Laney-Walker overlay district proposal delayed until January



Laney-Walker neighborhood residents have several more weeks to study a proposed overlay zoning district for an area of redevelopment after the Augusta Commission denied the request from a developer.

The item was pushed to the first regularly scheduled commission meeting in January, allowing more discussion time and a break for the holidays.

Opponents of the zoning proposal, including residents, property rights activists and some commissioners, cited what they said was the mishandling of the process that started the first week of October. The proposal was pulled from an Oct. 3 Planning Commission meeting after residents argued they had not received proper notification.

Dee Mathis, the Laney-Walker resident who first discovered the improper notification, acknowledged that the overlay might be good for the community’s future, but she spoke against the proposal. She feels city leaders and planners have not been forthright with the residents.

“We want it to be done right,” Mathis said. “We don’t like back-door deals.”

The proposal was approved Nov. 7 by the Planning Commission after notices were mailed and a series of community meetings was held to explain the overlay zoning’s purpose. An overlay district does not change the base zoning but adds special provisions that may restrict land use. Land uses not listed, such as liquor stores and pawn shops, would need approval from the Augusta Commission, a step that is not currently in place.

The proposal was denied by the commission Tuesday night by a 4-6 roll call vote. Commissioners Matt Aitken, Joe Bowles, Jerry Brigham and Joe Jackson voted to pass the proposed overlay. Only Aitken and Jackson voted against moving it to the January agenda.

Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association President Aline Scott urged the commission to approve the proposal, saying residents received needed answers to their questions during several meetings. Scott thinks the overlay benefits the neighborhood but is willing to give others more time to understand its purpose.

“All the folks I’ve talked to understand. Those who don’t have the right to understand,” she said.

Aitken, whose District 1 includes the proposed overlay area, has spoken very little on the issue during the six weeks of opposition. After being called on to speak during the meeting by fellow commissioners, he said the residents have already been given ample time to ask questions.

Commissioner Alvin Mason argued that the proposal has been rushed and cautioned the commission against voting too quickly on a complicated matter.

“This has nothing to do with resistance to change but has everything to do with being meticulous and paying attention to detail,” he said.

Officials with APD Urban Planning and Management, the development firm hired as the consultant for redevelopment in the Laney-Walker area, refused a request for comment following the commission’s vote.