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Planning Commission sends Dollar General rezoning request to County Commission with 8-0 vote

County approval would open door for development of retail outlet off Sylvester Road

Senior Planner Mary Teter, standing, goes over details of a rezoning request during a meeting of the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission Thursday. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Senior Planner Mary Teter, standing, goes over details of a rezoning request during a meeting of the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission Thursday. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — The Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission paved the way for a new Dollar General store at 3616 Sylvester Road by approving a rezoning request at the site during its monthly meeting Thursday.

Bill Nijem, an attorney with the Valdosta law firm of Langdale Vallotton, assured the Planning Commission the land at the intersection of Hill Road and Clark Avenue, which lies within the county’s 100-year flood plain, would be developed to county standards.

“This property is under contract (with Teramore Development) and everything’s ready to go,” Nijem told the Planning board. “The site has been selected to build a General Dollar store, which should be a good addition to that community, since there’s not a whole lot out there now.

“The site is close to the Worth County line, but we know you’d prefer to keep Dougherty County revenue in Dougherty County.”

A site map provided by Nijem shows that the Dollar General store, which would front on Hill Road, would be a 9,100-square-foot structure.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the Planning Commission voted 7-1 to follow staff recommendations and deny a request by James Tillman to rezone property at 1601, 1603, 1605, 1607 and 1609 W. Third Ave. from single-family residential district to transitional business district. Tillman said he wanted to locate offices at those sites.

Staff used the history of the property in recommending denial of the rezoning request, noting that similar requests in the neighborhood had been turned down in 1987, 1998 and in 2003. The applicants filed a lawsuit after the 2003 rejection by the Albany City Commission, but the court ruled in favor of the city.

Planner Rozanne Braswell told the commission staff recommended denial because “prior litigation established that denial of rezoning was constitutional.” She added, “The issue is whether there has been any material change since the litigation. Staff did not identify any material change to the surrounding land use.”

Board member Art Brown, whose motion to approve the application died for lack of a second and who cast the lone vote against denial, said staff’s logic was confusing.

“How could there be any change if the rezoning was (previously) denied?” he asked.

Planning Director Paul Forgey said the burden of proof of showing change that would justify rezoning lay with the applicant.

Tillman said neighbors in the area who had previously opposed rezoning requests were showing by their absence from Thursday’s meeting that they no longer opposed the rezoning, but John O’Brien, who lives in that neighborhood, disputed that claim.

Confirming that signs notifying residents of the rezoning request had been up only two days, O’Brien asked, “Is it normal to give just two days notice on a matter like this?”

When Senior Planner Mary Teter said law dictates that such notices be erected 15 days before the meeting at which a decision will be made on the request — which she noted would be the March 25 Albany City Commission meeting — O’Brien said, “I just want Mr. Tillman to know no one was here today (to oppose his request) because people didn’t know about it until last night.”

Responding to Tillman’s comment that “the last time there was a hearing, this room was filled with people who opposed (the rezoning),” City Attorney Nathan Davis said, “The number of warm bodies in a room is not a true measure of support or opposition to such a measure.”

The Planning Commission voted 8-0 with little discussion to approve Jason Williams’ request for an ordinance variance that would allow him to build a 64-foot by 36-foot pole barn on his property at 5920 Old Dawson Road within the 50-foot side interior setback required by city code.

Tony Martin, a contractor who represented Williams at the Planning meeting, told the board, “The reason the owner is requesting this variance is to hide the structure so that it is not visible from the road or other residences in that area.”

The commission also approved a text amendment that regulates parking in residential areas within the city limits. The amendment had been tabled at the board’s February meeting.

“We need to move this forward,” Planning Commission Chair William Geer said. “The City Commission wants to look at this so they can say ‘yeah’ or ‘nay.’ I’m sure whatever we send to the city, there will be tweaking.”