Planning board rejects appeal over Augusta Prep lights

The Columbia County Planning Commission decided Monday that they did nothing wrong when they agreed to allow a change in a zoning provision that lets a Martinez private school install lights around its athletic field.

The zoning board voted 4-1 earlier this month to recommend allowing Augusta Preparatory Day School to erect four 80-foot-tall light posts near its field on Flowing Wells Road. Last week, most county commissioners favored the board’s recommendation.

Prior to the commission meeting, former Planning Commission Chairman Dean Thompson filed an appeal with the zoning board, claiming it had no right to even consider Augusta Prep’s request.

In denying Thompson’s appeal, planning commissioners said he had no right to file it.

In May, commissioners voted 3-1 to deny the plan revision. Thompson has argued that once denied, county officials must wait six months to again take up a zoning issue for the same property.

Guy Quinn, a Springlakes resident speaking for Thompson at the appeal hearing, said a “revision is a zoning change” and that the waiting period applies when a property owner requests a change in the uses for that property.

“The question is if there is a new use,” Quinn said. “The answer is obviously yes.”

However, County Attorney Doug Batchelor said that the six-month wait requirement doesn’t apply to plan revisions or properties, like Augusta Prep’s, zoned as a special district.

Furthermore, Batchelor said any appeal to the planning commission’s decision to hear the issue should have been filed within 15 days following publication of a notice in the county’s legal organ – The Columbia County News-Times. Thompson, said Batchelor, didn’t file that appeal until about a month after the July 3 publication of the notice.

On those grounds, planning commissioners unanimously voted to deny the appeal.

The issue over the revision to allow the lights created a lot of tension between Augusta Prep officials and many residents of the neighboring Springlakes subdivision.

Following months of meetings, Augusta Prep and the Springlakes Neighborhood Association reached a compromise that included limiting the number of events using the lights to just 10 evenings per school year, shutting off the lights by 10:30 p.m., reducing plans for additional seating at the field, and that school and association officials meet every six months to discuss their issues.

Those stipulations and more were included as conditions for approval by the commission.

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