Augusta Commission to take up controversial 'overlay' district

Like a master plan covering most of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem historic districts, a proposed “overlay” district continues to draw questions from property rights activists and concerned residents.

The district, up for approval today by the Augusta Commission, caught the attention of Laney-Walker resident Dee Mathis, whose name is on the agenda to speak.

“We disagree with the handling of it. The application was incomplete, and the people were not notified properly,” Mathis said.

Planning Director George Patty previously stated that property owners within the district were not mailed notices about the planned changes before the planning commission considered them, but that they would be, and community meetings have since been held.

The overlay district, bounded by R.A. Dent Boulevard, Wrightsboro Road, Twiggs Street and Laney-Walker Boulevard, would designate the type of development that may take place amid the vast residential redevelopment efforts under way in the area.

Opponent Al Gray grew concerned about overlay districts because of Columbia County’s efforts with its Evans Town Center overlay district, which initially discouraged “big-box” retail.

“Basically, it’s a property rights issue,” Gray said. “It allows them to pick and choose where they put commercial uses, and Planning gets to designate what is commercial, versus the market.”

Augusta Commission members expect the overlay to pass.

“It’s a protection of the community, so you can’t just let any old thing come in there,” said Commissioner Matt Aitken, whose District 1 includes the proposed overlay.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said he had seen similar planned unit developments, such as Woodbine, have success in his District 7.

The district goes before the commission at its regular 5 p.m. meeting, as do City Administrator Fred Russell’s recommendations, agreed on during a budget workshop last week, for trimming the 2012 budget.

Russell, who appeared to have consensus about where to make the cuts last week from the seven commissioners present, will have Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen give presentations on the budget and other matters during today’s meeting because he is in Sarasota, Fla., interviewing for a job as Sarasota County administrator.

Also up for consideration today are rezoning decisions and a new tax allocation district expected to clear the way for a 180-acre development by a chemical manufacturer at a tract on Doug Barnard Parkway and a new sign ordinance that removes an existing “Interstate Overlay” limiting signs within a certain distance of Interstate 20 and Bobby Jones Expressway.

Commissioner Bill Lockett’s request for a sweeping forensic audit by an outside firm of all city finances and contractual obligations also goes before the commission for a vote, as does a set of revisions to the city’s personnel manual.

Most of the proposed revisions are minor clarifications, but included among them is a restriction on how much severance top-level city staffers receive when terminated without cause.

The previous section gave senior-level staffers up to two years’ salary if they’d been employed with the city for a dozen years. The revision limits the payout to six months’ salary.

Laney-Walker residents receive much-needed answers on overlay zoning proposal
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