Commercial-district restructuring, parking islands at Gerald Jones Auto Mall and racing noise were the most debated topics at a Columbia County Planning and Development Services Committee meeting Thursday, where much was discussed but little action was taken.
Columbia County Planning and Development Director Jeff Browning asked the committee to consider adding a new mid-level zoning district to the county's Growth Management Plan. He said Columbia County's increasing business growth warrants what he called a "community-scale commercial designation."
The new designation would be a zoning level between neighborhood commercial, intended for more rural areas such as Pollard's Corner, and town center, such as the amount of development surrounding the Evans Wal-Mart.
The intersection of Evans to Locks and Furys Ferry roads would be the perfect area for the proposed designation, he said.
The intersection recently ignited controversy when Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial Corp. proposed building an 85,000-square-foot shopping center, anchored by a 62,000-square-foot Kroger grocery superstore, there. Several area residents protested the shopping center, and commissioners responded by limiting the size of the Kroger to 47,000 square feet, which is more in line with the growth management plan.
The area currently is zoned as neighborhood commercial, a factor in capping the size of the proposed store.
Five homeowners on Evans to Locks Road attended the committee meeting and again voiced their objections to the construction of such a large shopping center.
Committee members accepted Browning's proposal as information, and no further action was taken at that time.
The meeting opened with a presentation from Gerald Jones Auto Group officials, asking commissioners to reduce the number of tree islands they are required to build in the parking lot of their new auto mall, at the former Columbia Square shopping center.
Gerald Jones told commissioners that the requirement is costing them 34 parking spaces, which the dealership needs to display its vehicles. Furthermore, the dealership will lose even more of its display area after Flowing Wells Road is expanded in 2007.
The county tree ordinance requires a tree for every 12 parking spaces in a commercial lot. Current plans, which comply with the ordinance, show the lot with 17 islands, at a minimum of 8 feet wide, and 34 trees. Jones wants to reduce that number to six islands and 10 trees.
Jones said he has made a sizable investment in the area and feels his request warrants consideration.
"We've taken the biggest eyesore in Columbia County and plan to turn in into the best looking auto mall in Georgia," he said.
County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ron Cross said the county should distinguish between public parking lots and lots used as display areas.
Committee Chairwoman Diane Ford asked the Jones Group to try reworking the site plans to comply with the ordinance while providing more parking and report back to the committee at a later date.
In other business, the man leasing Gordon Park Speedway protested a county sound ordinance that restricts acceptable noise levels to 60 decibels.
A noise test conducted by county officials rated the decibel level at the racetrack to around 70 decibels.
William Goolsby, who is leasing the track, asked commissioners to consider changing the ordinance, so he can conduct weekend auto races.
Worried about nearby residents' reactions to the noise, Ford called for another decibel-level test. Ford said she will attend the test, so she can hear for herself the amount of noise being produced by the race cars.
She said being there will better equip her for making a decision.
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