Zebulon store, Bass complex, Bowman apts. summon ghosts of P&Z past

Commissioners approve winery, Dunkin’ Donuts, specialty grocery, new life for old Charter Lake property


Liz Fabian

After two decades of zoning fights, a specialty grocery store is approved for the northwest corner of Bass and Zebulon roads.

After cancelling two hearings around Christmas and Thanksgiving, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission trudged through more than two dozen items in Monday’s nearly five hours of meetings.

Opponents who have been fighting Zebulon Road commercialization for 20 years resurfaced eight months after a doctor’s office complex was approved at the corner of Bass Road with only one letter of opposition.

Monday, Stone Edge neighbor Billy Hester and Foster Road resident Bobby George objected to an SL Sausage Company store opening on 3.7 acres on the northwest corner of the Bass, Zebulon and Foster roads intersection. Neighboring Stone Edge Church signed off on the plan that includes more than 2 acres of landscaping and chunks of green space.

Billed as an “upscale specialty country store” offering meat, fresh and frozen produce, locally sourced preserves, beer and wine, the store also will feature a hot bar serving breakfast and lunch items.

Hester, who was called out of order for jumping up and commenting from his seat during the hearing, took the commission through a litany of two decades of prior zoning decisions along that corridor.

While Hester said he has visited another SL Sausage location, he objected to rezoning that parcel from single-family residential to planned development commercial.

“I doubt very seriously any of those stores are in a subdivision,” Hester told commissioners during his objection. He revisited prior denials at that location and the eventual approval of the controversial Lofts project farther west.

George suggested SL Sausage should build on one of the outparcels of that residential development in the 5800 block that soon will be home to Sonny’s BBQ – another long-debated project as commissioners continued to raise neighbors’ prior concerns in configuring the building and drive-thru.

“That makes more sense to keep it in a commercial area,” said George, who mentioned he already struggles to get out of his Foster Road driveway due to traffic backing up from the light at Zebulon.

Representing the store, attorney Duke Groover pointed out that the new commercial rezoning across Bass Road sealed the fate for the other corner.

“There’s never going to be a house on that corner, so it’s absolutely unusable for this zoning,” Groover said.

Since 1997, P&Z has denied a daycare center, funeral home, assisted living facility, animal hospital, dentist office, banks and a personal care home in the neighborhood.

Chairwoman Jeane Easom said she likes the design of the building and reputation of the company.

“The owners have demonstrated at other locations that they take care of their property,” Easom said.

Commissioner Tim Jones was pleased the company did not decide to sell gasoline.

“If they had put gas here, I would say ‘no,’” Easom said.

Retiring P&Z Executive Director Jim Thomas, who was present for all the prior zoning battles, said the neighborhood has changed.

“We’ve kind of crossed that bridge,” Thomas said. “Those corners are not going to be residential anymore.”

The Macon-Bibb County Hospital Authority, which is not subject to zoning regulations, owns the corner next to Carlyle Place.

Commissioners approved the specialty grocery rezoning and conditional use application.

‘High-end stuff’ at Bass and I-75

A Dunkin’ Donuts and a new bank building are two of the businesses approved in design changes to a mixed-use development at 1400 Bass Road. (Liz Fabian)

Engineer Cleve Cunningham explained the mixed-use commercial development plans approved in 2019, when the property at 1400 Bass Road was rezoned from agricultural to planned development, called for one office building and two retail buildings.

Developers’s new design has an 80,000 square foot two-story retail and office strip in the rear of the lot. They have a deal with a bank moving into a 9,000 square foot-building and with Dunkin’ Donuts sharing a 3,200 square foot-building with another shop.

No agreements have been reached for a 4,900 square foot-retail office building for something like a dentist’s office and an 8,000 square foot potential restaurant.

Monday, Bass Road resident Corrie Land came armed with notes from previous meetings when commissioners considered changes to plans for the commercial development next to Providence Boulevard.

Land and another near neighbor were concerned about noise from the Dunkin’ Donuts and bank drive-thrus and light pollution from cars circling the buildings.

