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Parkers decision looms
Council members lean toward denying rezoning
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A month-long zoning debate regarding a Parker’s convenience store on Fair Road, will reach its conclusion Tuesday at City Hall.
And a document released Thursday by the city of Statesboro might indicate which way officials are leaning.
In July, a motion was presented to council to combine three tracts of land just off of Fair Road — on Herty Drive and Catherine Avenue, across from Georgia Southern University’s Hanner Fieldhouse — and rezone them for commercial use, changing their single-family residential housing status. The intent for the property’s owners is to sell the parcels to be utilized as a Parker’s gas station and convenience store.
But neighbors have not backed the idea.
At the July meeting, and again in council’s first meeting of August, several neighborhood associations — representing Pittman Park, Woodlawn Estates, Windwood and Edgewood Acres — rallied to express their opposition.
“We want to protect the integrity of our neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods,” said Cathy Shriver, representing Woodlawn. “We feel that once you rezone one property on Fair Road as commercial, it opens the door to many more. So we are very concerned.”
Attorneys representing the potential sellers — and the sellers, themselves — have also appealed to council, making the case that choosing to leave the properties as zoned would cause hardship for the owners, who have not been able to sell their property under current zoning. They also argue that a store would be of greater benefit to the city as a whole.
Attorney Laura Marsh, representing the would-be sellers, told councilmen in both meetings that a vote against rezoning would prompt her clients to seek litigation.
In response, councilmen agreed to put off a vote until the legal justification for their decision — whatever it may be — could be prepared in a document by City Attorney Alvin Leaphart.
Included in a City Council packet released Thursday, which features a meeting agenda and all pertinent papers, is a resolution prepared by Leaphart (with input from members of council) that provides a legal defense for denying the motions to rezone.
The resolution, which would stand as council’s official opinion if approved during a meeting Tuesday, lays out a series of reasons why the residential zoning should, and can, remain as is.
“We find that significant public interests are protected by maintaining the current R-15 (residential) zoning, and the owners of these parcels do not suffer a significant harm which is not substantially related to the public health, safety, morality and welfare,” the document reads. “The current R-15 zoning continues to allow the owners the benefits of a robust student housing market while maintaining the character, integrity and property values of a well-established residential neighborhood. As such, the requests to amend the zoning map … are hereby DENIED.”
Justifications cited in the resolution include: protecting the integrity/character of the neighborhood, allowing zoning to remain consistent with surrounding tracts of land, and preventing significant, negative impact to living conditions in the area, traffic patterns and congestion.
The opinion goes against that of the city’s planning department, and the planning commission, who in previous meetings gave their approval of the project.
In a report provided to council, city planners said the properties in question were located next to other commercially zoned property on Fair Road, and that it is “unlikely that the Herty lot will experience residential development given its proximity to a commercial corridor and unusual shape.”
The report also said the property is suitable for commercial development according to the Statesboro Comprehensive Plan, which addresses future growth in the city.
About the inconsistency, Leaphart said: “Reasonable minds can differ.”
When asked Friday about the case, a majority of city councilmen said they plan to, or are leaning toward, approving the resolution, and thereby rejecting motions to rezone.
“I am most certainly going to vote ‘no’ on (the motions to rezone). The reasons presented in the resolution are my reasons also,” said Councilman John Riggs, who represents residents in the Fair Road communities. “It could provide a public safety hazard. And, this is a residential area. If the residents don’t want it, then I’m siding with the residents. (The change) would just mess up the atmosphere and integrity of those neighborhoods along Fair Road.”
Councilman Will Britt said the resolution also reflects his opinion.
“After looking at the situation, I felt that there was not a need to change those properties and approve rezoning,” he said. “Our city attorney has informed me that we have the right to deny it, based on the fact that this area is a residential corridor. We are not being ugly to the owners (wanting to sell) by telling them no. The areas are zoned residential and I think they should stay residential.
“But, I’m not going to vote the way I’m going to vote because the residents don’t want it, I’m voting against it because I don’t feel this is right for that particular area,” Britt added.
Councilman Gary Lewis, without expounding, said he too is leaning toward a “no” vote.
Councilman Phil Boyum said he will wait to make his decision on the day of the vote.
“We certainly want to encourage business growth as much as we can, but we want to do it in a way that doesn’t harm the existing infrastructure (neighborhoods),” he said. “We want to encourage business in a way that does not create unnecessary burdens for property owners. We have a responsibility to protect neighborhoods.”
Councilman Travis Chance said he has yet to reach a final decision.
“I have heard from both sides and am more than willing to listen to both arguments,” he said. “I’m going to take into consideration what Leaphart has prepared in the packet and, hopefully, we’ll do the right thing.”
Britt and Riggs noted that their decision is not a reflection on the business that would occupy the space if rezoning were approved.
“I really hope we continue to work with Parker’s to find alternate locations,” Britt said. “We are in support of Parker’s. This is just not the location for it.”
 “Parker’s is fantastic,” Riggs said. “The stores are extremely nice. I love Parker’s and want it to thrive here. I just don’t think (the Fair Road) location is the right one for them.”
Marsh could not be reached Friday for comment on the resolution.

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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