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The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Neighbors fight new homes; Society Garden overcomes obstacles

Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning blesses Ingleside venue expansion, wants to see new plan for Lamar Road subdivision
Liz Fabian
Engineer Steven Rowland addresses the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission about a proposed high-density cluster development on Lamar Road as an overflow crowd looks on.

About three dozen people packed into Monday’s Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission meeting to oppose a new Lamar Road subdivision, and almost as many others came to support Society Garden’s unauthorized expansion in Ingleside Village.

While Society Garden fans cheered P&Z’s approval allowing the venue to continue with its concerts, opponents of the new Capital Ridge Homes subdivision left without a ruling on that application.

The standing-room-only crowd spilled into the hallway as engineer Steven Rowland explained plans to build 120 homes on more than 35 acres in the 800 block of Lamar Road near the Zebulon Road exit of Interstate 475.

Rowland’s application seeks to rezone the land from agricultural to R-1 for single-family residential, and allow for higher density in the development.

R-1 zoning allows for lot sizes of 6,000 square feet with a minimum width of 60 feet, but the developer wants to build on lots that are 50-feet wide and 120-feet long.

Rowland said the neighborhood would be a transition from the higher density apartments down the road near Kohl’s and Lowe’s and the less dense single-family properties to the north.

So-called cluster homes with higher density are required to have community space for conservation or recreation.

P&Z Commissioner Mindy Attaway noted the green space on the proposal appeared unusable with a creek running through it. She asked if the rest of the property would be clear cut.

“For lots of this size we have to clear cut,” Rowland said. “Most of the frontage along Lamar Road will be undisturbed.”

Attorney Justin Hollingsworth said he was representing more than 200 residents of Lagrange Place who live behind the proposed construction site and oppose the development.

The green space on the plans is “essentially a mosquito hole,” Hollingsworth told commissioners.

Residents opposed to a new high-density subdivision in the 800 block of Lamar Road say drivers already speed down the street that they think is too narrow to accommodate additional traffic.

He raised concerns about changing the character of Lamar Road, overburdening already crowded schools and creating more traffic on the narrow road where speeding is already an issue.

Lamar Road resident Cora Childs said it’s already difficult to get out of her driveway from the land her family has owned for generations.

“I’m not saying I don’t want anyone to build because everyone needs a place to stay,” Childs said. “But that many homes is just too much in my neighborhood.”

P&Z Chair Jeane Easom agreed.

“I’m all about density because we’re running out of land,” Easom said. “We all want growth and we’ve got to accommodate, but in my mind this is a little bit too much.”

The commission voted to defer the matter until March 25.

“I don’t know if there’s a number that makes this a deal killer, or not,” Rowland said.

“See if you can’t come back and bring us a better plan,” Easom told him.

Society Garden addresses concerns

The Society Garden opened in Ingleside Village in 2017 when it was approved to serve about 50 people. After the venue expanded to serve up to 500 without the necessary approval, the owners applied again to P&Z in 2024 seeking to come into compliance with the regulations. (Liz Fabian)

About two dozen supporters of the Society Garden crowded into the hearing room as attorney Sarah Gerwig made the case for P&Z to allow the venue’s expansion.

In November, an anonymous noise complaint to code enforcement led to P&Z’s discovery that the beer garden expanded its outdoor stage, removed brush that served as a buffer, added stadium seating and was now serving up to 500 people, which was 10 times its original permit for 50 patrons.

Neighbors and nearby businesses also complained the beer garden patrons’ cars took up commercial parking spots and blocked access to Parker Avenue behind the venue.

Gerwig said after a January P&Z hearing, owners Brad and Meagan Evans took neighbors’ complaints very seriously and ticked off items on a check list of concerns.

Sound engineers have devised ways to better direct and absorb sound. Brad Evans said he plans to spend about $50,000 on new speakers and recently installed new sound panels.

Gerwig, a former P&Z commissioner, testified that Society Garden now has a signed agreement with a neighboring property owner for additional parking, will install a landscape buffer along Parker Avenue and secured the fire department’s authorization for up to 500 people.

She said Society Garden is dear to her heart after she got engaged and married there, and that the Evanses are “the creatives you want in your community.”

Brad Evans apologized to the board for letting his passion get the best of him following January’s meeting. On social media, he threatened to move out of Macon due to P&Z’s scrutiny.

“I am not smart enough for my brain to guide me, so I always lead with the heart. If that made life difficult for any of you on the board, I apologize. I know you have a tough job that I do not envy, and I appreciate you, truly,” Evans read from a prepared statement that he also posted on Facebook.

He said he “learned the hard way that sometimes you need to bring in experts.”

Buford Place neighbor Christine Guard, who testified in January that her historic home windows rattle during larger concerts, was the lone opponent speaking at Monday’s hearing.

She said supporters of the venue have threatened her almost daily.

Guard repeated that she was not behind the anonymous complaint, but still opposes allowing live music in a C-1 commercial district. She said other neighbors feel the same way.

“I’ve gotten many calls from people who just didn’t come,” Guard said.

As P&Z deliberated, Commissioner Kesia Stafford noted Society Garden’s overwhelming support in the room.

“I don’t think the point was to try to shut you down. I think the point was to line you up with code. Grandmama always said you pay the price out of your pocket or pay it out your behind,” Stafford said.

Easom recognized that nightclubs characterized by amplified live music are not permitted in that C-1 zoning, but said it became a “vested right” in 2017 when P&Z approved occasional concerts with outdoor speakers.

“An exception was made,” Easom said. “It seemed more wrong to say ‘no’ at this point. … We never wanted to shut you down. If we did, we would have shut you down in January.”

Evans said they will end concerts at 10 p.m. and that the couple was “willing to bend as long as we don’t break.”

Other agenda items

  • 5040 Brookhaven Road — P&Z again denied the opening of a nightclub in a former store in a strip shopping center next to Walmart on Harrison Road. Commissioners originally denied Lanita Hunt’s request on Jan. 8 due to concerns over adjacent residential zoning, but she appealed. Hunt did not appear at either meeting.
  • 5250 Riverside Drive — Riverside Centre developers are permitted to add an additional 1.26-acre tract to nearly 49 acres approved in December to house a wholesale club, restaurants, retail shops and offices not far from the Shoppes at River Crossing.
  • 855 Gray Highway — Shayan Masood wants to reopen a convenience store with fuel pumps in an existing building that has been vacant since 2016. P&Z denied his request due to new regulations prohibiting fueling stations within 500 feet of homes. Attorney Bill Larsen unsuccessfully argued that the project should be approved because his client bought the property before the regulations changed in 2022.
  • 4031, 4035 Cavalier Drive — Conditional use approval granted for Eberhardt Industries to build two 14,500-square-foot office or warehouse buildings. The buildings will be connected by a 3,000-square-foot truck loading dock.
  • 4120 Riverside Drive — Carly Fabrizio and Whitney Development are allowed to add 42 climate-controlled self-storage units in about 6,000 square feet of vacant space inside a commercial building on site.
  • 3020 Avondale Mill Road — Hope’s New Beginning and applicant Jimese Lightfoot are allowed to convert the old Knox Pest Control 3,060-square-foot warehouse into a recreation center for adults and children with developmental disabilities. The 1,600-square-foot office building on site will be used for management offices and meetings with foster parents.
  • 2138 Allen Road — P&Z approved the conditional use application for JC’s Tree & Stump Removal and Jerad Henry to place a mobile home for a caretaker watchman on the 16.3-acre parcel.

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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