apartment complex on Bowman Road. The proposal is being fought by a group of Rivoli Downs subdivision residents and the subdivision’s homeowners association.
Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin asked questions and listened to arguments during a Wednesday hearing. The hearing ended without Colvin issuing a ruling.
Rivoli Downs residents filed a petition in January asking a judge to overturn a unanimous Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission decision that rezoned a 60-acre site on Bowman Road, about halfway between Bass Road and Wesleyan Drive, from a single-family residential district to one that would allow apartments.
At Wednesday’s hearing, lawyers representing BMW Developers LLC argued the Rivoli Downs residents don’t have standing to file a petition.
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If Colvin rules in the developers’ favor, she wouldn’t have jurisdiction to consider the merits of the residents’ arguments that they were denied due process when the matter was considered by the commission, that their homes will be negatively affected by the project and that commissioners made other errors.
Devlin Cooper, an attorney representing the residents, said water levels went up at the several lakes in Rivoli Downs when the neighboring Brookfield subdivision was built, despite the lakes being upstream from Brookfield.
Similarly, residents who own homes worth as much as $500,000 are concerned the lakes could be affected by the new development, which also is downstream, he said.
“They’re not going to be half-million-dollar homes with this apartment complex next door and the rezoning,” Cooper said.
During the Dec. 14 planning and zoning meeting, opponents to the rezoning were only allowed about 10 minutes to argue their case and requests for extra time to consult an engineer were denied, Cooper said.
Several of the named property owners who filed the petition have land that is adjacent or bordering on the tract where the apartments are proposed to be built, he said.
Pope Langstaff, an attorney representing the commission, argued in a legal brief in the case that the bulk of the boundary of the property at issue doesn’t share a property line with Rivoli Downs.
Attorney Bill Larsen, who was successful in his recent representation of homeowners in a fight against a new development on Zebulon Road, argued on behalf of BMW Developers during Wednesday’s hearing.
He said he asked for more time in commission hearings about the Zebulon Road project and his request was granted. Larsen also said there’s no limit on the amount of written statements, evidence, reports, studies and letters that can be submitted for commissioners’ review.
As proposed, the apartments would be separated from the homes in Rivoli Downs by 300 feet, 200 feet of which would be a wooded buffer.
In a legal brief filed in the case, Cooper also alleged commissioners’ rezoning was illegal “spot zoning” — changing the designation for a small parcel for a use different than the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner and “detriment” of other owners — “to inject a high-end, multi-family residential development consisting of 240 units into a sea of woods and single-family homes.”
Pointing to a map, Langstaff argued during Wednesday’s hearing that the parcel of land is on the border of an urban residential and commercial area in the corridor along Bowman Road that already includes a Publix Supermarket and other retail shops.
Attorney Stuart Walker, who also represents BMW Developers, said property owners “don’t hold a veto” over their neighbors’ right to develop land as long as it’s done according to planning and zoning regulations.
In answer to the spot zoning allegations, he said the homeowners essentially are saying “we don’t want an apartment in our backyard.”
With the new zoning in place, developers still must get commissioners’ approval of a site plan before the project can be finalized, Langstaff said.
Cooper said residents of the Brookfield subdivision, which also shares a border with the proposed apartments, also opposed the zoning change at the commission’s December meeting.
They didn’t join Rivoli Downs residents in filing the petition due to financial reasons, he said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.