LEESBURG, Ga. -- Despite the "civil protest" efforts of citizens in Lee County's Palmyra neighborhood, the Lee County Commission approved rezoning requests by Nordstar LLC Tuesday evening that will allow the Florida-based developer to move forward with planned townhomes and commercial development adjacent to the Westover Road Extension project and the golf course at Grand Island in the southern portion of the county.
With Commission Chairman Ed Duffy hospitalized for "observation," the board voted 3-1 to approve rezoning of 4.415 acres for commercial development and 6.124 acres for a multi-family residential district.
District 2 Commissioner Betty Johnson voted against both requests.
"Before we take the vote, I want to say that I'll be voting against the request because the same thing happened to me several years back," Johnson said. "I know how upset I was back then, so I can't be hypocritical and vote for this."
With a near capacity crowd on hand for the business meeting, each of the three other commissioners weighed in on the matter before a vote was taken.
"This is an incredibly difficult vote for this board, but it's part of a transportation plan that's been in the works for nine years," said Vice Chairman Rick Muggridge, who ran the meeting in Duffy's absence and informed audience members ahead of time they would not have an opportunity to comment or ask questions about the matter. "(The Westover Road Extension) will be an arterial road, and as such I am in favor of this road.
"I recognize the fact that this project will change the quality of life of the families (in nearby neighborhoods), and everyone has done as much as possible to minimize the damage done by the road. I think the berm (agreed to by local developer Gary Eller on behalf of Nordstar) is a good effort, a good compromise."
Planning and Engineering Director Bob Alexander told the board the developer had agreed to erect a 2- to 3-foot berm with a 6-foot vinyl fence on top to minimize the development's intrusion into the neighborhood, and he also noted that Nordstar had agreed not to put a gas station or storage units on the commercial site. The developer also agreed to install directional lighting away from existing residences.
"If this measure passes, and it looks like it will, maybe we should get the opinions of the (affected) property owners," Commissioner Dennis Roland said. "They might not want a berm."
Commissioner Bill Williams assured the audience "everything has been done to protect the tranquility of the neighborhood."
Eller said after the vote the development will be a plus for all of Lee County.
"We've always kept in mind the concerns of the residents along the Westover Road Extension, and we've tried our best to address those concerns," he said. "We feel the berm, the fence and a row of Leland cypress trees is a well-planned compromise. Now, we're ready to move forward.
"The next step is the infrastructure. Our engineers are set to move ahead with the design, most of which has been preliminarily approved, so as soon as Lee County starts work on the (Westover Extension project) we'll start work on the commercial section. The townhouses are located on a private road, so we should be able to start work on them in the next couple of months."
In other action taken at the meeting, the board appointed Greg Crowder, Fred Finney, Phil Franklin, Gary Harrell, Al Manry, Lee Stanley, Larry Walden and Larry Walters to the Lee Development Authority; OK'd a proclamation designating April National Donate Life Month; and approved an intergovernmental agreement between the Lee County Fire Department and the fire unit at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.
"We currently have an agreement in place that will expire at the end of the month, and it's definitely a one-sided agreement in our favor," Fire Chief James Howell said. "We've called on them a number of times, and they've always come through. They're a tremendous asset."
"God bless the Unites States Marine Corps," Muggridge said after the measure was approved.