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Laney-Walker overlay district proposal delayed until January

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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.

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mike71345 11/16/11 - 02:02 am
"An overlay district does not

"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 area right now is almost entirely zoned residential, and most of that is single-family residential. This overlay opens the door to allowing businesses and multi-family housing into the area. Planning and Zoning now admits as much, and, after all it's a plan for "mixed-use" development. Those two things--allowing businesses and higher density housing into to the area--are where the conversation with residents should have started, but the developer and the city government did their best to hide those facts from property owners.
Here is a much simpler way to keep liquor stores and pawn shops out of a residential neighborhood--keep it residential, keep the current zoning.

"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 overlay zone that was voted down today specified that it would have been the Planning Commission, not the Augusta Commission, that would have overseen those sorts of zoning changes. Just like it already handles re-zonings.

Brad Owens
Brad Owens 11/16/11 - 10:59 am
This was a victory for the

This was a victory for the residents of Laney Walker, not some sort of prevetion of progress.

The so-called "developers" did not put their plan forward, only DRAFTS and that is a major problem here. They need to publish the FINAL plan and make those versions available to not only the residents, but the full commission well in advance of any vote.

Also, a "Neighborhood Association" is NOT a "Homeowners Association" and I would love to see the meeting minutes where they voted to accept this proposal. HOw many "Homeowners" were there and what was the vote put forward to support this?

This is NOT what it appears to be. Be wary of anything like this unless it is done 100% in accordance with the law.


Lori Davis
Lori Davis 11/16/11 - 12:47 pm
I followed this whole process

I followed this whole process and it was egregous the way it was handled from the very start. I went to all but one public hearings to educate myself on the process after finding out that all of Harrisburg had been declared an opportunity zone,an award by the state, without the required public hearings. The Commissioners were right to vote to halt this progress in Laney Walker until ALL is in order. I believe Matt Aitken embarrassed himself by voting in favor of the overlay when he had not been to a single meeting. He is the Commissioner for Laney Walker. He never showed up nor answered the questions of his constituents. Sad, very sad.

broad street narrow mind
broad street narrow mind 11/17/11 - 01:24 pm
worse yet, aitken says his

worse yet, aitken says his constituents had plenty of time. luckily the majority didn't agree with him, but that's some very sad representation when other commissioners have to stand up for the people of his district. it's almost as if he works for someone other than the people of district one.

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