Planning commission approves Laney-Walker zoning

An overlay zoning district for an area in the Laney-Walker neighborhood was approved by the city planning commission Monday with the condition that city planners and the development group meet with a small number of residents to clarify the proposal’s language.

The meeting must occur in the coming week before the proposal moves to the Nov. 15 Augusta Commission meeting for final approval.

Fourteen neighborhood residents opposed the overlay zoning at the commission meeting, arguing that they still do not understand how it would affect their property rights. This came after a series of neighborhood meetings in the past month intended to explain the zoning proposal.

An overlay zoning district adds special provisions that may restrict land use in that area. The proposal was pulled from an Oct. 3 planning commission meeting after residents argued they had not received proper notification.

According to Warren Campbell, senior project manager for APD Urban Planning and Management, the overlay will protect new residential and commercial development in the Laney-Walker area. Land uses not listed in the zoning proposal such as pawn shops, liquor stores and nightclubs would need further approval from the city, a step that is not currently in place.

During the hearing, discussions between the planning commission and Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association President Aline Scott revealed that a separate document circulating among the community members caused misunderstanding of the proposal up for approval. That document detailed long-range development plans for other sections of the Laney-Walker area and specified potential property design guidelines.

However, Campbell said those design guidelines were only plans for the future and were not part of the proposal up for Monday’s vote.

His development firm circulated that document in an effort to be more transparent about ongoing development in the area, but that move backfired causing undue confusion and mistrust, he said.

“That’s the irony. We put it together so the people knew what was happening and it turned around and made it look like we are trying to hide something,” Campbell said.

At the hearing, Campbell stated for the commission and the residents that the overlay does not have the power to switch single-family residences into commercial use, another possible misunderstanding the residents had.

Many members of the Laney-Walker community, including Scott, said the document that the commission voted on had never been seen by residents. The meeting to be held this week will simplify document language, which was read aloud before the vote.

“I’m pleased with the approval with the condition because that gives us a chance to get all the people together and make sure we have the same package; that we’re reading the same thing and understanding the same thing,” Scott said.

Some residents may never agree with the overlay, but further clarification will help those in opposition, she 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.

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