$150M colossal chicken chiller to bring 175 jobs; P&Z wrestles with convenience stores

Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning nixes convenience store, upholds permit in commissioner’s “worst decision” on the board


Liz Fabian

Attorney Bill Larsen argues against Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning granting an appeal of a convenience store permit at the corner of Wesleyan and Northside drives.

About 175 new jobs are expected in east Bibb County at a planned $150 million cold storage automated warehouse for the poultry industry.

Monday, the Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission approved the project which will result in a 250,000 square-foot-facility built in two phases at 917 Joe Tamplin Industrial Blvd. at the corner of Riggins Mill Road.

John Ripple, senior vice president of automation for Agile Cold Storage, said this would be the company’s third operation in Georgia after nearly identical facilities in Gainesville and Cartersville.

Poultry coming into the building would be flash frozen and stored for distribution, Ripple said.

The project is expected to break ground later this summer with Phase 2 construction beginning after Phase 1 opens.

The first building will be 150,000 square feet and 60-feet tall with a capacity of 22,000 pallet positions and require 100 workers.

“This will primarily be focused on our poultry customers and provide blast service and export to Savannah,” the application stated.

Phase 2 will add 100,000 square feet, reaching 125 feet tall, and housing 50,000 pallet positions and seven cranes in an Automated Storage and Retrieval System or ASRS operation.

“It’s a massive building,” P&Z Commissioner Josh Rogers noted in the administrative briefing on the agenda items.

“The added height for the ASRS portion of the structure will allow a significantly more efficient operation to occur,” the application stated. “This design reduces the structure’s footprint and increases the energy efficiency of the operation.”

The project, slated for land currently owned by the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, will have a 150 foot-buffer of undisturbed trees around most of the building except where a stormwater retention pond will narrow that buffer to about 60 feet.\\

‘Probably the worst decision’

Old codes and policies caught up again with planning & zoning commissioners as they navigated a lengthy agenda with over 20 items to consider at Monday’s hearing. One of the most complicated matters involved denying an appeal of a staff-issued permit for a new convenience store.

Although a recent change in the code requires a convenience store’s fuel pumps and tanks to be at least 500 feet from homes to avoid harmful fumes, developer Tony Widner submitted an application for a new store at 1193 Wesleyan Drive before the new distance requirement was added to the Comprehensive Land Development Resolution.

Because a convenience store formerly was allowed in the C-5 Neighborhood Convenience Center district at the corner of Northside Drive, Widner secured his permit without the commission holding a hearing. Monday, Widner came before P&Z after an appeal was filed by neighbors opposed to the store who didn’t have a chance to voice concerns before staff issued the permit.

Commissioners also didn’t have the opportunity to weigh in on the plans because the application was grandfathered in for approval.

“If I had heard this, I wouldn’t have approved it,” P&Z Chair Jeane Easom said before Monday’s hearing as commissioners discussed an appeal of that store permit.

Neighbor Mark Strozier, who happens to be P&Z’s communications manager, appealed the staff decision due to concerns about additional flooding from the proposed development and the existing prevalence of nearby stores and gas stations.

“As an employee of Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning appealing a staff decision, this is awkward,” Strozier admitted as he began his testimony. “However, I’m before you today as a citizen and homeowner with a very real problem that needs to go on the record.”

Strozier told the commission that he was trying to protect his property from damage and erosion due to stormwater flooding from Langford Creek that has gotten worse since he bought his home in 1989. He fears the problem will be exacerbated by the new construction near the creek’s flood plain.

More than a dozen people submitted written objections to the store permit and Strozier was joined by neighbors Pam Webster and Forrest Edwards in speaking against the project at Monday’s hearing.

“Our neighborhood has always been very family centered and this vice mart is not,” Webster said.

“I can’t help but imagine the future of an establishment like that will continue to deteriorate after a period of blossoming,” Edwards said. “I feel like it’s a detriment to install another convenience store in our neighborhood.”

In the administrative meeting before Monday’s hearing, P&Z’s attorney Pope Langstaff briefed commissioners that the law requires the permit to stand because it was appropriate at the time it was issued, even if the application would be rejected now because of the store’s proximity to homes.

Once the appeal was filed, P&Z issued a cease-and-desist order to temporarily suspend the permit to allow the appeal process to go forward. Staff also realized the property was near the flood plain which required an additional development permit.

In the interim, P&Z received a report from county engineer Charles Brooks about flooding.

“After reviewing the floodplain maps along with the development plans and hydro report, the proposed C-store development will actually decrease the flow to Langford Branch,” Brooks stated in an email.

P&Z Commissioner Tim Jones seemed conflicted about denying the appeal.

“I live right around the corner,” Jones said. “It’s personal, but I also understand the law.”

Commissioner Rogers pointed to the information they learned months ago about potentially harmful benzene being detected 500 feet from fuel pumps and tanks. That knowledge led to the new distance requirements now in effect.

“It’s a horrible place. It’s a terrible place,” Rogers said in the pre-meeting.

During the hearing, Rogers vented his frustration about having to deny the appeal for legal reasons because of the environmental concerns that have come to light.

“I think this absolutely sucks,” Rogers said. “This is probably the worst decision I’m having to make in my time on the board.”

The board voted to deny the appeal based on Langstaff’s legal advice.

