A proposed “overlay” zoning district intended to protect new residential development in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods raised concerns at a community meeting Tuesday night.
After hearing updates on construction projects aimed at revitalizing the historic neighborhoods, several community members questioned the lack of information provided about changes that could impact their home values and taxes.
Although a meeting specifically addressing the overlay zoning will be held next Tuesday, Chester Wheeler, the director of the city’s Housing and Community Development Department, reassured residents the proposal will not force them to abandon their homes.
“There’s a lot of rumors floating around, and they aren’t accurate,” Wheeler said.
An overlay district allows uses different from the area’s current zoning. For example, an overlay might permit certain businesses to be placed in an area zoned residential. An overlay zoning district also adds special provisions that may restrict land use in an underlying base zone.
The proposed ordinance lists approved uses for land including coffee shops, barber shops and grocery stores. Uses not listed – such as liquor stores, pawn shops and night clubs – would need approval from the Augusta Commission, a step that is not currently in place and contributes to the neighborhood’s plight, Wheeler said.
Initially, the overlay zoning would only be enforced in the new Foundry Place, a mixed-use development at R.A. Dent Boulevard and Wrightsboro Road. Design plans are under way for the retail, residential and office space that could begin construction next year.
Dee Mathis read a statement at the meeting’s end on behalf of the Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association expressing concerns that the community was not informed when the proposal was on the Oct. 3 commission meeting agenda.
Following further explanation from Wheeler of the zoning proposal, Mathis said the community didn’t gain much information or satisfaction from the meeting.
Others at the meeting were pleased the proposed zoning ordinance intends to help neighborhood investment rather than push residents out of the area.
Wheeler said low-interest loan programs are available for homeowners or investors in rental properties looking to upgrade homes as well as tax abatements for those significantly impacted by nearby new construction that could raise taxes.
The community meeting for the overlay zoning proposal will be 6 p.m. Tuesday at Beulah Grove Baptist Church, 1434 Poplar St.