Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

P&Z OKs Allman Brothers Big House Museum demolition plans, solid waste transfer station

Both applicants struggled for months to get approval and may face other hurdles before the projects are up and running
Liz Fabian
The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission approved demolition of this 1915 house at 2353 Vineville Ave.

Security had to corral disgruntled neighbors leaving Monday’s meeting of the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission after a 3-2 vote approving demolition of a once-condemned historic house owned by the Allman Brothers Big House Museum Foundation.

Those who spoke in opposition to the demolition and the Big House’s plans to build an event center in its place will have another opportunity for input. The museum must come back for Conditional Use approval to use the new building as an event center to be filed under the new museum commercial district P&Z approved in April.

The house to be demolished at 2353 Vineville Ave. is called the Catherine Brewer Benson house by preservationists trying to save it for its significance to international women’s history. Wesleyan College graduate Catherine Brewer was the first woman in the world to receive a Bachelor’s degree by virtue of being at the head of the alphabet in the 1840 graduating class of 11 women, but whether she actually lived in that specific house is still in dispute.

The Brewer Benson connection was noted by preservationists in an April 2022 media alert in advance of a planned town hall meeting that was canceled due to severe weather.

The foundation argued that the existing structure was cobbled together from pieces of other buildings on the Brewer estate in 1915, about six years after Brewer Benson’s death, which means she couldn’t have lived there.

All members of the Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission were in attendance for the Oct. 23 vote that split 3-2 to allow demolition of the 1915 house at 2353 Vineville Ave. (Liz Fabian)

Commissioner Josh Rogers, who opposed the demolition along with Chair Jeane Easom, said the Brewer Benson debate was a red herring because the house contributes to the Vineville Historic District designation, and the “code requires them to keep it” no matter who lived there.

Rogers also noted the foundation paid about $1.7 million to restore the Big House where the Allman Brothers Band lived for about two years in the early 70s, so he felt spending more than a million to save this structure was not unreasonable.

Big House board treasurer Jim Wells explained that the house would have to be gutted, the walls held up by a steel exoskeleton and essentially rebuilt.

“To ask the Big House to restore a house that is old, but does not have historical connections a lot of people maintain it does, and end up with a house they spent nearly double what it’s worth, is not reasonable,” Wells said.

Brewer family home destroyed by fire

During P&Z testimony, Wells explained that the Brewer family owned 40 acres bordered by Corbin and Rogers avenues. The family’s grand home, where Brewer may have actually lived, burned in 2007 as the foundation was still trying to develop the museum, he said.

The Brewer house lost to fire had been moved up on the property to front Vineville in between the Big House and the house to be demolished.

Susan Long, then president of the Vineville Neighborhood Association, said the 2007 owner of the Brewer family home wanted to turn it into 10 apartments, which she didn’t think would get P&Z approval. A short time later, an unsolved arson fire destroyed the building, and the foundation later bought the property, she told The Macon Newsroom.

In 2015, the Big House also purchased 2353 Vineville with the idea of using it for music classes, event space and archive storage. The museum had established a drumming school there through the Bibb County School District, according to P&Z testimony.

After the foundation raised money to put on a new roof and stabilize the building, they noticed the hodgepodge construction and unknown structural fire damage when they began renovation in 2019.

The Big House Foundation highlighted the Feb. 2021 letter that condemned the house they planned to restore. (Liz Fabian)

In February of 2021, the county’s chief building official reviewed a structural engineer’s report and condemned the house. Mayor Lester Miller rescinded that order, stating he wanted all sides to be able to present arguments to P&Z as to whether the house should be saved.

In the interim, the house next door at 2363 went on the market, and the foundation purchased it in 2021.

Since the Big House now had another place for archives, they planned to tear down 2353 and put in a landscaped garden. In Aug. of 2022, P&Z rejected those plans in part due to fears the museum was planning an amphitheater for larger concerts.

Nearly 250 people from 34 states signed a petition against the demolition and garden plans.

Nearby  neighbors also objected, and preservationists argued Vineville didn’t need to lose another historic home from a streetscape that is already in peril from commercial encroachment.

To appease those concerns, the foundation went back to the drawing board and proposed a new building which recently won the support of the Vineville Neighborhood Association, which represents up to 200 families, said VNA President Will Davis.

The plans went through a few revisions to please the Design Review Board, which voted 2-1 to approve the demolition under the condition that P&Z staff sign off on the landscaping plan.

Although P&Z Commissioner Gary Bechtel voted in favor of demolition as a matter of private property rights, Easom said she was trying to be fair to others in the historic district who are forced to use certain materials and comply with regulations.

“Regardless of whether this is the (Brewer) Benson house or not, it is in a historic district, and we are required to preserve those,” Easom said.

