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Leesburg OKs rezoning of land

LEESBURG -- The Leesburg City Council opened the door to future commercial development of land adjacent to the intersection of U.S. Highway 19 and Robert B. Lee Drive when it OK'd a rezoning request by developer Stovall-Lee at the council's February meeting Tuesday night.

After hearing from a number of officials, including Lee Planning and Engineering Director Bob Alexander and land-use attorney John Nix, the council unanimously approved Stovall-Lee's request to rezone 31.66 acres of land from RM-A, a mixed residential designation, to C-2, which allows for commercial development.

"Rezoning this piece of property is more significant than say going to a dentist to repair a tooth," Nix, who had been asked to address the council by the developer, said. "Because it is only a portion of a 270-acre development, the council would ideally address the back portion of the property as well as the 33-acre tract in question at this time.

"But you can't do that if only one of two necessary parties is present. I don't think, however, the law pre-empts you from rezoning this portion of the overall property."

City Attorney Bert Gregory told the council rezoning the entire section of property C-2 is part of the city's comprehensive plan, and the board unanimously approved the rezoning request with the condition that a 20-foot barrier separate it from an existing adjacent subdivision.

Jack Daniel Garrett, a local builder and president of the Southwest Georgia Homebuilders Association, asked the council to consider applying for a Community Development Block Grant that would allow owners of substandard housing to apply for down-payment assistance grants and replace delapidated structures with new and affordable homes.

"They have projects like this in Albany and Valdosta that are really making a difference for qualified property owners," Garrett said during a public hearing. "A project like this could rid the city of blight and give homeowners safer, yet affordable, homes.

"This (grant) money is being returned every year; the government is looking for projects. I think this would be an opportunity to spend this money well."

The council also adopted a new set of job descriptions for city employees which left only the police chief and the public works director posts as "exempt" positions, meaning they are not strictly bound by labor guidelines that impact other hourly employees.

"It's much the same as a salaried employee vs. an hourly employee," Councilwoman Rhonda Futch, the chair of the council's Human Resources Committee, said. "While exempt employees will still be compensated for overtime, they do not report their time under the same guidelines as non-exempt employees."

Interim Public Works Director Bill Mitchell gave a brief report on the one-year anniversary of operations at the city's wastewater treatment plant.

"In the one year we've been operating -- since Jan. 21, 2011 -- we've treated 102 million gallons of wastewater," Mitchell said. "And we're operating well within (Environmental Protection Division) specifications."

The council also voted to allow Public Works to use $5,000 previously allocated to purchase a used bucket truck for repairs or purchase of truck(s) needed by the department.