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Dunkin' Donuts passes first hurdle to come to Albany

The Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission approved a rezoning request Thursday that would allow the former Mason Jewelers establishment at 2307 Dawson Road to be developed into a Homerun Foods convenience store with a connecting Dunkin’ Donuts. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

The Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission approved a rezoning request Thursday that would allow the former Mason Jewelers establishment at 2307 Dawson Road to be developed into a Homerun Foods convenience store with a connecting Dunkin’ Donuts. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

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The Dawson Road strip mall anchored by the Two Chicks establishment will be demolished if the Albany City Commission approves a rezoning request that would bring a Homerun Foods/Dunkin’ Donuts to 2307 Dawson Road. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — The Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission took a necessary initial step Thursday to bring a Dunkin’ Donuts to the city.

Over staff’s recommendation for denial of a rezoning request that would allow for the development of a Homerun Foods convenience store with a connected Dunkin’ Donuts establishment at the 2307 Dawson Road location of the former Mason Jewelers, the Planning Commission voted 7-1 to approve the request.

Staff had recommended denying the application to rezone the 1.02-acre tract — and an adjoining 0.14-acre tract that houses the strip mall adjacent to Harvest Moon restaurant — from C-1 to C-2 based on potential noise and traffic issues that would impact residences separated by an alley between the properties.

Commission member Stephen Kaplan took staff to task for its recommendation.

“Understand that I have no dog in this hunt and I only want to do what’s best for our community,” Kaplan said. “But it seems every effort has been made across the board by staff to say no to this request rather than trying to find a way to say yes. I read this information presented to this board, and it befuddled me.

“What I keep hearing in your presentation is alley, alley, alley, alley, alley. But everything else is OK. In fact, the only thing that makes this rezoning request necessary is that they are requesting permission to install a drive-through, which is not permitted in C-1. The idea that sound from the microphone at a drive-through is being presented as a noise issue is beyond my understanding.”

Planning Manager Mary Teter, with the backing of commission member Aaron Johnson, suggested allowing development that “intrudes” on established neighborhoods sets a precedent that would lead to similar requests in the future.

“Precedent is created by generalities,” Kaplan countered. “The issues here are specific.”

Planning Director Paul Forgey bristled at Kaplan’s suggestion that Albany and Dougherty County are seen as difficult to do business with.

“As a department, we are very business friendly, even if we’re not painted as such,” Forgey said. “But we try to find a balance for businesses while protecting our neighborhoods. While I am here, it will always be a balancing act.”

Sue Richardson, whose home is located directly across the alley from the former Mason Jewelers property, said she’s concerned about additional traffic in her neighborhood and possible noise issues if the development is completed. Kaplan asked her if placing a minimum 6-foot masonry wall as a barrier down the length of the alley that would deny entry and exit onto the tract would be a suitable compromise. Richardson said that would show the commission is considering the concerns of the nearby residents.

Asked about the the commission’s eventual vote to approve the request, with the stipulations that access from the alley be denied and a masonry wall built as a buffer, Richardson said, “Yes, I’m fine with what they’ve approved.”

During discussion of a proposal by staff to eliminate amplified sound at the drive-through as a condition of rezoning approval, applicant Todd Lanier, an engineer representing the interests of property owner Mason Jewelers, said eliminating the drive-through would kill the project that he estimated would involve “more than three-quarters of a million dollars” in development and bring “something on the order of 30 to 40 jobs” to the community.

“I want to point out that Walgreens, which is just two doors down from this location, has a drive-through,” Lanier said. “Lanier Oil/Homerun Foods has signed a letter-of-intent with Dunkin’ Donuts to locate on the property, but without the drive-through that deal would be a no-go. If you don’t allow this, it would be a dead issue.”

The board also approved, by the same 7-1 vote, rezoning from C-1 to C-2 the adjacent property that houses the strip mall anchored by the Two Chicks establishment. Lanier said that structure would be demolished to make more room for the Homerun Foods/Dunkin’ Donuts establishment.

In another measure taken up by the commission, Greater Fellowship Christian Ministries was given unanimous approval to hold religious services at its .04-acre 111 S. Jackson St. site, a variance to an Albany zoning ordinance that stipulates a 1-acre site requirement for such institutions.

Kaplan asked representatives of the ministry, “You’re not asking to put a drive-through in are you?” When the board voted, members of the delegation applauded quietly with some adding “amens.”

Both measures will be forwarded to the Albany City Commission for consideration at its Sept. 24 meeting.