By Sydney Spencer

The Fayette County Planning & Zoning Commission has declined to recommend a rezoning request that would have relocated Fayetteville Ford from Glynn Street closer to the Highway 54 corridor.

Fayetteville Ford requested to acquire parcels totaling 40.5 acres, but after hearing the request and hearing from citizens during the meeting’s public comment session, the board voted unanimously not to recommend the request go forward.

Planning & Zoning’s decision does not legally end the dealership’s bid to rezone the parcels, but it does throw up a major roadblock as recommendations for rezoning typically go to the city and county boards for consideration and final approval.

Peachtree City attorney Richard P. Lindsey presented Fayetteville Ford’s in the rezoning request in place of David Burnett, the applicant and owner of Fayetteville Ford. The company’s first consideration was a request to rezone 37.915 acres from R-70 to C-C to build a new car dealership and service center. This property is located in Land Lot 128 of the 5th District and front on South Sandy Creek Road.

“Here tonight seeking the rezoning of the northeast corner of Sandy Creek Road and Highway 54 from R-70 to Community-Commercial,” said Lindsey. “Mr. Burnett wants to relocate the Ford Dealership which is currently on State Highway 85 in Downtown Fayetteville to the location there on the northeast corner of Sandy Creek Road and Highway 54. The property in question consists of about 40.5 acres and is boarded on two sides by the city of Fayetteville.”

Lindsey said the current zoning where Fayetteville Ford would like to relocate is outdated and Fayette County took action previously to bring the same location up to date with its comprehensive plan, later building institutional offices.

“The current residential zoning is out of touch with the actual use of the surrounding property in the area,” said Lindsey. “The county has actually recognized this and in the 2017 Comprehensive Plan has called for this property to be future use of office institutional. However, there are already several medical offices and other offices in the immediate area. A number of properties have already been zoned for office institutional and they have not been yet developed. Our contention there is, there is no need for additional offices in this area of the county. What Mr. Burnett is proposing to relocate his Ford Dealership from its current old facility in Fayetteville to this property.”

Presenting all parcels at once, Lindsey transitioned to the next consideration for the request to rezone 1.769 acres from R-70 to C-C to build a new car dealership and service center. This property is located in Land Lot 128 of the 5th District and fronts on S.R. Highway 54.

“The use of the property being rezoned to C-C, and it will be developed as an automobile dealership. I present far less traffic on the areas where there are medical offices,” said Lindsey. “The traffic into the area would be far worse than it would be if this property was developed as the dealership we proposed. What Mr. Burnett is proposing is to develop an attractive dealership situated to minimize the visual impact on 54 and on Sandy Creek. The plan will include extra burns, landscaping and design to make it an attractive development there at that intersection. In today’s world, dealerships are no longer like they used to be where they had acres and acres of asphalt. Today, buyers can go online, look at vehicles on the internet, shop around virtually and then make an appointment to go to the dealer where the dealer has the vehicle on the property for a physical inspection.”

Addressing the third and final consideration for the request to rezone 1.210 acres from R-70 to C-C to build a new car dealership and service center. This property is located in Land Lot 128 of the 5th District and fronts on S.R. Highway 54 and South Sandy Creek.

Lindsey stated the same information about the second consideration. He expanded on Burnett’s desire to create an “attractive destination for customers” and how if the land is acquired the dealership would generate a lot of tax revenue.

“He wants to make this a destination place that’s very attractive for the area and community,” said Burnett. “It will be a great tax generator for the county. The business license, the property taxes both personal and the real property taxes will be a great benefit to the county. I’ve read the staff’s memo, there are several recommendations at the end or conditions if the Board of Commissioners were to approve the rezoning. I have checked with my client and he’s in agreement with all of those, so that if it is rezoned all of those conditions that Deb and her staff have laid out are acceptable to the applicant.”

The public hearing of these requests was also opened to public comment where Fayette County residents were able to speak on them. Residents had 20 minutes to take turns at the podium voicing their opinions whether they were in support of the rezoning or opposed to it.

Fayetteville resident Vasana Smith was vocally opposed to Fayetteville Ford’s rezoning requests. She believes there is no need for their expansion, and said it would create more traffic blocking entrances into medical facilities.

“When you’re dying, you don’t want a new car, you want medical assistance,” said Smith. “The hospital and numerous medical offices are located across the street from this land. This development is right across the street from the emergency room entrance and could mean that hospital traffic including the emergency ambulance could be significantly delayed. Patients driving to the emergency room as well.”

Flint Riverkeeper R.J. Gipaya voiced his opinion to oppose the rezoning of Fayetteville Ford because he said it would ruin the county’s streams, wetlands and tributaries.

“I am the watershed specialist for the Flint Riverkeeper. We are an organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of water quality and water flow of the Flint River and all of its tributaries,” said Gipaya. “We oppose the granting of this rezoning request that is before you. Our position rests on two pillars. Number one, your own Comprehensive Plan developed and approved by Fayette County citizens previous planning and zoning and elected commissioners does not provide for this type of development contemplated in this rezoning. The zoning is appropriate for both the neighborhood features and the aquatic environment. Sandy Creek, Whitewater Creek and Lake Bennett are all vital hydrological assets of the upper Flint. Increasing amounts of runoff and unavoidable pollution that would come from automotive dealerships and shops would generate an unhealthy situation for decades to come.”

Pleading the company’s case for rezoning, Lindsey revealed that Fayetteville Ford would not be the only dealership renovating their office to such standards. He points out that dealerships all over the country have been expanding their facilities and finding recreational activities for their customers to do while their vehicles are being serviced.

“A lot of dealerships across the country now are becoming more of a destination location which is what Mr. Burnett is proposing. He wants to make this a center where car enthusiasts can go and see what is being proposed with the new products that are on the marketplace, but also have some entertainment and some recreational activities on the site,” said Lindsey. “We’re proposing a walking trail, a dog park, potentially a pickle ball court or two and maybe a putt putt course. Things for the customers to do while getting an oil change, their car worked on or kids are there while you’re looking at a vehicle. Something for the family to do and for the customers to do. I’ve gone online and looked at several dealerships that have opened up across the country and now have many recreational things for their customers to do.”

After hearing Lindsey’s presentation and public comments from Fayette County residents, the board unanimously voted to deny all of Fayetteville Ford’s requests to rezone. Board member Brian Haren spoke on his decision to deny the requests.

“For me this is a tough one. I’ve been a customer of Fayetteville Ford for almost 15 years. You guys truly are a credit to the community,” said Haren. “You guys do need to move, but unfortunately, I don’t think this is the right location. It’s not the right location because of the comprehensive plan. In my opinion, if we approve this it sets us back and it becomes a cascading effect.”

The Fayette County News reached out to Fayetteville Ford and its attorneys but had not received a call back by Friday afternoon.

This story has been updated.