Neighbor Scott Stradley, who was one of the more vocal opponents of demolition, recently was required to restore the upper floor of a fire-damaged house on Lamar Street instead of converting it to one-story as he proposed.

Bechtel pointed out that in most of the historic district cases P&Z deals with, the property owners are looking for guidance on how to preserve the house, but that is not the case any longer with the Big House.

Waste transfer station struggles

The applicants for a waste transfer station in the 4300 block of Mead Road also secured a 4-1 P&Z victory after months of wrangling.

Neighboring businesses, Lynmore Estates neighbors and Habitat for Humanity argued against the transfer station due to its proximity to a county park and homes, increased traffic and potential for odor and drawing rodents.

P&Z Commissioner Tim Jones said he visited the site and could smell the garbage from an existing Mead Road transfer station down the street.

“There’s no way you can contain the odor that will be coming from that transfer station,” Jones said. “It’s across the street from a playground and neighborhood. Homeowners have the same rights as the applicant. They should be able to enjoy their property.”

The other four commissioners voted for the transfer station after the applicants had moved the facility about 1,300 feet off the road, and placed the entrance away from the park and Crown Candy.

The applicants could still have challenges ahead with the county under its Solid Waste and Materials Management Plan.

Attorney John Kennedy, center, and Kelvin Seagraves present their Mead Road solid waste transfer station proposal at the Oct. 23 Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission meeting. (Liz Fabian)

Attorney John Kennedy represents applicants Mead Road Environmental 2 and Eberhardt Industries.

Bechtel asked Kennedy’s opinion on whether Macon-Bibb County’s current moratorium on placement and building of new private solid waste facilities will have an effect on this project. Kennedy, who also serves in the Georgia Senate, said that under well-settled due process law the moratorium won’t apply because the application was already in progress when the county enacted the moratorium last month.

An opponent of the facility testified that the county was trying to block this project with the moratorium, but during Tuesday’s taping of the Ask Mayor Miller program, Mayor Lester Miller said it wasn’t necessarily the intent of the moratorium to “throw everything out the window.” Miller said the moratorium will allow time to evaluate the county’s Solid Waste and Materials Management Plan, which was not reviewed and updated by a 2021 deadline.

Kennedy cautioned against the county taking legal action against the transfer station under the moratorium because the “law is so well settled” that Macon-Bibb could be “subject to frivolous litigation penalties.”

The matter is further complicated by the county’s plans to build its own transfer station on Eleventh Street. Miller said he still believes the Mead Road project must be approved by the county under the management plan that was enacted in 2015.

He noted the county’s current solid waste franchise agreement also could affect the operation of a private transfer station.

“Someone thinking they’re gonna run a lot of trash in our community through another transfer station that’s going to open up, is going to be in for a sad day when they know that it has to go through our Macon-Bibb County one, and that will help us substantiate our solid waste plan, as well,” Miller said.

New homes and more

  • 1677 Forest Hill Road – Conditional Use granted for construction of a 288-unit multi-family development. This is a revised proposal after a plan for 310 residential units was approved last year, but the approval expired and zoning compliance was never issued. The new plan calls for 10 residential buildings containing studio apartments, and one-, two-, and three-bedroom units.
  • 2600 Pineworth Road – Rezoning granted, and Conditional Use approved to allow for a cluster development for Phase 2 of the Kinsale neighborhood. Construction stalled during the 2008 recession.
  • 149 Buford Place  – Rick and Jennifer Dews granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace windows in the Vineville Historic District.
  • 416 Orange Street – Jeremy Tucker will be allowed to replace four windows using the new Fibrex material of reclaimed wood fiber and thermoplastic polymer. Although the material is not listed in the list of appropriate materials for historic districts, the Design Review Board approved the Certificate of Appropriateness because those guidelines are under review.
  • 1278 Jefferson Terrace – The Design Review Board came up with a compromise for homeowners who replaced failing vinyl windows on the side of their house in the InTown Historic District. Although prior owners initially improperly installed vinyl windows on the whole side of the house, DRB approved replacing only the two most visible from the street with appropriate materials for the district.
  • 835 Forsyth Street – Hanging sign approved for the new Bear’s Books in a row of restored businesses down from H&H.
  • 1020 Riverside Drive – Signage approved for AlaMed Injury Clinics.
  • 596 Arlington Place – Certificate of Appropriateness granted for Jimmy Cassidy’s new garage and fence.
  • 1523 Ginny Drive – Variance granted in setbacks for a single-family dwelling.
  • 3700 block of Vineville – Rezoning approved to allow a professional office. The Conditional Use application was approved on the condition that a final site plan must come back before the commission.
  • 3742 Vineville – Conditional Use permit approved to allow a professional office.

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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