Officials revisit rezoning in south Bibb near Robins

Some residents in south Bibb County may be experiencing deja vu.

After a failed attempt five years ago to restrict new residential construction in the area near the Houston County line, the Bibb County Commission is proposing the purchase of homes and an eventual rezoning of the area to industrial in an effort to halt residential growth, according to a letter to affected residents from Commissioner Lonzy Edwards.

Like before, the goal is to help prepare and protect Robins Air Force Base during the next round of BRAC, or the base realignment and closure process, according to the letter. BRAC is used to identify military installations for closure or workload reductions. When the next round will occur is unknown.

“We’ve done this before,” said Bibb resident Mark Johnston, who lives on McArrell Road. “Now we have to go through it all again.”

A meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today at Central Fellowship Church on Hawkinsville Road to discuss the issue.

The affected area is identified in Edward’s letter of March 25 as being bounded by the Industrial Park on the north, the Houston County line on the south, Hawkinsville Road — and a small area to the west of it — on the west and the Ocmulgee River on the east.

Because of its proximity to the base and designation as an accident potential zone, the area poses a threat to the safety of residents and restricts the ability of the base to complete its mission or attract new ones, according to the letter.

“As much as I hate to see your life disrupted, unfortunately the circumstances we now face make it necessary to deal with the issue of land use in south Bibb County — and the zoning change that will bring it into compliance with the needs of Robins Air Force Base,” Edwards said in the letter. The affected area lies in Edwards’ commission district.

Residents will not be forced to sell their property, which is to be bought at fair market value, nor will their property be acquired through eminent domain, according to the letter. However, the plan is to eventually rezone the land from agricultural and residential to industrial, the letter states.

Who would be purchasing the property is unclear, and Edwards declined to elaborate on that and several other matters.

“I don’t want to get into a discussion of things that will be the subject of conversation” tonight, he said in a telephone interview.

The previous attempt to restrict growth in that area was handled badly, he said, and he sent the letter to avoid repeating past mistakes. In his letter, Edwards said it’s important for the process to be “conducted in an environment that is open and above board.”

Residential growth in the accident potential zone must be restricted to protect the safety of residents and the investment of the base, Edwards said.

“A couple bases, I understand, closed because they didn’t deal with this issue,” he said. “We can’t afford to let that happen.”

In his letter, Edwards notes there are only three Air Logistic Centers left in the country, and he is “reliably informed” that the other communities have invested millions of dollars in buying land around their centers to prevent them from closing.

Mary Therese Tebbe, executive director for the 21st Century Partnership, a Robins booster, said she’s happy that Bibb County is taking on the issue.

“This has been an issue that the Middle Georgia community has been working on for well over a decade,” she said.

But at least one resident is ready to fight the proposal.

“These are our homes,” Johnston said. “We don’t want to relocate.”

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report. To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.