Panel passes Rivoli, Bass rezoning

After months of meetings and negotiations, neither side of a rezoning issue was particularly happy at the results of Monday’s Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.

The commission made a three-part decision on an application to rezone 4646 Rivoli Drive from an agricultural district to a planned development residential district. The purpose of the rezoning was to allow a mixed-use senior-housing community called Founders Pond at Rivoli Drive and Bass Road, which would include townhouses, single-family homes and a retirement center.

In its first vote Monday, the commission agreed 4-1 to rezone the property to a planned development residential district. But in a separate motion all five commissioners voted against the applicant’s plan that called for a total density of 6.9 units per acre. Some opponents of the development, including a group called North Bibb Citizen’s Coalition, were seeking a total density of 3.3 units per acre.

In another 4-1 vote, the commission agreed to a maximum gross density of 5 units per acre – a number that had not been discussed by either side. Commissioner Arthur Hubbard was the only member to vote against two of the motions.

After the meeting, Ed Hutcheson, who handles real estate development for the applicant/landowner, Dunwody & Sams Trust, was particularly upset with the decision.

“It was arbitrary and capricious,” Hutcheson said. “They ignored all the work that’s been done for two years in working with the staff, by making the decision they made today. They pulled 5 units per acre density out of the air. It makes no sense to either side. I’m very unhappy with the way it was handled.”

Land planner Zan Thompson, who represented the applicant, also was disappointed at the commission’s decisions. He had asked that if the commission couldn’t agree to the requested 6.9 units per acre density to not approve it at all.

“There is no reason my client should pay increased taxes for zoning that he can’t do his development on,” Thompson said. “We’ll just keep it agricultural.”

Under the agricultural zoning, the applicant could have brought the retirement center portion of the development back to the commission, he said. “But that’s a moot point now,” Thompson said after the meeting.

Attorney Tom Richardson, who represented the neighborhood opposition group, was a little less critical of the commission’s decisions.

“Of course the neighborhood was hoping for less density, but I think that the commissioners really tried to get this right,” Richardson said. “It’s higher than we wanted and it’s less than the other side wanted. But we’ll see what happens.”

This was the fourth planning and zoning meeting to address rezoning the 71-acre wooded site. It has been deferred for various reasons since January — mostly to give the applicant, the neighbors and the commission’s staff opportunities to meet and discuss it. The application was deferred at the March 23 meeting because two commissioners were absent and both sides wanted all five commissioners present before a decision was rendered.

During his presentation Monday, Thompson pointed out that the density of 6.9 units per acre was comparable with other similar developments, including the Carlyle Place retirement community on Zebulon Road. Also, the developer has made several changes since the original plan, which was for a shopping center and office buildings, he said. Apartments later were dropped from the plans, the main retirement center was changed from a two-story to a one-story building and an earlier density of 10.33 units per acre was lowered to 6.9.

But neighbors said more changes were needed to fit into the surrounding area.

“This is not a transitional neighborhood; it’s a suburban neighborhood that’s developed over 35 years,” said Elmo Richardson, who said he’s lived adjacent to the subject property for 32 years.

“People moved into these neighborhoods to enjoy the harmonious atmosphere of a single-family, owner-occupied community,” said Richardson, a Bibb County commissioner.

The proposed development is a “radical departure” from the neighborhood and “would destroy and disrupt this harmonious atmosphere,” he said. “This is not the best use of this really nice tract of land.”

Commissioner Sara Gerwig-Moore said she thought the planned development residential district was “most appropriate” for the site.

“But I think the site plan is too dense,” she said before commissioners voted. “I don’t think it’s in keeping with the neighborhood.”

Thompson said he’s not sure what the landowner will do next.

“We could take it to court, try to make it work at 5 (units per acre) — but in this economy that will take awhile — or we may appeal the decision,” he said. “We have several different options.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.