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Albany City Commission denies West Third Avenue rezoning for fourth time

Residents had asked city for transitional business rather than single-family residential zoning

The owners of property at 1601, 1603, 1605, 1607 and 1609 W. Third Ave. tried unsuccessfully to have the tracts rezoned for transitional business use at the Albany City Commission’s business meeting Tuesday. Their efforts were unsuccessful. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

The owners of property at 1601, 1603, 1605, 1607 and 1609 W. Third Ave. tried unsuccessfully to have the tracts rezoned for transitional business use at the Albany City Commission’s business meeting Tuesday. Their efforts were unsuccessful. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — The five tracts of land located at 1601, 1603, 1605, 1607 and 1609 W. Third Ave. will maintain their single-family residential zoning for the time being, but as businessman Bo Johnson noted during a public hearing held to discuss a rezoning request that would allow office-based businesses at the addresses, “This issue is going to keep coming up.”

Indeed, James Tillman’s application for designation of the five tracts as transitional business district was the fourth attempt to have at least part of the property, located in a transitional neighborhood that is already the home of a number of professional-type offices, rezoned. The last such attempt, which involved 1601 and 1603 West Third, was decided in the city’s favor in 2005 in Superior Court.

“This (decision) was a close one for me,” Ward V City Commissioner Bob Langstaff said during Tuesday night’s commission business meeting. “I think the time is going to come for this rezoning, and I was leaning that way. But after hearing the testimony here tonight, I don’t think this is the time.”

Johnson, owner of the Artesian Financial Group business at 1201 W. Third, and Richard Michels, who owns the 1609 property, spoke in favor of the rezoning during the public hearing held before the commission’s vote.

“People who live in all five of these houses will continue to live there,” Michels said. “We just want the option of having a home-based business.”

Michels said he and his wife, Cynthia, already operate their AAA Sprinkler Systems business from their home, but the rezoning would allow them to erect signage that would help in attracting customers. Questioned about the “commercial” aspect of the rezoning by Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell, Michels said, “With the restrictions suggested by staff, these are going to be professional office-type businesses. We’re not talking about Wal-Marts and gas stations.”

Michels acknowledged Wednesday morning that the commission’s vote pretty much killed the rezoning issue for the near future.

“Yeah, that’s probably it for right now,” he said. “It’s already been through the court system before, so there’s no use wasting money. But like (Johnson) said, others are going to try again. It just makes sense. The people who asked for the rezoning live in these homes, so they’re going to keep the places nice. They’re not going to devalue the neighborhood.”

Another resident among those who sought the rezoning said Wednesday morning he was disappointed in the commission’s decision because the business designation “would have given the owners more options, more potential buyers, if they decide to sell.”

Johnson said Wednesday the city’s continued refusal to allow the rezoning may lead to eventual deterioration of what is a very attractive neighborhood.

“A lot of the owners of those houses are older, and they’re going to end up having to sell,” he said. “As busy as Third Avenue has become, they’re going to have a harder time selling and may end up renting. When those houses are turned into rental property, the neighborhood is going to fall into deterioration. They’ll have a lot less value as rental property, and the value of the entire neighborhood will be impacted.”

Realtor Mark Daniels spoke against the rezoning as a representative of the Woodland Subdivision. He asked others in that subdivision who were opposed to the rezoning to stand, and more than a dozen residents responded. John O’Brien, who also spoke against the rezoning, said, “Zoning this commercial doesn’t make sense. This is about the fifth time we’ve had to deal with this. My biggest issue is traffic, which is already bad. It would only get worse (with the rezoning).”

Commissioners approved a text amendment presented by Planning Services Director Paul Forgey that outlines parking restrictions at city residences. Forgey said the amendment, which applies to new or substantially improved (51 percent or more) residences, would help “preserve the character of our residential areas.”

The commission also OK’d an alcohol license transfer for Ajax Liquors at 1301 E. Broad Ave., a license application for the Pig ‘n’ Whistle Package Store at 1701 N. Slappey Blvd., and one-day licenses for the annual Nancy Lopez Hospice Golf Classic at Doublegate Country Club April 25 and for a concert sponsored by the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity May 3 at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds.

The board agreed to accept the donation of sports equipment by Good Sports and the Atlanta Falcons that will be used for Special Olympics softball participation and signed off on a new drug-free workplace policy that does away with “random testing” of all employees and limits testing only to those who operate city-owned equipment.

City Attorney Nathan Davis said the change was necessary due to recent “court decisions relating to the 4th Amendment.”

Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta suggested during a meeting prebriefing that commissioners voluntarily submit to the random tests “to set an example.” Ward I’s Jon Howard, a drug and alcohol counselor, said he is opposed to such a stipulation.

“I’d cast a ‘no’ vote on any such recommendation because it could be seen as an infringement on individual rights,” Howard said.

Ward V’s Bob Langstaff, an attorney, also opposed Marietta’s proposed voluntary testing, saying, “For the sake of making a political statement, I would be subjected to being yanked out of court to go in for a random test. That’s happened to me before.”

Marietta decided not to make the formal recommendation.