The Board of Commissioners didn’t have to decide on the controversial rezoning request of developer Michael Stefanick on Tuesday after Stefanick pulled his proposal.
But commissioners did have to rule on another.
A contentious rezoning request from W.K. Polk to subdivide a piece of land in Ellabell at the Lanier Curve on Highway 280 and Paradise Lane into two general commercial use lots was approved by the board, despite opposition from residents in the area.
Representing Polk was local attorney John Harvey, who argued the request should be approved because much of the land surrounding his client’s property is already zoned general commercial.
"The main reason this makes sense in this case is because the surrounding property is commercial, and rezoning this property would make it consistent with the area," Harvey said. "I’m sure most of you are familiar with Highway 280 and that section but it’s essentially a mix of agricultural, businesses and residences."
Harvey cited a court case out of Henry County where the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that county was in violation of the U.S. Constitution when it failed to rezone a tract of land from commercial to residential when the surrounding land was already zoned residential. According to Harvey, the court ruled the county’s refusal to approve the request was an unconstitutional taking of the land.
About a dozen residents from the area showed up to speak against the rezoning request.
Ben Brewton, who owns land adjacent to Polk’s property and who is former chairman of the Bryan County Planning and Zoning Commission, said the commissioners should take a good look at the permitted uses of what kinds of businesses could be built in an area zoned for general commercial use and how suitable the business would be to a particular area.
"If someone says they’re going to put an office somewhere but the ordinance would allow a tire re-treading plant then you have to consider the appropriateness for the tire re-treading plant as well as what they say they’re going to do unless it is specifically limited by request of the applicant," Brewton said.
Currently, the general commercial zoning classification allows for an array of business types, ranging from vehicle sales and gas stations to taverns and amusement parks.
There were also concerns from area residents regarding traffic and road safety.
After discussion, Commissioner Blondean Newman moved that the rezoning request be approved under the conditions the parcel be limited to two lots, the businesses located there be limited to hours of operation from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., all lighting of the lots be turned inward as not to disrupt the neighbors, the developer provide for turning lanes if they’re deemed necessary by the Georgia Department of Transportation and there be an alternative method of entering the property – because of the Lanier Curve – as approved by the county.
Before the vote, Commissioner Ed Bacon amended the motion to include a condition that would prohibit billboards in the area.
The final vote for the rezoning request was 4-1, with Bacon as the lone Resident Wayne Carney addressed the body regarding impact fees. He wanted to know if the county had them and when he was told they did not, wanted to know why they did not. Commission Chair Jimmy Burnsed said there is a study currently underway looking into impact fees and said the process is underway.
-Resident Sheila Galbreath told the commissioners there are people who are "petrified" with the idea of having to drive down Highway 144 when the Richmond Hill Courthouse Annex is moved to the 144 Spur. Commissioner Bacon said the county is fortunate to have two areas in the county for public services. Galbreath said her petition to move the county seat from Pembroke to Richmond Hill should have enough signatures in the next six months to require the probate judge to call an election regarding the location of the county seat. Councilman Rich Gardner said he wasn’t sure if the tax payers realized the tax burden and requirements a switch in the county’s seat would cause, saying it is "necessary to educate people to be careful what they wish for."