New eatery on College Street; Pio Nono Kroger likely to be storage units; Sonny’s BBQ on hold


Liz Fabian

The Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission held its first in-person meeting Monday since the COVID-19 outbreak closed their office to the public.

After months of wrangling, the old Kroger supermarket at 400 Pio Nono Ave. could be converted into storage units after all.

In its first in-person meeting since March, the Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission agreed to rehear the application after neighbors spoke in favor of a revised plan that carves out a portion of the 84,000 square foot-building for a potential grocery store.

In late January after neighbors cried out for another supermarket, commissioners denied Alexa Development’s proposal to build 569 climate-controlled storage units in the old store.

Community organizer Erion Smith, who finished third in the District 5 race for the Macon-Bibb County Commission, held a news conference early this month to announce the new plan unveiled in March.

The negotiated compromise reserves 15,000 square feet of the building for a grocery store and allows 517 storage units in the rest of the space.

To help combat the neighborhood’s food desert, Fickling and Company will market the building for up to three years but if a grocery tenant cannot be secured, that section could be converted to storage units or other retail space.

“I can tell you I’ve spoken to many mom-and-pops and many national clients and they recognize this is an area in need of a grocery,” realtor Trip Wilhoit told the board.

Speaking for the community in favor of the redevelopment, Smith said: “First, it brings back hope. Then, it brings food and then it brings commerce to our community.”

Seth Clark, the top vote-getter in District 5 who is now in a run-off with Carlton Kitchens, lives nearby and now also supports the project after initially speaking against it.

“The buyer’s ability up front to work with the neighbors… and not just consider their bottom line, is a sign of good faith and a sign of a good neighbor,” Clark told commissioners before they voted on whether to allow the rehearing.

“There’s nobody signed up for opposition,” P&Z executive director Jim Thomas said.

“Unbelievable,” commissioner Josh Rogers incredulously said after no one signed up to speak against a rehearing considering dozens of people rallied against the initial proposal.

The hearing on the revised project will be July 27.

The Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission is still considering a Sonny’s BBQ restaurant at the Lofts at Zebulon. (Liz Fabian)

Sonny’s BBQ back to drawing board

Before the COVID-19 lockdown, P&Z deferred the request for a Sonny’s BBQ restaurant in front of the lofts in the 5800 block of Zebulon Road.

Commissioners had objected to the building design and layout, proposed drive-thru and menu board because fast food restaurants were prohibited in the original design approved for the mixed-use development. They also had concerns about parking and encroachment on a linear park outlined in original plans for the complex.

Engineer Cleve Cunningham tweaked the proposal so that the restaurant fronts the entrance to the development, not Zebulon Road, and reduces the footprint so the project no longer interferes with the park layout.

Monday, Cunningham requested another 30-day deferral to inquire whether the barbecue chain could do without the loud speaker and menu board.

“I’ve been telling you from day one no drive thru, no menu board,” commission chairwoman Jeanne Easom told Cunningham.

“I hear you loud and clear and I’ll let my client know,” he replied.

During an administrative pre-meeting, Easom told colleagues she is committed to the original restrictions for the development and wasn’t happy with the pickup window, either.

“If we’re going to set standards and let a developer come in and bully us out of what we agreed to do for the neighborhood, what good are we doing?” Easom asked.

More big box blight

Cunningham had greater success with the commission for a new Ashley furniture store across from the Shoppes at River Crossing.

Cunningham secured rezoning and conditional use approval to clear a couple of dilapidated buildings and two heavily wooded lots totalling 3.62 acres in the 5100 block of Riverside Drive near New Forsyth Road.

The nearly 30,000 square foot-furniture store would be built next to the new Rooms To Go showroom.

After approving the project, commissioners realized it likely means Ashley’s current location on Presidential Parkway will become another empty big box store that could lead to more commercial blight in that area around Eisenhower Parkway and Macon Mall, where many businesses have fled to the north side of town.

“It’s just frustrating,” Rogers said.  “I don’t like it.”

Intown neighbors oppose apartments

Intown Macon residents blocked the conversion of a current office building into multi-family housing.

Attorney Wayne Crowley petitioned on behalf of Aaron Retter to allow rezoning for four apartments at 1055 Walnut St. at the corner of Hill Street.

Greg Fisher, president of the Intown Macon association, said the plan did not fit the neighborhood.

“We don’t want it to be the first property on the street to be multi-family,” Fisher told commissioners. “Although we hate to see it empty and we encourage investment but we want to make sure it’s done well.”

Commissioner Bryan Scott said he sided with the neighbors, as did Rogers.

They denied the multi-family rezoning but approved a conditional use for the building to house three apartments instead of four.

A Latin-inspired wood grill restaurant featuring specialty cocktails will be opening late this year in the old Milady Cleaners building on College Street. (Liz Fabian)

A restaurant for College Street

A new bridge is not the only change coming to the 800 block of College Street.

By the end of the year, a Latin-influenced restaurant and bar will be opening in the old Milady Cleaner’s location at 894 College St.

Dawn McCullar secured rezoning for “Yollah – Handcrafted Cocktails and Wood-fired Grill,” a 62-seat eatery with another 20 seats on an outdoor patio.

Although the land-use pattern is residential, the 1900-era building has always been a commercial property, according to P&Z staff reports.

She envisions “the smell of wood smoke and the buzzy sound of a happy restaurant that pours out into the street every time that front door opens.”

McCullar’s company, Taco Girl LLC, will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. She plans live music on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and from noon to 3 p.m. on Sundays.

“We definitely want to be a neighborhood eatery so we will be mindful,” McCullar told commissioners. “It’s not going to be a full rock band or anything. Just a little music to make it an experience.”

McCullar plans to hire about 20 workers before opening around November when the bridge is expected to be finished and the road reopened.

The building is nestled between Mount de Sales Academy and Alexander II Elementary School, but no one from the schools came to object to the proposed restaurant.

“I want to sell ice cream to those kids in the afternoon,” said McCullar, who also hopes to have a fire pit and games outside.

“This is a very engaged neighborhood,” Rogers said. “I would think if there was opposition, there would be people here.”

Although dozens of people did show up for the Kroger agenda item, only a handful were allowed in the meeting room.  All the chairs were spread at least 6 feet apart.

Hand sanitizer and masks were waiting for those who came to the first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Commissioners were spread out in a horseshoe configuration and every microphone had its own cloth covering.

After adjourning, commissioners and staff seemed pleased with their first effort at a socially-distanced gathering.

“It’s wonky, but it works,” Thomas said.

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected].