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May 13, 2014

Rezoning vote draws large crowd

THOMASVILLE — Thomasville City Council chambers at city hall filled with citizens 30 minutes before a Monday council meeting. As the time drew nearer the meeting time of 7 p.m., the hallway outside council chambers began to fill with people.

The meeting was moved to the municipal auditorium on the second floor of the building to accommodate the crowd.

At issue was a 16.3-acre tract at 1101 Smith Ave. and council’s first reading of an ordinance to rezone the land from agriculture to R-2 (CU). An 80-unit apartment complex and commercial use fronting on Smith is planned for the site by developer Rea Ventures Group LLC.

Thomasville Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-3 in favor of the rezoning on Monday, May 5.

The proposal called for the opening of nearby dead-end Brown and Whitehurst streets to allow for a traffic flow to and from the development. Brown and Whitehurst intersect with Palm Avenue.

Some 60 to 70 residents of the area attended the Monday council meeting.

Once the meeting got under way in the auditorium, Mayor Max Beverly asked for a show of hands of those opposed to the development and opening of Brown and Whitehurst. Many hands went up. When Beverly asked to see hands of those in favor of the plan, there were none.

City staff recommended approval of the development.

Trey Coogle, representing the developer, said he felt the project is important.

Council Member Don Sims asked Coogle if it was crucial to open Brown and Whitehurst. Coogle responded that the project could move forward with the traffic flow directed to Smith Avenue.

Said Pat Clendenin, who resides at Whitehurst and Wheet streets, “We just do not want an 80-unit apartment complex dumping their traffic in a quiet, substantial neighborhood.”

Clendenin is retired from city government, having served 16 years as city planner and planning and zoning administrator.

Such a traffic flow into a neighborhood has never been allowed, he told the council, “So why are we here?”

The development, Clendenin said, does not need the proposed exits to make it a feasible project.

“If they don’t need it, and we don’t want it, then why are we here today?” Clendenin asked.

He asked the council how a city planner on the job for five or six months could understand the situation. Zoning, Clendenin explained, is to protect areas.

He told council members the city manager was looking after the developer, and the city planner was looking after himself.

Clendenin said he hoped the council was looking after residents of the residential area near the proposed development.

Henry Williams, who has lived on Brown Street for several decades, told the council he was not in opposition to the rezoning for apartments, but to the opening of Brown and Whitehurst.

A longtime Thomasville police officer, Williams, Thomasville Police Department Criminal Investigations Division assistant commander, told the council the neighborhood has had less than 25 incidents in 25 years.

“We are totally opposed to the opening of Whitehurst and Brown. I want to make that very clear,” Williams said.

“I think I understand,” the mayor responded.

Traffic resulting from opening the streets would be devastating to the neighborhood, Williams added.

“We don’t want to be connected, to put it plain and simple to you,” he said.

Bethany Kuhns, a resident of the neighborhood, is a Thomasville City School System teacher. She told the council opening the neighborhood to apartment complex traffic would lower the value of her home and further reduce property taxes that fund the city school system and her job.

Fewer school tax dollars could result in more furlough days for teachers, Kuhns said,

“It would result in adding insult to injury for me,” Kuhns said after the meeting.

Sims told Coogle that if the development did not open onto Brown and Whitehurst, he would not be opposed to it.

“Would that be suitable to you?” Sims asked Coogle. “Yes, sir,” Coogle responded.

A condition was added to the rezoning request that says Brown and Whitehurst could not be opened without city council approval.

Upon a motion by Mayor Pro Tem Greg Hobbs, with a second by Council Member David Lewis, the council voted unanimously to approve the rezoning ordinance on first reading with the condition that Brown and Whitehurst will be closed to through traffic until the city council approves an ordinance to open the streets.

Second — and final — reading of the ordinance will come at a council meeting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21.

Chris Hall, a Brown Street resident, is happy with the council vote, but is “suspicious that it’s not over,” in reference to the May 21 vote.

Jinanne Parrish, a 32-year resident of the neighborhood, told council members the area is quiet and safe. “And we would like to keep it that way,” Parrish said.

After the meeting, she said, “We don’t want to be connected. We want to stay safe and quiet.”

Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820.

 

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