300 attend south Bibb relocation meeting

Connie Currie said her house was the second one built on McArrell Drive, back when it was just a dirt road.

She has lived there for more than 30 years, raised her family in that house and now her daughter lives next door.

“This is our home,” she said.

Now Bibb County is offering to buy her property. Officials say it’s in a danger zone near Robins Air Force Base, and its location could hurt the base in a future base realignment and closure process known as BRAC. BRAC is used to identify military installations for closure or workload reductions.

Her dilemma is one shared by many south Bibb County residents. About 240 properties lie in the base’s accident potential zone or within its noise contour, said Laura Mathis, director of public administration for the Middle Georgia Regional Development Commission. Officials are asking them to move or face a possible rezoning of their property in the future.

The proposal was met with questions Tuesday night from about 300 residents who packed the sanctuary at Central Fellowship Baptist Church on Hawkinsville Road for a community meeting.

Many south Bibb residents said they were anxious about a plan to purchase their property and eventually rezone the area where they live to industrial.

They worried that if they moved, they wouldn’t get a fair price for their property. And they worried that if they stayed, their property values would drop.

“If they would come and give me money for what I’ve got ... I’d do it tomorrow,” said Jack Savage, who lives on Feagin Road. “But my concern is we’re not going to get what we need out of our property.”

The affected area has been identified 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 it — and the Ocmulgee River on the east.

Residential encroachment on the base has been a concern for a long time. Supporters of the proposal believe minimizing residential development will help the base during the next round of BRAC, which Congress must authorize. When that next round will occur is unknown, but Bibb Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said he understands there may be one in the next three years.

The base is home to one of three Air Logistic Centers in the country, he said, and the other two, in Ogden, Utah, and Oklahoma City, already have addressed the issue.

“If we don’t deal with that (encroachment) problem, it threatens not just Bibb County, but it threatens all of Middle Georgia and perhaps the state,” Edwards said, pointing out the base’s $4.1 billion economic impact in the region. The affected area is in Edwards’ district.

A working group of Bibb County commissioners, the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, the regional development commission and the Central Georgia Joint Development has formed to address the concerns of encroachment at the base, according to a Power Point presentation given at the meeting. Eventually, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission will join the discussion, Edwards said.

The working group has come up with a proposal to purchase homes, as money becomes available, and eventually rezone the area from agricultural and residential to industrial. An industrial zone would complement the mission of the base and remove residents from the accident potential zone, according to a March 25 letter from Edwards to residents.

Money would come from Bibb County, and likely the Department of Defense and other sources, Edwards said at the meeting. However, the county does not have the money now, he said.

Owners will not be forced to sell their properties nor will they be taken by eminent domain, he said. Homes will be bought at fair market value, he said.

“If anyone thought they were coming to a meeting where the purpose was to take folks’ property and run off with their land, you’re at the wrong meeting,” Edwards said. “Anybody who wants to remain on their property will be free to do so.”

Still, some residents questioned how they were not being forced when the area they lived in would be rezoned industrial in the future. Others questioned whether “fair market value” was really fair.

“I’m willing to play along. I’m willing to move,” said David O’Leary, who lives on Saint Clara Drive. “But if I move, I don’t need fair market value. What I need is replacement value or relocation value. I’m willing to work with you, but you need to work with me, too.”

Currie said she, too, is concerned about receiving a fair price for her property. She said she was willing to move if the base really needed it. She retired from the base after 35 years, and her daughter and son-in-law still work there.

Residents were asked to fill out cards at the meeting indicating whether they were interested in selling their properties, which has been prioritized based on the threat of danger.

Edwards and Bibb Commission Chairman Sam Hart said the meeting was a beginning of a process that would involve the county working with the residents toward a fair solution.

This isn’t the first time residents have faced zoning changes.

When the base faced BRAC about five years ago, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission made an attempt to restrict new residential construction in the area near the Houston County line.

The proposed change eventually was dropped because of public outcry.