As if planning and zoning were not already complicated, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission has stepped into an area that is sure to make it, as well as property owners of what could be deemed historical properties, uncomfortable.
The issue is Tremont Temple, a stately church built in 1897 that is no longer occupied. The congregation decided long ago that the building’s problems were more than it could bear and moved to another mission field in the Bloomfield area. While the congregation moved two years ago, the building has been up for sale for seven years.
In comes a developer that offers to buy the property with plans to put a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise on the site complete with a drive-through. One problem, the 116-year-old building would have to be demolished. In rides the Historic Macon Foundation. It opposes the demolition and offers to buy the property at the same price as the developer. Problem solved? Not really. Planning & Zoning has, by denying the petition to tear down the building, put itself in the middle of negotiations between a willing seller and willing buyer. Historic Macon has also put itself at risk.
There is no doubt the structural integrity of the building can be fixed -- for a price. Examples dot the downtown area, the Douglass and Capitol theaters are two, but does Historic Macon have the cash to rehab it after purchase? Will other developers consider the property now that P&Z has made its ruling. For all the ideas of making the location a food court, one thing is certain, it will never be what it was designed to be again. There is no parking. The building is pinched between a medical facility and a Subway restaurant. The church and the former home of African-American entrepreneur Charles Douglass are the last two non-commercial properties on the city block.
Now there are “what ifs” to consider. How badly does the developer want the property? The contract with the church is still binding. Will the developer decide to pursue his dream or give it up and allow Historic Macon to do with the property as it wishes? Could a new partnership between developer and Historic Macon form? Is there a win-win here?
If demolition was appropriate or inappropriate, P&Z should have voted on the merits of the proposal, without consideration for another prospective buyer. If the proposed plan for the donut shop was not appropriate, it should have sent them back to the drawing board. P&Z should not have put itself in the middle of a willing seller/willing buyer situation. This time the interested third party is Historic Macon. Next time it may not be.