Politics & Government

Should Council get to decide what a stretch of Russell Parkway looks like? It could happen

Warner Robins Councilman Tim Thomas says people are accusing him of trying to make the city look like St. Simons Island, and he’s not arguing with them.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting the city to look nice,” he said.

He wants to resurrect rules on a 5-mile section of Russell Parkway that would put significant restrictions on how property there could be developed. It’s commonly referred to as an overlay, designating rules for a specific area rather than the entire city.

The aim, he said, is to stop construction of metal buildings and other cheaply built structures that could take away from the character that the city wants for the area.

With the overlay, industry could not go there. Thomas said the city has property for industry and the overlay area is not the place for it. It also sets standards for landscaping, building aesthetics, sidewalks and traffic access.

The overlay would run along Russell from Houston Lake Road to Interstate 75, a primary entryway to the city and Robins Air Force Base. It is mostly undeveloped.

The city had an overlay for the area at one point but did away with it because of a belief that it was restricting growth. Thomas said he believes that was premature, and that the lack of growth was from other factors at the time, including utility access and the economy. He also said the ordinance he is proposing is less restrictive.

He brought up the issue for discussion at the Aug. 5 council meeting and some property owners in the area voiced concerns about it. Thomas said he invites all property owners who would be impacted to contact him and discuss it. He plans to bring it back up for consideration at the Sept. 2 council meeting. The area is in Thomas’ district, and he said residents there are in favor of the overlay.

He noted that Plantation Mill shopping center, at the corner of Russell and U.S. 41, was built under the requirements of the previous overlay.

Developer Tim Thornton, who owns property in the area, said he likes some things in the overlay but had concerns. One was the requirement that driveways would have only right in and right out access, meaning people couldn’t cross the median upon entering or exiting. He said he thought that would be a danger for visitors who would have to make u-turns to go back to the interstate.

“I think that’s a huge mistake,” he said.

Thornton said overall, however, he thinks the overlay “is a step in the right direction.”

The restrictions would not impact buildings that are already there, unless the owners decided to make improvements or expand, Thomas said.

Mayor Randy Toms said both sides need to be considered in getting the ordinance right.

“It’s a balance,” he said. “We need to find a balance that doesn’t prohibit people from wanting to develop there but also gives up something to be proud of.”

Harris Sledge, who owns property in the area, expressed concerns about the ordinance. He asked for a meeting with landowners to discuss it.

“I agree that we need nice looking buildings, but there’s a lot of stuff in there that we don’t need,” he said.

Thomas compared the effort to restrictions and standards that are commonly placed on residential subdivisions. He said people do not want to spent $300,000 to build a nice home and then have someone build something next to it that would detract from the value.

“This is my home and I want it to look nice when I come off of that interstate,” he said.

Wayne Crenshaw has worked as a journalist since 1990 and has been a reporter for The Telegraph since 2002. He holds a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Georgia College and is a resident of Warner Robins.