Commission gives OK for new gated community off Berckmans Road

A handful of his new constituents weren’t pleased, but newly sworn-in District 7 Commissioner Sean Frantom said his vote to OK a new gated community off Berckmans Road wasn’t a hard one.

 

“I reached out to a few other homeowners last night,” said Frantom, who won a special election runoff for the post last week and took his oath of office before Tuesday’s Augusta Commission meeting.

Frantom said he “had to lean on the experience” of his commission colleagues and the city’s planning and development department, which approved allowing sports event management company Byrom PLC to erect seven 3,500-square-foot homes on a 2.4-acre tract, exceeding density requirements.

Homeowner Sam Spangler, who lives two doors down from the site, spoke on behalf of a group of Jamestown subdivision residents who’ll see a section of their neighborhood – its older homes now demolished – fenced off for the new development.

Spangler said he had been provided little information about the project at an earlier planning commission meeting, and the special zoning exception will give developers “very relaxed” requirements for what they can do at the location.

Harry Revell, an attorney for the developers, said they already accommodated the city by reducing the project from 15 to 16 condos to seven houses, and that despite its proximity to Augusta National Golf Club, the homes “are not the so-called hospitality houses” lining nearby streets.

The homes “will be used strictly for residential use,” Revell told commissioners.

The commission voted 7-2 to approve the special zoning exception, with Commissioners Ben Hasan and Marion Williams opposed and Bill Lockett away at a conference in Seattle.

Hasan said he voted against the project because Spangler hadn’t received the information he sought about the project.

“If they did not answer his questions, I don’t think he got properly served,” Hasan said.

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IN OTHER BUSINESS

• Three votes – to deny, to approve and to reconsider – a request by Gordon Highway sports bar Alter Ego’z to remain open after bars close all failed 5-4. Each time, new Augusta Commission member Sean Frantom joined Commissioners Grady Smith, Mary Davis and Wayne Guilfoyle in voting against the establishment.

In his motion to deny the request, Guilfoyle cited recommendations by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and the Planning Department against allowing restaurants to cease serving alcohol but remain open, and mentioned an Alter Ego’z delay in allowing health inspectors in for nearly two years.

• Under threat of delayed approval of the county tax digest, the commission voted to reappoint four members of the Richmond County Board of Assessors, despite questions several commissioners had about making the appointments Tuesday. Assessors, who are paid $625 each month, are required to complete 80 hours of training to be certified and the terms of four members – Bernard Johnson, Brian Simkins, James Scott and Robert O’Neal – were set to expire Friday. Commissioner Marion Williams said “we’re up against a wall” that could have been avoided, while Commissioner Bill Fennoy said he’d like six to nine months’ notice of expirations next time.

• The commission authorized hiring Patrick Stephens, the retired director of Central Ohio Transit Authority, to serve as director of Augusta Public Transit as of May 11, with a salary of $95,000. City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said Stephens, one of three finalists named last month, was “tough and hardworking” and “willing to get his hands dirty” to improve the city’s transit system.

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