She also reminded them the original proposal was for “house-type” buildings like the offices across Bass Road.

“Something more like that than a hundred zillion restaurants,” she passionately remarked.

Realtor King Kemper explained that the area was some of the hottest real estate in Macon-Bibb County and the development and designs would be controlled by restrictive covenants.

“This is high-end stuff at Bass and I-75. We’re going to be in line with the other stuff out there. Atlanta-looking stuff,” King replied.

He mentioned taking neighbors’ concerns into account in locating the bank on their side of the development because it won’t be noisy or open late.

All who testified acknowledged the traffic issues won’t be addressed until the future widening of the interstate overpass.

Commissioners approved the revisions to the site plan and the new buildings in the updated design.

Bustling Bowman

Although an organized effort from Wesleyan Hills neighbors fought off a memory care and assisted facility at 5171 Bowman Road in spring of 2020, a 288-unit apartment complex was approved for the same property.

Engineer Don Carter advocated for the zoning change from single-family residential to planned development citing the hilly topography of the land limited its use for houses.

Building apartments on less of the land made better sense as developers plan a clubhouse closer to the road, a gated entry and a long scenic driveway with a bridge to lead back to the 12 residential buildings.

“We recognize that traffic is a problem out there. Anyone of us who travels out there experiences that daily,” Carter said in the hearing.

A couple of neighbors complained about the traffic and the proliferation of apartment complexes within a mile of the site.

Carter noted studies showing fewer car trips for apartment complexes than single-family residential developments.

P&Z Chairwoman Easom said in her role as a commercial appraiser she knows few apartments are available in that area.

“Occupancy rates are higher than they’ve ever been. People want to live in the nice areas,” she said. “You can’t stop growth and I’m a firm proponent of people being able to develop their property as long as it’s within the guidelines that would be allowed.”

She noted that the design would be similar to the neighboring Bowman Station.

“(They) did an excellent job and it’s a beautiful property,” Easom said.

The commission approved the development.

New home for New City Church

The old Charter Lake property, most recently known as Lake Bridge at 3500 Riverside Drive, will be the new home to New City Church. (Liz Fabian)

The long vacant former Charter Lake facility at 3500 Riverside Drive and 3445 Northside Drive will be the new home of New City Church.

“I’m excited to see that building used,” Easom said as commissioners went over the agenda before the meeting.

In the application for the building to be used as a church, pastor Keith Watson explained the congregation has outgrown the old Power Station Night Club it renovated in 2016.

The church formed in 2008 at the Cox Capitol Theatre and created The 567 Center for Renewal in the old Thorpe’s clothing store at 533 Cherry Street before moving to the nightclub.

The proposal, which was recommended for approval by staff, specifies 50,000 square feet of the 87,000 square-foot-building would be used for the main sanctuary, children’s worship, classroom, balcony seating and administrative offices.

East Bibb winery

The Myron family plans to install a winery in one of four warehouse buildings at 2351 Hubbard Road near the Macon Downtown Airport. (Liz Fabian)

 The wine-loving Myron family has been dreaming of owning their own winery.

Monday, the planning and zoning commission moved them another step in that direction by approving the conditional use of warehouse space near Herbert Smart Airport.

Vasy Lee and Dyna Myron plan to grow grapes on more than four acres off Griffin Road in south Bibb County and ship in other varieties to the site at 2351 Hubbard Road.

While plans are still in the developmental stages, the family will initially produce four to five gallons of red and white varieties a year, according to the application.

The business description hints at the possibility of future tours.

“Our winery focus is to offer the finest wine, provide excellent customer service and convenient location that offers a place to experience wine making.”

Other agenda items:

408 Orange Streetpermission granted for Ray Richard to replace a metal roof with asphalt shingles. The Design Review Board denied Richard’s request to remove the two brick chimneys in the front to alleviate water leakage issues. “Chimneys are a major architectural portion of this house,” DRB chairman Chris Clark said in the Dec. 6 meeting.

