Liberty Church Road neighbors battle rezoning off Industrial Hwy.

Developers don’t have a plan or clients ready to build but sought zoning change to make 88 acres more marketable


Liz Fabian

Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning commissioners heard a rezoning request March 14 for 88 acres at the corner of Industrial Highway.

Residents of a subdivision in South Bibb County have a wooded buffer behind their homes and told the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission they don’t want apartments on it.

At Monday’s hearing, commissioners entertained a proposal to rezone 88 acres at 2520 Liberty Church Road next to Liberty Estates from single-family residential to a planned development extraordinary to allow a variety of uses at the corner of  Industrial Highway, which is U.S. 41.

The proposed zoning designation permits anything from light industrial uses, to commercial buildings and multi-family dwellings.

Applicants Cunningham & Company Engineers and Geeslin & Wrigley Investments told commissioners the rezoning would make the land easier to market with more options.

P&Z’s Gary Bechtel recused himself from the discussion because he is the commercial realtor listing the eight lots.

James and Judy Lawson live on Liberty Church Road just west of the undeveloped land.

“I do not want to see 120 apartments coming over to overrun our schools. I know how they go, they wind up Section 8,” Judy Lawson said. “To me it will hurt the value of our property.”

Her husband suggested, “What we really need out there is some good places to eat.”

The Lawsons’ neighbor, Donna Bell, also said she was was worried about property values and increased traffic on Liberty Church Road.

“I just feel with the congestion and with the traffic on a two-lane road like Liberty Church Road… there’s not going to be enough flow,” Bell said.

Oliver Bateman, who lives to the southwest of the site, also voiced concerns about the ambiguity of what will be built.

“My biggest concern is not the light industrial or the convenience store, it’s the radical shift in density to 240 apartments without a developer in place,” Bateman said. “It just seems extremely vague to me at this time just for marketing purposes.”

In 2007, Macon-Bibb P&Z rezoned land on Liberty Church Road from M-1, wholesale and light industrial, to single-family residential to allow for 156 lots for homes in Liberty Estates. (Liz Fabian)

A handful of Liberty Estates residents whose neighborhood backs up to the property also spoke against the rezoning.

Samuel Singleton settled there about a decade ago on two lots where he plans to retire.

“What I would like to see out there is possibly more restaurants to eat out or continue to build the neighborhood with single-family,” Singleton said.

Ron Harris moved to the Liberty Estates neighborhood from Miami.

“We really don’t want all that extra stuff out there,” Harris said. “I like to feed my deer that come to the back of my yard and I’m pretty sure if they start tearing that up that will go away, and that means a lot to me and my children.”

Lakeisha Denmark, who also owns a home on Liberty Estates Drive, said she believes an apartment complex would devalue her property.

“We have kids on our street who like to go out and play and they can play comfortably,” Denmark said. “If you have activity in the back of your subdivision… that’s something you have to worry about.”

Because the lots for the proposed rezoning have not been sold, “You don’t know what you’re going to get,” she said.

Burt Wilkerson, one of two proponents of the project, took notes as nearly 10 neighbors continued to object.

“Anything that happens out there has to come back to the commission. Nothing is being approved today,” Wilkerson said.

The zoning redesignation would require P&Z approval for any use of the property.

“I think there’s been enough concerns raised today that I think we need to wait until we have a plan,” P&Z chairwoman Jeane Easom said.

The commission’s Josh Rogers also pointed out that it is difficult for opponents of development, or those who will be affected by it, to keep coming back for future hearings.

“It’s a big deal to show up,” Rogers said. “I think by the applicants’ own testimony, improving the marketability is not a basis for rezoning.”

Commissioners unanimously denied the rezoning, with Bechtel abstaining.

New car lot on Napier Avenue

The third time before P&Z provided a better outcome for Brian and Ebony Washington, of BSW Auto Sales, who want to open a used car lot.

In January, commissioners told attorney James Hamp the Washingtons’ 2019 approval for the lot at 2999 Weaver Road expired because they did not get the necessary permits within a year. The company was operating without permits and was ordered to cease operation earlier this year.

In the interim, the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority objected to the car lot due to its proximity to GEICO and YKK.

The Washingtons’ company purchased the lot after the 2019 approval. They are now looking for an alternative use for the site, their attorney said.

BSW Auto Sales plans to open a used car lot at 3737 Napier Ave., the former home of Macon Power. (Liz Fabian)

Hamp was back Monday with Ebony Washington and a new proposal for a car lot at the old Macon Power location at 3737 Napier Ave.

“We are moving forward and found a great spot,” Hamp told commissioners.

He noted the double fence around the property, laser motion detectors for security and 82 parking spaces.

“I just think it’s a great location for us to keep serving the community,” Ebony Washington said.

Her husband has been selling cars for about 15 years, Hamp said.

“Site seems pretty close to perfect. It’s an attractive building,” Rogers said.

P&Z’s Tim Jones also pointed out the renovations to the building on the property that backs up to the Brookdale Resource Center.

Commissioners approved the car lot, but let Washington and Hamp know they needed to come back for sign permits.

Hearing results

P&Z commissioners also approved the following items:

222 Corbin Ave. – Exterior modifications to the porch and home approved.

1057 Parkway Drive – Two Men and a Truck moving company approved to house their company on a 1.22-acre-lot.

1070 Parkway Drive – Widner & Associates approved to build a 3,000-square-foot warehouse/office space on 2.6 acres in a planned development extraordinary district.

1610 Broadway – Appeal of staff denial preventing a fuel center to reopen at the corner of Concord Street was postponed until March 28 after applicant Mehulkumar Chaudhari failed to show Monday.

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