Convenience store with fuel pumps denied

Developer Jim Rollins planned to demolish the former Handy Andy and old Darrell’s to build a new convenience store near the corner of Forsyth and Monroe streets. (Liz Fabian)

In recent weeks, developer Jim Rollins made multiple trips to P&Z and the Design Review Board seeking approval for a new convenience store at the corner of Forsyth and Monroe Streets.

As the plan evolved, the existing store built as a “Handy Andy” in 1966 and the old Darrell’s Neighborhood Grill would be demolished for new construction.

Members on both boards had multiple concerns about fuel tanker trucks safely getting in and out of the property, increased traffic in the neighborhood and the site plan lacking details about sidewalks and landscaping.

Multiple commissioners and board members commented on the speed of traffic coming in from Vineville and off Interstate 75.

“They fly down there,” Easom noted.

“I’m concerned just in general about negative effects for property values and livability. Doesn’t seem like a good location,” Rogers said. “It’s a highly pedestrian corridor and will be even more so with a new store.”

Jones questioned whether tanker trucks will be traveling down Monroe Street.

“Monroe is already traveled by mail trucks,” Jones pointed out.

Rollins specified that fuel would only be delivered between 9 p.m.-10 p.m.

“When everybody’s trying to get to sleep,” Rogers added.

Commissioners discussed deferring the application to get more information about sidewalks and to await a review from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

June 6, after the Design Review Board expressed safety concerns over the site plan, they deferred the item to seek more information.

Monday, DRB Chair Chris Clark shared concerns with P&Z colleagues about motorists using the layout of the new store as a cut-through to circumvent the traffic light at Monroe Street.

“Somebody’s going to get killed,” Clark said. “Everybody going downtown deserves a safe trip and this doesn’t make it.”

P&Z commissioners agreed.

“I think this is an inappropriate use for this location,” Jones said.

“I feel the same way,” Commissioner Bryan Scott said.

Easom said since commissioners were leaning toward a denial, deferring until the next meeting to further develop the plans would be futile.

Commissioners voted against allowing the new store.

Other agenda items

Storage units are now planned in the old Piggly Wiggly supermarket near the corner of Eisenhower Parkway and Pio Nono Avenue. (Liz Fabian)
  • 1250 Eisenhower Parkway – Indoor mini-warehouse storage approved for the old Piggly Wiggly supermarket near the corner of Pio Nono Avenue. Nomad Capital plans up to 500 storage units ranging from 5X5 feet to 10X20 feet that will be managed by City Storage LLC. The company plans new electrical, HVAC, roofing and painting in the building that was originally slated for light manufacturing in a prior rezoning decision last fall.
  • 2820 Jordan Ave. – Century Complete received conditional use approval to build 20 new homes in the Emerald Forest neighborhood. The homes ranging from 1700 to 1800 square feet will be listed in the low $200,000 price range. The street was originally platted before the housing recession of 2008 stalled development.
  • 3755 Bloomfield Road – Erika Thomas granted permission to operate an adult daycare facility to help bridge the gap in the shortage of home healthcare workers. The business near the old Olive Garden location will be open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • 4173 Cavalier Drive – Kunj Investments request to rezone the location from Multi-Family Residential to a General Commercial district was deferred to July 25.
  • 4480 Riverside Drive – Susan Helton of SAFE, Saving Animals from Euthanasia, is approved to open a clinic and business office to supplement her mobile veterinary business and spay and neuter surgeries.
  • 4665 Ivey Drive – Widner & Associates received approval for a new office-warehouse complex on 2.06 acres with two 10,000 square-foot-buildings and another building that is 5,000 square feet.
  • 4691 Log Cabin Drive – Alexis Austin withdrew the application to allow a used auto sales lot after P&Z required her to pave the parking lot or put down gravel. Austin decided to try to break her lease and find another more suitable location.
  • 4747 Donnan Road – Jaime C. Deguzman Jr. was granted permission to operate a retreat for families and churches on nearly 75 acres near the Twiggs County line.
  • 4951 Riverside Drive – P&Z approved redevelopment of a commercial site across from the Shoppes at River Crossing. Rowland Engineering plans to demolish the old State Farm Insurance office and warehouse and build three new retail buildings including a quick-serve restaurant with a drive-thru, an automatic car wash and an additional retail space at Gateway Drive.
  • 5761 Houston Road – Felicia Howard was approved to open a bakery with outside seating in what was formerly known as The Cottage. Howard also plans to teach cake decorating classes in this new second location for Felicia’s Cake Factory to supplement her downtown business on Third Street.
  • 5771 Zebulon Road – Rowland Engineering approved to build a new retail building on the southeast corner of the Lofts at Zebulon. The nearly 7,500 square-foot-building with a 15 foot-patio will house five units including one for a potential restaurant with a pickup window.
  • 389 Mulberry St. – P&Z and the Design Review Board approved new windows for the old Macon Hotel built about 100 years ago and converted to offices in 1980.
  • 664 Second St. – Design Review Board and P&Z approved Longleaf Distillery’s plans to redesign the old If It’s Paper building and remove the storefront windows and replace them to mimic steel warehouse windows. Owners also plan a wood deck off the tasting room.
  • 893 Riverside Drive – Sign approved for the new convenience store at the corner of Spring Street.
  • 1059 Washington Ave. – Exterior modifications, including new siding, were approved for the c1900 bungalow.
  • 1435 Forsyth St. – P&Z and DRB approved Susan Wilson’s plans to modify her c1920 bungalow with new windows and replacement siding.

-*An earlier story had an outdated dollar figure of $130 million for the Agile Cold Storage facility.

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