Warner Robins City Council denies rezoning in Harper’s Ridge/Tucker Place; residents crowd City Hall

WARNER ROBINS -- More than 150 residents appeared dressed in red Monday evening at City Hall in a silent plea for the City Council to deny denser housing in Harper’s Ridge/Tucker Place.

In a 3-2 decision, the council voted against rezoning the next phase of construction from R-2 to R-3.

“We’re thrilled,” said resident Doreen McEntee, whose husband held a sign reading “Stop Vulture Development Now.”

If the zoning had been approved, developers would have been allowed to build 125 homes on 65.7 acres instead of the 105 originally planned. Councilman Paul Shealy said the developers had agreed, though, to include green space to reduce the density impact.

Shealy and Councilman Mike Daley voted against a motion to deny the rezoning. Councilmembers Carolyn Robbins, Daron Lee and Mike Brashear voted in support of the crowd. Councilman Mike Davis abstained from voting because he has a relative who lives in the neighborhood.

Brashear said he and other council members had visited the neighborhood, and reviewed plans and floodplain maps at the urging of residents. However, he said the group’s presence in City Hall chambers didn’t affect his vote.

Resident David Cooke said the council’s decision is a sign of good leadership. He said Brashear, Robbins, Lee and Mayor Chuck Shaheen should be commended.

“Anytime you have city leaders getting involved, talking to us, going out there and saying ‘This may have looked good on paper but in reality it doesn’t work,’... they’re thinking more long-term of the health, character and future of this city.”

McEntee said construction in her subdivision started before the housing market crashed. The houses were priced between $170,000 and $300,000, she said.

Building smaller homes on denser lots now would have meant lesser-valued homes near her house, she said.

“It’ll cheapen the homes we’ve already paid a fortune for, no offense,” she said. “We’ve lost enough value on our homes because of the economy.”

Also at Monday’s City Council meeting, the council approved the annexation of 80 properties. Shaheen and Shealy have said it’s the last large batch of annexations the council will address at once.

The council also approved a resolution that increases on-call pay for city employees from $5 per day to $30 per day, and a resolution that mandates a 10-percent raise for a promoted employee.

Monday’s council meeting was the third straight one that was immediately preceded by the pre-council meeting, which was moved from the prior Thursday to the same day. Shaheen has said it will be permanent, but no official notice has been issued.

During the pre-council meeting, council members questioned agenda items that would have downgraded the city’s purchasing agent position and created a project supervisor position that took on some of the former’s duties.

Mark Baker, the city’s former purchasing agent, retired last month.

Shaheen said the items would provide oversight to all city projects and ensure they don’t languish. The city has a long list of projects for the 2012 special purpose local options sales tax, he said.

“This is a major overhaul for City Hall, the Civic Center, sports complex, amphitheater,” Shaheen said, adding the city has never had this much capital improvement funding at once.

Still, council members said they want to review the responsibilities of a project supervisor and want the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia to decide what grade the city purchasing agent should be changed to in the event some duties are eliminated.

The Carl Vinson Institute established new pay grades for all city employees in a pay study the council enacted in April.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.