Storage units proposed in old Telegraph building on Broadway

Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning commissioners consider code change to allow climate-controlled units downtown

The+former+Telegraph+building+on+Broadway+has+been+vacant+since+2013+when+the+newspaper+moved+its+administrative+offices+to+Cherry+Street.+

Liz Fabian

The former Telegraph building on Broadway has been vacant since 2013 when the newspaper moved its administrative offices to Cherry Street.

Those wondering what might happen to the old Telegraph building on Broadway could soon have an answer.

Telegraph Development LLC would like to build climate-controlled storage units in the basement and first floor of the old newspaper headquarters nestled between Broadway, Riverside Drive and MLK Jr. Blvd.

“That area of the building doesn’t lend itself to any other development,” commercial contractor Chuck Stroud said.

The underground basement and limited access to windows on the back of the building preclude building lofts or retail development in that space.

The site has been vacant since 2013 when The Telegraph moved its administrative offices to Cherry Street. The newsroom moved to the Mercer University campus in 2012 with the opening of the Center for Collaborative Journalism.

Although the 1961 building originally was listed in 2016 for $2.3 million, Earl Barrs’ Due South Investments LLC bought it in 2019  for $750,000, according to tax records.

About a year ago, Telegraph Development LLC, led by Barrs’ son Andy, paid $405,000 for half-interest in the building and nearby parcels. It’s that entity that is proposing the storage units as the first step in developing the property.

Monday, Stroud told the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission the project would provide revenue to put on a new roof, make repairs and provide financial capital for further renovation for other uses in the rest of the massive 51,000-square-foot-building on 4.29 acres.

Commissioners could not sign off on the project this week because the current code for downtown does not include storage units as a permitted use.

Stroud petitioned the commission to amend the Comprehensive Land Development Resolution for the city and county to allow climate-controlled storage in existing warehouses, production facilities or commercial storage areas.

Historical storefronts or offices would not be eligible under Stroud’s proposal.

Telegraph Development LLC wants to build climate-controlled storage units in the basement and first floor of the old newspaper headquarters. (Liz Fabian)

Commission chairperson Jeane Easom was concerned about aesthetics since the building backs up to a gateway to downtown from Interstate 16 via the Otis Redding Bridge.

“For years we have been talking about entrances to the city and the back of that Telegraph building has always been a thorn in my side,” Easom said. “If we let them do storage there, is that going to improve the looks of that there?”

Stroud was confident his project would be an improvement.

“We’re going to enhance that part of the building,” he said. “I feel like it will be an asset as you come over the bridge and cross Riverside.”

He mentioned giving the building a “little pizazz” with fencing, lighting and landscaping.

Providing a pleasing, secure environment to make tenants feel safe and comfortable is key to successful storage rental, he said.

Loft apartment residents would be the primary market for the units, but Stroud mentioned that downtown retailers often need seasonal storage and offices also could be looking for places to store documents.

Commissioner Tim Jones was reluctant about moving too fast, although Stroud said the owner is anxious to get the project off the ground due to rising costs of building materials.

“We think we want an attorney to look at it,” Jones said. “Not about the project but about going forward.”

Easom and the commission agreed to defer the decision until late next month.

“To give staff and our attorney time to look over it and make sure it’s inclusive of everything we need to include, and that the wording is correct,” she said.

None of the commissioners seemed to object to the storage facility and no one signed up to speak against the project.

Third time a charm

Aaron Retter learned persistence can pay off in matters of zoning.

Nearly a year after he was turned down for rezoning to build four apartments in old office space at 1055 Walnut St. and months after he couldn’t get a rehearing, Retter was back before commissioners Monday.

P&Z commissioners reversed last year’s decision and allowed four apartment units at 1055 Walnut St. The law allows for a reduction in minimum zoning standards in areas targeted for economic development. (Liz Fabian)

Neighborhood opposition and a shortage of lot space required for four units led to his request being denied last June.

Retter was moving forward with the three apartments permitted in 2020 when he learned the fire safety code requires sprinklers – a costly measure that could make the three-unit project financially unfeasible, he said.

Ironically, the lot was about a thousand square feet too small for four units – the same size as the large county right-of-way that takes up nearly the entire front yard. That chunk of land could make up the difference, but Retter couldn’t get the county to budge on forfeiting the property.

He argued that since he’s responsible for the maintenance and aesthetics of the lawn that it didn’t seem fair not to include its square footage for purposes of satisfying the regulation.

This week, Retter asked for an exemption under Sect. 23.28 of the zoning code that allows discretion to “reduce the minimum standards” in Economic and Community Development target areas.

P&Z executive director Jim Thomas noted that the square footage on the lot Retter owns allows for about 3.5 units, so this would basically be rounding it up.

“It’s cases like this that I think Macon-Bibb County developed those ECD target areas because they want development in that area,” Thomas said. “Plus, he’s going to redo a rundown house.”

Retter said he has been working with an architect, engineer and designer to ensure the interior and exterior of the house at the corner of Hill Street will stay true to the character of the neighborhood.

No one opposed the project this time and commissioners granted his conditional use permit for four units.

Other items approved

320 Hines Terrace – Commission allows Cynthia Clance to replace windows and make exterior modifications to the 1935 bungalow home.

777 Elm St. – Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church granted a variance to install a new sign at the corner of Telfair Street.

2418 Vineville Ave. – Commission ratified the Design Review Board’s unanimous decision to allow exterior modifications to replace deteriorating windows and install gutters along the roofline.

5040 Brookhaven Road – Janice Jenkins secured conditional use approval for an event center in two suites of an existing shopping center near the Walmart on Harrison Road.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities. Contact her at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]