Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

P&Z: Consultant to update historic district rules, Ace Hardware for downtown and fence dispute

Planning & Zoning Commission has been trying for six years to update guidelines for historic districts but lacks staff for project
Liz Fabian
Mitzi Matthews makes her case for fence variances as her Kay Drive neighbors look on from the front row during the Aug. 14 P&Z meeting. Matthews did not apply for a permit and did not follow P&Z’s regulations in erecting the fence in response to neighbors’ alleged actions.

At first glance, an antiquated typewriter font reveals the age of decades-old design guidelines for Macon-Bibb County’s historic districts originally compiled in 1986.

Although the Planning & Zoning Commission updated the booklet five times since then, 1995 was the latest revision noted on the cover page.

In Monday’s administrative meeting before the hearings, the board authorized P&Z Executive Director Jeff Ruggieri to hire a consultant to freshen up the rules that govern a handful of Macon neighborhoods such as Vineville, InTown, Beall’s Hill and the Commercial Business Districts.

The cover page of the current Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission’s Design Guidelines for Historic Districts lists revision dates.

“A lot of people talk about how outdated they are,” Ruggieri said of the typewritten PDFs found under the Historic Preservation tab on the P&Z website.

The Design Review Board asked Ruggieri for the update after struggling in recent months with residents’ complaints about not being able to use newer construction materials or techniques.

“Our ordinance hasn’t grown with the technology,” Ruggieri said. “We want to make sure we’re doing the best we can for the district to allow newer materials and techniques, but of course protect the integrity of the historic district.”

Historic Preservation Planner Maryam Yarahmadi has been compiling a list of issues that regularly come up, such as vinyl windows homeowners installed that are not allowed in the district.

PVC trim is another element that is not listed in the guidelines, but is a longer-lasting material than many types of modern lumber and woodwork. Currently, there are no guidelines governing solar panels, either.

While historic preservation is Yarahmadi’s passion, she currently has her hands full preparing staff reports for an increasing amount of applications submitted to the Design Review Board.

“She does staff reports all day,” said P&Z’s Assistant Zoning Director Butch Sementilli.

Ruggieri plans to put out a request for qualifications to find an experienced preservationist who “lives and breathes this stuff.”

He anticipates holding public meetings for input before a revision is finalized.

Commissioners only heard testimony for one item on Monday’s hearing agenda and most of the rest of the items were placed on a consent agenda for bulk approval.

The proposed solid waste transfer station in the 4300 block of Mead Road, that has drawn opposition from nearby residents and businesses, was deferred two weeks.

Habitat for Humanity opposes the transfer station because of its proximity to the Lynmore Estates neighborhood that the organization has been revitalizing.

Less than an hour before the hearing, an attorney representing Habitat raised an issue concerning Macon-Bibb County’s codes for landfills.

P&Z deferred the to give attorneys a chance to short that out before the transfer station applicants return with an updated design.

In two earlier hearings, Commissioners asked for revisions to the design to move it away from the Lynmore Estates playground across the street from the proposed site.

Downtown the place for new Ace Hardware

Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission approved renovations for a new Ace Hardware store at the corner of First and Pine streets, which is part of the expanded Business Improvement District in downtown. (Liz Fabian)

Not since 2008, when Karsten-Denson Co. moved from 536 Third St. and concentrated efforts in Ingleside, has downtown Macon had a hardware store. George Jackson wants to change that by opening up an Ace Hardware at the corner of First and Pine streets.

This is the latest business to open outside the downtown core in the expanded downtown Business Improvement District. Vital Signs also is moving from Cherry Street to 537 Pine St.

After searching in recent years for the best location in the central business district, Jackson found enough parking and the right building in an empty strip with three adjoining commercial buildings at 672 First St.

Jackson plans to gut the interior, close in two of the store fronts and windows along Pine street to meet Ace’s requirements for shelving units.

