Criticism of hotel plan delays vote

File/Staff
Don Cheeks: Says the hotel planned for west Augusta will bring in as much as $1.75 million in tax money.

Augusta commissioners postponed making a decision Tuesday on a rezoning request that would pave the way for a $30 million hotel in west Augusta in an effort to appease nearby residents opposed to the project.

Commissioners voted 8-2 for the developers and Curtis Baptist Foundation, which owns the property on Marks Church Road where a two-story Marriott Hotel would be built, to meet with residents of the Kingston subdivision and try to reach a compromise.

That was after a vote to approve the zoning change failed on a 5-4-1 vote, with Commissioner J.R. Hatney abstaining.

"It's hard to say no, and it's difficult to say yes," Mr. Hatney said before the vote.

A motion for the neighborhood to meet with the developers and report back May 6 passed with only commissioners Don Grantham and Jerry Brigham voting against it.

The Curtis Baptist Foundation must sell the 11.4 acres at 1128 Marks Church Road to pay off debt, said Don Cheeks, speaking on behalf of the foundation. Under the current zoning, another developer could build a seven-story apartment complex on the property.

Preston Johnson, speaking on behalf of the Kingston subdivision, said residents are concerned about noise, the height of the building and its proximity to homes. Mr. Cheeks and planning Commissioner George Patty said the hotel would not exceed 55 feet in height, whereas an apartment complex could be 155 feet high.

To concerns about people from the hotel jumping over a fence that would surround the hotel and into their neighborhood, Mr. Cheeks asked, "What person is going to pay $125 a night and jump a fence?"

He said the hotel would bring in as much as $1.75 million in tax money to Richmond County every year. As for a meeting with residents, he said he'd arranged one and only five people showed up.

In other action Tuesday, commissioners:

- Approved a request by the Downtown Development Authority to give up an alley at 840 Reynolds St. for a major hotel development over objections from businessmen Joe Smith and Joe Carswell, who own property that could become landlocked.

- Approved moving $2,000-a-year pay raises for public safety officials from Aug. 1 to May 1 and including 911 emergency employees.

- Heard a request from Jane Howington, the president of the Augusta Regional Library Board, not to spend another $450,000 for rate increases for Heery International employees overseeing construction of the public library. She said the project was being overseen by excellent architects and the money could be put to better use on the library's $3 million budget deficit.

Commissioners received her request as information, but later took no action on Heery's rate-increase proposal.

- Voted to give $1,000 for grills that would be given as prizes after being used to cook at the Angelic Community Resource Development Inc.'s Barber & Beauty Bar-B-Que. Only Mr. Brigham and Commissioner Joe Bowles voted against the motion.

- Sent a request from the Augusta Aviation Commission to increase the director's salary and hire a deputy director to committee for review. The director's salary would be increased to a range of $96,416 to $144,624 a year, or $18,000 to $27,000 more per year. The deputy director's annual salary range would be from $87,015 to $130,532.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.