VALDOSTA -- A contentious rezoning debate consumed most of Thursday's Valdosta City Council meeting as residents and developers wrangled over a proposed expansion to the Tremont Apartments near the corner of Pineview and Bemiss roads.
Council voted 4-3 to approve the rezoning request, allowing development of the property to begin. Richard Hill, who conducted the meeting as mayor pro tem due to Mayor James Rainwater's absence, cast the deciding vote, breaking a 3-3 deadlock.
Councilman Levy Rentz made the motion to approve the request, and was joined by Hill, Bunnis Williams and Dexter Sharper in favor of rezoning.
David Sumner, Richard Stewart and Sonny Vickers voted to deny the request.
William Langdale, representing Ashurst Estates, brought the request to rezone a parcel of land on Pineview Road from single-family residential to residential professional, which allows both multi-family dwellings such as duplexes or apartment complexes as well as office buildings.
The Greater Lowndes Planning Commission concurred with the work of staff planners and recommended on an 8-1 vote that Council deny Langdale's request. Planners were concerned the proposal was "an unwarranted intrusion into a stable, largely single-family neighborhood. ... staff is concerned that this will lead to the erosion of property values and quality of life in existing neighborhoods and further the problems of urban sprawl and urban blight."
A group of neighborhood residents attended the meeting to oppose rezoning. Several spoke to Council expressing their concern that a new development would increase noise, crime and litter in the area while also providing a sizable and ongoing inconvenience to members of the neighborhood.
Residents also voiced fears of property value declines, noting that most residents were elderly and had substantial capital tied up in homes and lots. Impact on neighborhood wildlife was also discussed.
Langdale countered by saying the issue should not be an emotional one. He compared the proposed development to similar cases along Baytree Road and to other apartment complexes which had not, in his estimation, ruined neighborhoods or crippled property values.
Langdale also noted that Pineview was a collector road, making multi-family developments appropriate as well as making the alteration of the neighborhood inevitable as Valdosta grows around it.
He offered a series of changes to the original site plan to make the proposal more amenable to residents such as buffers, setbacks and changes to the proposed entrance.
Rentz, the representative of the affected neighborhood, said he did not believe the area to be a "stable" neighborhood as described by planners, pointing to other duplex and apartment developments along Pineview. He said he proposed the motion "because residents need to be told the truth" about the status of the neighborhood.
Rentz agreed with Langdale's assessment that Pineview's status as a collector road meant the neighborhood was in a "transitional" state and development and added traffic were inevitable. There was also no evidence, he said, to support the claim that either the initial development of Tremont, or the proposed addition, had negatively impacted property values.
"I recommend a compromise solution to let the city grow in a planned, controlled manner, while protecting the property values and quality of life of our neighborhoods," Rentz said.
Stewart said he could not support a proposal that would damage an elderly, concerned neighborhood.
Council attached a series of conditions to the proposal designed to minimize impact on the neighborhood and that rezoning approval be conditional on a residential site plan to prohibit the construction of office parks on the affected land.
Royce Coleman, a spokesman for residents, said that while the Council's efforts were appreciated, residents still felt the offered protections were insufficient and remained opposed to the project.
"We believe in the process or we would not be here," Coleman said. "We did what we cou
ld. We did our part."
To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.
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