Originally created 11/04/99

Zoning dispute postponed



A zoning dispute between Olde Town residents and supporters of Peter S. Knox Service Center has been resolved -- at least for now.

Augusta Commission voted Wednesday to allow the center, which the planning commission said does not comply with the zoning ordinance, to operate without a zoning change until Oct. 31. By then, some commissioners hope, the two groups might reach a compromise.

The center also must agree to shut down any events held on Mondays through Thursdays by 10 p.m., and any events on Fridays and Saturdays by 11:30 p.m. It will hold no events Sundays except those sponsored by church, school or nonprofit groups, the decision said.

Public debate on the conflict initially surfaced in the commission meeting last month. The center requested the commission to change the zoning from professional to commercial so it could rent the space to various groups for events. The center's revenue goes to support more than a dozen charitable organizations.

Olde Town residents complained the center permits late-night parties and is being used for a purpose that does not comply with its professional zoning.

The center said it needs to book the events to generate revenue for the organizations it supports. It also contends that it already has made reforms that have eliminated disruptive events.

Many residents objected to the zoning change because, they said, it opens the door to other commercial enterprises in the neighborhood that could be disruptive to the quiet community.

Commissioners Lee Beard, Henry Brigham, Jerry Brigham, Freddie Handy, Bill Kuhlke, Willie Mays and Stephen Shepard voted to not change the zoning. Ulmer Bridges, J.B. Powell and Richard Colclough were opposed. Mr. Powell noted that the commission seemed to just postpone a resolution.

"We're putting this thing off," he said.

Attorney Terry Leiden, who has an office in Olde Town, pointed out Wednesday that there are several documented incidents in the neighborhood in which the sheriff's office was contacted. He also requested that Henry Brigham and Mr. Handy recuse themselves from voting. He said their association with charitable organizations supported by the center presents a clear conflict of interest. City Attorney Jim Wall did not agree.

Pat Rice, the attorney representing the center, pointed out that some of the calls that Mr. Leiden noted were made by the center's own employees. He pleaded to keep the center open.

Reach Frank Witsil at (706) 823-3352.