2174 Rocky Creek Road – Commissioners deferred a convenience store application from Tommy Patel with Logix Development to see if the design could be altered to give more distance between the fuel tanks and a house across Bloomfield Drive.

1501 Mercer University Drive – Commissioners approved a variance from distance requirements from Interstate 75 to allow Mercer University to build a golf cart barn near the Emily Parker Myers Admissions and Welcome Center at Johnson Avenue. Neighbor Michael Ryan objected to the aesthetic pollution, increased heat island effect, extra impervious surface that would block stormwater absorption and removal of trees on the property which neighbors his home.

484 Mulberry St.Synovus bank was granted permission to erect signage, alter the drive-thru and install a new ATM and exterior features at their building at the corner of Third Street.

582 Mulberry St. – Architect Bob Brown was granted permission to build 16 lofts on the second and third floors of the Washington Block building at the corner of Second Street. The renovation will add another door to replace one of the street-level windows. Plans also call for a new unit on the ground floor. “We will create a live-work unit on the ground floor to enter from the back to live and from the front to work,” Brown told the DRB.

657 Third St.New parking lot approved to create 16 parking spaces for employees of Vein Specialists of the South. The fenced lot will have a landscaped entrances with crepe myrtle trees and Indian Hawthorne or similar bushes.

869 Walnut St.  – Commissioners approved changes to a security fence for Imperial Resource Group. Due to supply chain issues, the original metal fence was replaced with a painted wooden one.

The Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission approved exterior changes to the Woodspring Suites hotel at 2000 Bowman Park. (Liz Fabian)

2000 Bowman Park – Woodspring Suites, formerly known as Value Place, will be allowed to change its existing façade from faux brick Nichiha panels to EFIS and brick veneer. P&Z staff noted the new materials will match the hotel on the adjacent parcel and will be similar to the brick and stucco medical offices nearby.

2300 Walden Road and 6979 Cochran Field Road – Brightmark requested staff defer its conditional use application for the planned plastics renewal facility. P&Z will consider the request after the first of the year.

3101 Vineville Ave. – Applicant Jerry Burke withdrew his application for an event center in the strip shopping center that housed the old Moe’s location. Burke had previously gotten approval for a similar business in the Mercer Crossings shopping center across from Macon Mall on Mercer University Drive, but he said the Vineville location was better suited for his plans.

 2688 Roff Ave. – Bonni Parsons granted permission to run a trade school for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of Georgia.

2715 Cherokee Ave.Commission permitted Phillip Brown to subdivide his property in Cherokee Heights.

3106 Hillcrest Ave. – Commissioners approved a variance to allow construction of additional office space at Elite Motor Cars of Macon.

P&Z approved a used car sales office at 4290 Dellwood Drive. The tenant space is part of an existing convenience store building that was converted from a plumbing warehouse. (Liz Fabian)

4290 Dellwood DriveAlthough the neighboring property owner complained about the convenience store building owner damaging his fence and drawing undesirable foot traffic near his property, commissioners approved the conditional use of a used car lot in existing retail tenant space in the store building that was converted from a plumbing business at the corner of Mercer University Drive.

4535 Hartley Bridge Road – Variance approved to allow a canopy for fuel sales at the convenience store.

6755 Vinson Road – The commission approved the resumption of Phase 3 of The Woods at Ocala single-family subdivision which stalled during the recession. Triple Point Engineering advocated for the remaining 111 lots to be developed on the 234-unit property originally approved in 2004. Commissioners laid the responsibility for clearing an accessory building built on the previously undeveloped right-of-way off Sarakay Circle. Now that the rest of the neighborhood is being developed, the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department requires a second emergency entrance to the homes.

5327 Rivoli Drive – Variance in setback requirements granted to allow construction of a shed.

7201 Columbus Road – Variance granted to allow platting of two lots in an agricultural district.

8860 Columbus Road – Geneva Causey granted permission to allow a manufactured home with a variance in lot width in an agricultural district.

Note: The Dec. 27 meeting of the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission was canceled due to the proximity of the holidays. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10.

-Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.