Bishops and Dollars withdraw rezoning requests

Charles and Rhonda Bishop have owned property at 50 10th Avenue N.W. for two decades and have wanted to have it rezoned as commercial property, but their wait will last a little longer following Monday night’s Cairo City Council meeting.
Before a packed crowd in the city council chamber this week, a public hearing was held by the city council on the Bishop’s application to have their property rezoned from R1A residential to C2 Highway Commercial zoning, the least restrictive commercial zone on the books.
The Cairo Planning Commission voted 3-1 to recommend the city council deny the rezoning request.
On Monday night, after comments both pro and con were voiced, the Bishops withdrew their application prior to a vote by the city council in order to prevent a 12-month waiting period before another rezoning application could be filed.
It appeared there was not a majority of the city council willing to vote for a C2 rezoning, but they hinted a more restrictive commercial zone would gain favor.
“This is not residential property any more, never will be, and I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t think it is C2. If we vote to turn down C2 as you’ve requested, you’re stuck for a year and not able to do anything for a year,” Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas said Monday night.
Councilman Douglas said he is looking for a compromise between the property owners, the northwest neighborhood residents and the city to create a situation that is the best for the city and the community as a whole.
The Bishops renewed their decades long attempt to have the property at Cairo’s busiest intersection rezoned after officials representing CVS Pharmacy contacted them about locating a new drug store at that site.
According to the Bishops Monday night, that offer is no longer available since state law would prohibit CVS from being able to sell alcoholic beverages from that location due to its proximity to Northside Elementary School. City officials say CVS is considering other possible locations.
Now, the Bishops say they are seeking the rezoning so that they can build a new location on their Tenth Avenue property for their family-owned furniture and appliance business, Mobley’s Furniture & Appliances, which is currently located in downtown Cairo.
“I would gladly accept C1A (the most restrictive commercial zoning) if I can build my furniture store there,” Charles Bishop told the city council.
According to Bishop, city officials have told him a C2 zoning would be required for him to move his furniture store to the Tenth Avenue and U.S. 84 location.
Councilman Douglas questioned the wording of the zoning ordinance, which he said seemed to indicate a furniture store would be permitted in the more restrictive commercial zones.
“Can he withdraw his application or can we postpone a vote until the next meeting so we can see what has to be done to get a furniture store there?” Councilman Douglas asked.
City Attorney Thomas L. Lehman confirmed the Bishops could withdraw their request at any time prior to a vote being taken, but once a vote has been taken resulting in denial, it would be 12 months before another request could be filed.
“Even if the city initiated a rezoning and the council voted it down, the city would be required to wait 12 months before it could reapply,” Lehman noted.
When asked by Douglas what would happen if the council postponed a vote, Lehman said that it would be permissible, but if there is any modification to the Bishop’s request the process would have to begin all over again with pubic notices and public hearings.
After hearing the discussion between Douglas and Lehman, Charles Bishop requested to withdraw his request.
“Can we get that in writing?” City Manager Chris Addleton asked, but Lehman said Bishop’s request was on the record and a part of the official minutes of the council meeting.
Earlier in the day Monday, a similar rezoning request made by Luther and Marilyn Dollar for property they own adjoining the Bishop property at 1015 Hwy 84 West and 1018 1st Street N. W.  was withdrawn. The Dollars submitted their withdrawal in writing to City Hall Monday afternoon prior to the council meeting.
“The request has been withdrawn. That means we will go back through the process to a certain degree later on. I want you to know that all of you are important to this council, both for or against this rezoning. We want what is best for you and best for this community. Frankly, I would have concerns about C2 zoning as well. I thought it may be a problem for us, but commercialism on Highway 84 is the future, whether it is five, 10 or 25 years from now, it is the primary area for business,” Mayor Richard VanLandingham told the large audience.
However, the mayor said no one would want to own a blank piece of property that has no value. Regardless of the zoning, the mayor said the city would take action to have the dilapidated structure on the Bishop property razed.
The mayor said to allow the property to be “blank” for the next 25 years is “not positive.”
“Something positive needs to be done with the property. We have to understand what is best for individuals and the community. I don’t mind listening to anybody and what positive uses of this property should be considered,” the mayor said.
“I don’t anticipate satisfying 100 percent of the people, but I hope to satisfy the majority and do what is best in the future,” the mayor said.
During the public hearing Monday night, Bishop told the city council he projects selling a half million dollars more in furniture at his new location versus his current downtown location.
He also noted the Grady County Board of Education had not taken a position on the rezoning in response to concerns about student safety. As to property values, he cited county tax records that indicated developments like Walgreen’s and U-Save-It Pharmacy had actually increased surrounding property values.
Steve Walker, owner of a residence at 1017 1st St. N.W., said the school board should speak for itself about student safety and not leave it up to the petitioner to speak on their behalf.
Hank Watson, owner of the former Bell residence located at 79 10th Ave. N.W., spoke in opposition to the C2 zoning, but voiced support for a compromise.
He encouraged the Bishops to market the property for residential use and, if unsuccessful, to include the neighborhood in the rezoning of the property. If the city “spot zones” the property, Watson threatened to take legal action against the city.
Johnny Tuggle, a local real estate broker and general contractor, said that 22,000 vehicles pass by the Bishop property annually. However, he said there is no indication the relocation of the Bishop’s furniture store would increase the traffic count. According to Tuggle, the traffic count was down over the last 10 years.
Martha Ruth Elkins, representing the Northwest Neighborhood Association, presented a petition with signatures of 217 residents of northwest Cairo in opposition to the Bishop rezoning.
The council also heard from Chuck Thomas, a member of the Grady County Joint Development Authority, who said the authority is in unanimous support for the rezoning for a new drug store on U.S. 84. He said he “suspected” the authority would also be in favor of other light commercial such as the Mobley Furniture store.
Thomas thanked the audience for remaining civil for the public hearing, but challenged opponents to use facts when making an argument against the rezoning.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but you’re not allowed your own set of facts. We have to stick to the facts,” Thomas said.
Dennis Walker, 238 10th Ave. N.W., also spoke against the rezoning and noted “You take your life into your own hands turning onto 10th Avenue from 84 now. This will only complicate and add to the traffic issue if a commercial building goes there,” Walker said.
Northwest Cairo residents condemned the Bishops for allowing the former Falconer residence on their property to fall into disrepair. “It should have been gone 10 years ago,” Dennis Walker said.
“Anytime a zoning change is requested, there is always potential negative and hostile aspects to it,” Mayor VanLandingham commented.
Following Bishop’s withdrawal, the mayor said Tuesday the city council will review the current city code and make revisions as necessary.
“I haven’t looked at the ordinance in some time and some of it doesn’t make sense to me,” the mayor said Tuesday.
City Manager Addleton said he would request professional planners with the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission to review the existing ordinance and make recommendations to the council.
“I’m not looking for them to suggest a lot of changes, but some sections could be more specific and less ambiguous,” Addleton said.
In related action Monday night, Councilman Douglas suggested the city manager investigate the possibility of making 10th Avenue N.W. from Fourth Street to U.S. 84 one-way east during school hours. “It is probably too late to do it for this school term, but we could have it in place for next year,” Douglas said.

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