On the sloping lot, there are two stories on back side of the building. Jackson plans to add an additional doorway on the Pine Street side store level with a staircase leading up over the downstairs space, which may be rented out for a professional office, Jackson said.

In first presenting his plans before the Design Review Board on Aug. 7, Jackson said the original Burns Brick is no longer available. Cherokee Brick can match the texture, but not the color, so the building will be painted.

A ramp will be built along the rear of the building for loading in supplies.

Although there is no room to allow a lawn and garden center, Jackson is considering having racks of seasonal plants and other goods that he can roll outside. DRB also suggested sprucing up the property with some additional landscaping, but since the lot is mostly asphalt, Jackson said he’s considering some planters at the front door.

“It’s my business, so I’ll try to make it as good as I can,” Jackson said.

P&Z took the DRB’s recommendation and gave final approval to the project Monday.

Fences don’t always make good neighbors

Poet Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors,” but apparently not in the case of an ongoing turf war between Kay Drive neighbors.

Macon-Bibb County P&Z inspectors took this photograph showing the inappropriate fence height and placement in the right of way at 3687 Kay Drive. (MBPZ)

Mitzi Matthews told P&Z she needed a fence at 3687 Kay Drive to stop her neighbors from driving their RV and camper over the corner of her yard. A portion of Charles and Paul Humphrey’s driveway and an Auburn mascot mailbox is in the right of way on Matthews’ side of the property line.

In May, P&Z informed Matthews that she needed a permit and that the fence could only be four feet tall in the front yard and must be 10 feet from her property line, which would be about 29 feet from the street.

Without filing an application, Matthews put up a six-foot-tall fence that began less than 10 feet from the edge of the pavement, which a P&Z inspector discovered about two weeks after her inquiry.

Matthews applied for two variances that would allow it to remain as constructed, but commissioners voted 3-2 against the variance in height and denied the variant for proximity to the road.

Commissioner Josh Rogers said variances are only permitted when there is no way to comply with the regulations.

Matthews went before the County Commission Tuesday evening to complain about her treatment by P&Z. She questioned the board’s autonomy in zoning matters, was upset that P&Z commissioners did not view videos she submitted, and asked for help in taking her concerns “up the chain.”

While in Monday’s P&Z meeting, Matthews heard commissioners share thoughts on other items on their agenda. During her public comments at City Hall, she said P&Z was “throwing around their power and their opinions” in her case and in denying NewTown Macon’s plans to install a large window at 536 Third St.

In that project, the Design Review Board had signed off on the plan for five new windows overlooking the alley of its loft building, but P&Z staff and commissioners had concerns.

The staff’s report stated the larger window was not “compatible in size, design or color with the rest of the existing windows on the building.”

Four windows would be new cutouts and the fifth was a larger window going into an existing opening that had been previously bricked up. Ruggieri said the larger window throws of the symmetry and recommended using one the same size as the others.

The Commission approved the project with the stipulation that all the windows be the same size. Rogers recused himself from the discussion, since he is the president and CEO of NewTown.

Other agenda items:

  • 384 Buford Place – James Douthit granted approval for exterior modifications and repairs following damage from a falling tree.
  • 1172 Georgia Ave. – Annaliese Watson’s revised plans to replace her recently installed front door were approved as long as the decorative column capitals match those on the porch. In May, P&Z determined Watson’s original upgrade, which was not previously approved, was not appropriate.
  • 522 Cherry St. – New sign approved for the Wesleyan College Leadership Lab that will be opening in downtown.
  • 1575 Forest Hill – Conditional use approval granted for the new Cafe Alo restaurant to serve alcohol and build a deck on the old Handy Andy store that was most recently a dance studio. The property is next to the old Rivalry’s sports bar.
  • 3444 Pio Nono – Permission granted for eight commercial parking spaces for dump trucks surrounding a vacant office building that Investment Solutions will use as a tax preparation office with conference room.

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

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