Most everyone would agree that the design review process used in Bibb County is flawed. Even members of the Design Review Board have recently admitted that in a recent email that went out to members when a proposal that will be decided Monday by the Planning & Zoning Commission could dissolve the board altogether.
The Design Review Board’s major flaw is that it is toothless. It has no power. It can only recommend, and in two recent notable instances, the recommendations of the Design Review Board were ignored by the majority of P&Z commissioners. Tremont Temple and the Douglass House are both now memories after the Design Review Board sought to protect them.
Certainly it would be less of a headache for developers and other property owners if the Design Review Board wasn’t around to slow the process down. Certainly P&Z staff could work more quickly. But is that what we should want? Design review boards in other communities have significantly more sway over the process than our board. Some would say that communities such as Savannah, with four delineated historic districts, and Charleston, South Carolina, have more to protect, but Macon’s forefathers -- and mothers -- created a great legacy for this generation to protect. It has paid off. Annually, people flock to this area to see our historic infrastructure, and there needs to be a watchdog organization, board or individual in place to balance a developer’s dreams with the long-term legacy of this community.
Why? There have been a number of developer dreams that have turned out to be nightmares. Johnny Carson used to refer to “Beautiful Downtown Burbank” not because it was beautiful, which it was, but there was no parking. And how many remember the idea to turn Macon’s Terminal Station into a shopping mall?
Our suggestion is to take a time out and allow more voices into the process. Most of the preservation community has just learned this week about the effort to disband the Design Review Board. And the Macon Action Plan will soon be released with recommendations concerning the design review process. There is no harm in delaying the dismantling of the Design Review Board and exploring other ideas that put thoughtful, informed, nonpolitical teeth into a process with the long-term goals of the community at the forefront.