THOMASVILLE -- Thomas County commissioners -- in a 6-2 Monday vote -- approved what an opponent of the new Thomas University (TU) site described as a possible nightmare.

The request was by property owner Mark Rosenthal for conditional use of 64 acres in a U.S. 319 South residential-zoned district for a new TU campus.

Paul McCollum, who has lived in the nearby Springhill Road area for more than two decades, described TU's "dream" of raising $50 million to establish the campus as a nightmare if the money is not raised.

"If they raise only $5 million, we have a nightmare," McCollum, a Thomasville lawyer, told commissioners before the vote.

"Will they come up with something hard and fast?" McCollum asked. "I think they need to stay where they are."

McCollum pointed out to commissioners the university has acquired and sold land in the past.

Prior to hearing from those for and against the concept, commission Chairman Josh Herring said he thought everyone in the packed Thomas County Courthouse second-floor courtroom was in favor of TU.

"The question is: Is the rezoning favorable for the location?" the chairman said.

Commissioners Bobby Brown and Moses Gross cast nay votes to the question.

The motion to approve the request was made by board Vice Chairman I.L. Mullins, with the following conditions: No access to TU property from Springhill Road.

A 100-foot buffer on three sides of the campus, excluding 319 frontage.

Return to the commission with development plans.

Comply with federal and state regulatory requirements.

During a break after the vote, Johnny Reichert, county zoning and planning director, said that unless a building permit or zoning compliance is obtained within 12 months, the tract will revert to single-family residential status. Also, Reichert said, county commissioners can extend Monday's action.

Dale Mediate, a Spring Ridge Road resident, said he was speaking on behalf of a number of residents in voicing concerns about a college campus' effect on property values.

TU has 800 students, with a goal of 1,600, and 20 percent of the student body would reside on the new campus, Mediate told commissioners. "That is a major difference in traffic and noise," he added

The university has no official engineering site design, no landscape design, no storm water runoff study and no information about the environmental impact the campus would have, Mediate said.

Several voiced concern about lighting at a TU ballfield at the site.

"Are they willing not to have lighting on the ballfield?" Brown asked.

University president Dr. John Hutchinson said he would pledge no ballfield lighting initially, but he could not make promises about the future.

Representing nearby Shallowbrook residential subdivision, Bob Stover said of 22 residents he visited, 19 adamantly oppose the TU relocation.

Herring said he wants TU to flourish, but the Springhill Road vicinity has a pristine heritage. Also, Herring said he thinks TU has attempted to establish a desirable campus -- if possible.

The chairman pointed out that county commissioners will control many aspects of the TU project as it progresses, including the preliminary plat.

Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 220.

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