Sardis Road truck stop has hurdles to overcome with rezoning

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Liz Fabian

Neighbors opposed to the Travel Centers of America truck stop on Sardis Church Road voice frustrations during a delay in Monday’s hearing at Macon-Bibb County Commission chambers.

Anticipating a crowd opposing another truck stop on Sardis Church Road, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission moved Monday’s hearing to Commission Chambers at Government Center.

Although the space allowed for social distancing due to COVID-19, a sheriff’s deputy kept a watchful eye on the headcount as about a dozen masked residents signed in to speak against the project.

Jessica Malone, who lives a few doors down from the 5250 Sardis Church Road site, says her family’s safety is her priority.

“We’ve noticed a huge uptick in non-residential traffic,” Malone said. “A lot more camping around Love’s truck stop. We have concerns those people camping in the woods will be pushed out into properties.”

Her neighbors also objected to increased traffic, noise and light pollution, displacement of wild animals including destructive feral hogs and environmental concerns from stormwater runoff near wetlands.

At a February hearing, others spoke against the proposal for a Travel Centers of America truck stop, convenience store and repair shop from DG Development Partners and Foresite Group. The opposition led to the item being deferred to allow for a traffic study.

The Foresite Group’s David Stoneicki told Macon-Bibb County P&Z commissioners that a revised plan leaves a 150-foot-buffer between the development and houses to allay neighbors’ concerns. (Liz Fabian)

Foresite’s David Stoniecki explained the recently conducted research showed the Interstate 75 interchange did not produce sufficient criteria for the Georgia Department of Transportation to install a signal. Macon-Bibb County traffic engineers believe a signal light is necessary due to the burgeoning industrial complex along Frank Amerson Parkway which ends across the road from the proposed new truck stop. The industry-rich parkway parallels the southbound side of the interstate between the Hartley Bridge and Sardis Church exits.

“We want a traffic signal,” Stoniecki said. “I think the concern that our developer feels is that we might be showing up at the wrong time. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back on getting the traffic signal and we’re trying to decide if we own 100 percent of that cost… or if we can own our share.”

A traffic light could cost about $200,000, commissioners discussed in their administrative meeting.

P&Z Commissioner Gary Bechtel said the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority has expressed a desire for the light and could be willing to bear some of the cost along with the county.

The developers wanted to rezone the 30-acre parcel from agricultural to light industrial, which coincides with the Amerson Parkway Corridor and the Love’s truck stop across the street.

Commissioner Bryan Scott, who chaired the meeting, suggested only rezoning the 20 acres for the truck stop and leaving the remaining 11 acres on the site as agricultural to provide a better buffer for residents.

A number of agricultural uses might be considered detrimental to neighbors and rezoning only a portion of a parcel also is frowned upon, commissioners said.

Commissioner Josh Rogers favored rezoning the property to Planned Development Industrial which would only allow for the proposed truck stop and would give commissioners more control over the design and what goes on the property’s outparcels.

The PDI rezoning passed unanimously. A signal light will be required and the developers must come back with detailed plans on how they will manage lighting and stormwater management before the truck stop can be built.

Aside from Stoniecki, George Wilson was the only person to support the second truck stop at the interchange. He thinks it’s the best use for the property.

“My big thing is Macon needs more truck stops for the sake of the truck driver,” Wilson said. “At the Jackson exit you see trucks lined up on exit and entrance ramps. … Anything we can do to enhance the safety of our truck drivers is a good thing.”

By law, truckers must pull over and rest after 11 hours of driving.

The opposition left the meeting discouraged.

“They don’t care anything about anything we said,” one of them said as they exited chambers.

Medical offices approved on Zebulon at Bass

For more than two decades, Zebulon Road residents have opposed various commercial rezoning proposals near the intersection with Bass and Foster roads.

Monday, no one spoke against rezoning five parcels from single-family residential to neighborhood commercial for medical or professional offices and some commercial uses.

It was noted that Glenn Smith, a persistent opponent of commercial development along that stretch of Zebulon, did file a written letter of opposition.

Proponents believe the time has come for rezoning on what has gone from a two-lane street to a busy thoroughfare with stores and restaurants that sprouted near Interstate 475 in the last 20 years.

“We’ve probably had 100 phone calls about a gas station or dry cleaner. On every occasion we’ve said that’s not going to work,” said George Emami, who was representing one of the owners of the property, Annette Barnette.

Barnette purchased two homes at 5561 and 5581 Zebulon Road about five years ago.

After vagrants kept breaking in, she tore down the houses.

“This development being proposed, we believe, is an excellent use for the property,” Barnette said.

Emami said the single-family residential zoning is now outdated.

“There’s no economic value anymore for this corner as it was zoned previously,” Emami said. “Even on Zebulon Road closer to the interstate, the economic value of a lot of the housing in that area is declining based on the commercial uses.”

Since 1997, P&Z has denied a daycare center, funeral home, assisted living facility, animal hospital, dentist office, banks and a personal care home in the neighborhood.

In 2015, commissioners did allow new lofts and commercial development in the 5800 block. After months of wrangling, they also approved a new Sonny’s BBQ last year.

Attorney David Hollingsworth, who is representing Manisha Patel in the proposal, said they have gotten support from nearby neighbors and he believes the offices are compatible with the 2040 development plan. They are prepared for the expected widening of Bass Road, he said.

A family physician in Warner Robins plans to own and occupy the first building along Bass Road. Another medical office is possible on the Zebulon side, Hollingsworth said.

Commissioner Rogers was concerned about taking the leap from residential to commercial without a guarantee that no fast food restaurant or undesirable business goes in.

“It would allow everything that’s been submitted in this plan to happen but it wouldn’t allow anything by right thereafter,” Rogers said. “If you want an opportunity for the neighborhood to continue to have an opportunity to weigh in on everything that would be available under (commercial-1), you want to go with PDC.”

The commission took Rogers’ suggestion and opted to rezone as Planned Development Commercial which means the doctor’s office is approved but any other future tenant or business use would have to be approved.

New low-income apartment complex near Zebulon

Just two weeks after P&Z approved a Macon Housing Authority affordable housing development at 7081 Peake Road, commissioners approved another low-income apartment complex nearby.

BFB General Partners, a self-described family-owned management company out of Valdosta, plans a two-phase development with 152-units on nearly 20 acres along I-475 behind Kohl’s department store off Zebulon Road.

Joe Johnson, who represented the company, said he expects the Macon Transit Authority to add a new bus route to the development.

The first 80 units are contingent on securing Low Income Housing Tax Credits from Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs. Phase 2 would not have income limitations, Johnson said.

The Housing Authority’s In-Fill Housing Inc. is seeking similar tax breaks to build its Peake Point planned senior citizen complex.

The commission approved the following staff-recommended proposals without hearing any testimony:

738 Fieldstone Drive –  Commissioners approved a second dwelling and variance.

Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission approved Wimberly Treadwell’s plan to put a business incubator in the historic commercial building that has been refurbished at 830 High Street. (Liz Fabian)

830 High St. – Conditional use was granted for a business entrepreneur incubator site in the three-story, refurbished historic commercial property.

1029 Ash St. – Single-family home deemed appropriated for the site.

3390 Pio Nono Ave. – Used car sales lot approved for the former BB&T bank drive-thru location.

3555 Mercer University Drive – Genita Knox secured approval for the non-profit BFAM Youth Development and Research Center to open an event center focusing on providing activities for neighborhood youth.

7207 Houston Road – The commission granted a variance to allow a land swap between property owners to allow for construction of an entrance to the property.

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