Historic building rezoned for lofts as Central City Commons hits P&Z snag

Downtown developers of new hotel, apartments must produce parking plans and property agreements with county


Liz Fabian

Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning approved rezoning this portion of the Macon Historic Railroad Industrial Neighborhood to allow for residential lofts at Seventh and Mulberry streets.

Renovations of two downtown Macon historic buildings cleared the Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission Monday, but the Central City Commons development needs further consideration.

P&Z approved rezoning 1.66 acres in the 300 block of Seventh Street from Heavy Industrial to Central Business District which will allow construction of 55 residential lofts.

P&Z’s Gary Bechtel recused himself from the hearing because his employer, Bob Lewis & Associates, listed the property. Commission Chairwoman Jeane Easom also disclosed she appraised the property for the bank, but does not have a financial interest in the project.

Plans call for a pool, fire pit, athletic courts and a dog walking area in between the residential loft buildings in the old Macon Grocery Warehouses. (Liz Fabian)

Ryan Sanders of Hephaestus Development said the residential complex, which includes 148 Mulberry St., will feature a communal pool, outdoor fireplace, athletic courts and a dog walking area.

“We believe this investment into the Central Business District will continue to revitalize… and expand the footprint of the city… and address the housing shortage as it currently exists,” Sanders told commissioners.

The vacant buildings once housed the former Macon Grocery Warehouse across from Willingham Sash & Door Company. The red brick building at 311 Seventh St. has a marker designating its inclusion in the Macon Railroad Industrial Historic Neighborhood District of the National Register of Historic Places.

Central City Commons parking issues

P&Z commissioners want more information from Central City Commons developers before agreeing to a six-story, 230-unit apartment building at Second and Plum streets and a new 152-room boutique hotel on Poplar Street.

Crescent Corners would feature about 230 apartments, a commercial gym and coffee shop.
A 152-unit boutique hotel with an entertainment alley is planned for 678 Poplar Street.

The project has undergone multiple revisions over the past decade and commissioners discussed making sure the developers have the proper agreements with Macon-Bibb County to deed over necessary alleys, secure land from other owners for the development and come to a parking agreement with condominium owners in the old Telephone Exchange building at Second and Poplar streets.

Several of the condo owners attended the meeting to voice concerns about potentially losing access to their private parking lot with the way the new buildings are configured.

Michael Barber, who spoke on behalf of the homeowners’ association, said he first heard about the project when reading last week’s news of the Design Review Board’s rejection of the initial drawings.

“Right now, I have an exclusive parking lot,” Barber said. “To see it disappear without being approached is just concerning.”

Easom and the rest of the board discussed those property issues in their administrative meeting before Monday’s hearing.

“We understand that,” Easom told Barber. “We would not approve anything that didn’t have accommodations for you. … Your access will not be hindered unless it’s something you’ve come under agreement with the developers.”

Realtor Tim Thornton, who has been working on this project with partner Miller Heath III for the last several years, said they currently control enough property to meet their own parking needs, but want to include a parking deck in the center of the block.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the major construction project, the MMI-Thornton partnership had an agreement with the Urban Development Authority to provide bonds to finance construction of the deck. The parking structure was a crucial component of the hotel, which originally was slated to be a Hyatt Place before the deal fell through.

Thornton said through their partnership with Opterra Capital real estate investors, they are close to announcing the new boutique hotelier, which will allow them greater design flexibility in paying homage to Macon’s history.

Thornton could have brought commissioners an alternative plan which met all the parking needs, he said, but wants to try again to come to an agreement with UDA.

The authority wants to provide more parking downtown and is currently considering a proposal from another developer to partner in financing construction of a parking deck behind City Hall for an additional residential loft project. That deck would provide enough space to accommodate county government workers’ vehicles.

“We firmly feel there’s a win-win-win to provide extra parking to accommodate the neighbors, the hotel parking and enhance downtown and our project,” Thornton said. “We think we can make a win-win out of it and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

P&Z’s Josh Rogers said he supports approving the project but wants documentation in place first.

“What you plan to do must be in evidence before we approve it,” Rogers sad.

Commissioners voted to continue consideration of the hotel and Crescent Corners apartments until April 25.

The first floor of the Newman Building is expected to house a new restaurant, according to the application. (Liz Fabian)

P&Z did approve the Central City Commons plans to renovate the historic Newman Building at First and Poplar.

Opterra’s Chief Development Office Naomi Mirsky called the 1891 brick building with a corner turret “a hidden gem.”

“Our intention is to restore the building itself and bring it back to its former glory,” Mirsky said.

The renovation is expected to feature a ground floor restaurant and remodeled upper floors to serve as a ballroom and event space for the hotel.

“Your project, both the apartments and the hotel, are a hugely significant contribution to this community,” Easom said. “We want to help you as much as we can, but we also have to take into consideration all the other property owners.”

On April 18, the developers’ hotel and apartment building proposals are set to go back to the Design Review Board with tweaks on the exterior drawings which did not win over the board last week.

Convenience store denials reversed

The Planning & Zoning Commission also agreed to issue necessary permits for two convenience store projects that were previously denied.

Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning reversed its denial and will allow another convenience store to move into the old Quick Zip at 1610 Broadway. (Liz Fabian)

Staff initially refused Mehulkumar Chaudrhari’s request to reopen the old Public Safety Oil and Quick Zip location at 1610 Broadway at the corner of Concord Street.

Attorney Bill Larsen was able to show proof that the store has not been vacant for more than two years and should be grandfathered in and exempt from new regulations passed in January that prohibit fuel tanks, pumps or storage vents within 500 feet from a residence or residentially zoned property.

Permission was granted for the store because of its history, even though the fuel pumps and canopies are at least halfway into the right-of-way on Broadway.

In the other prior application denial at 1928 Shurling Drive, The Summit Group’s Jim Rollins successfully advocated for a rehearing with a redesigned proposal for a new 4,000 square-foot-store to replace the old one built in 1959 that most recently served as a pawn shop.

The new design eliminates access on Bayswater Drive that P&Z objected to. Staff also recommended a landscaped buffer and 6-foot fence to separate the store from nearby homes.

This application was submitted before the new restrictions on fuel tank placement and will be designated as legally non-compliant for the new regulations.

The store design and property layout still must receive approval from the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department whose representative shared doubts about whether there is enough access for refueling trucks on the half-acre parcel.

Also approved Tuesday:

1190 Wesleyan Drive – Michael Nungesser of Five Star Painting received conditional use approval to build a professional office at the corner of Wesleyan and Northside drives.

3020 Riverside Drive – New Genesis car dealership approved on the site of the old Jackson Automobile Group buildings that date back to 1979.

3465 Williamson Road – Benita Robinson was approved for a rental car agency to share space with an existing self-service carwash next to a convenience store.

7100 Knoxville Road – P&Z approved Samuel Creamer’s request to put a new manufactured home with decks on a 1.21 acre-lot.

156 Rogers Ave. – Landscape changes are approved for the home of Elliott Fernandez and Lloyd Clark.

173 First St. – Bennie Coleman received approval for installing windows to create two apartments in the old WDEN radio station building across from the vacant high-rise hotel.

6443 Zebulon Road – Deidra Wilson was approved to allow the Giggles & Wiggles play and discovery center in a commercial multi-tenant building.

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