Photo by Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Commissioner Michael Edmondson argues against a zoning change to allow the expansion of a Jonesboro-area used car dealership. The county’s zoning board also recommended denial of the change, but the county commission voted 4-1 in favor of the change.
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners overrode a recommendation from its own zoning advisory group, and gave a Jonesboro-area used car dealership the OK to expand to neighboring properties last week.
The Clayton County Zoning Authority recommended that commissioners deny a zoning-change request from Cars & Credit Assistance, Inc., to have four properties, located just outside the Jonesboro city limits, rezoned from “Regional Mixed Use,” to “General Business with a Conditional Use Permit for Used Vehicle Sales.”
The properties are located near the intersection of North Main Street and Tara Boulevard. A 2008 county comprehensive plan and land-use map, along with an Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) study, tax-allocation districts (TAD), and overlay districts for that area, call for the properties to be zoned for mixed-use development, rather than for general business.
The designation was changed to mixed use, from general business, in 2008. The commission undid that 2008 decision on May 8, however, with a 4-1 vote in favor of approving Cars and Credit’s request. Commissioner Michael Edmondson cast the lone dissenting vote.
“The ARC corridor study findings suggest a better use than this,” Edmondson told his fellow commissioners. “It’s inconsistent with our comprehensive plan, the zoning advisory group voted against it, staff recommends not [approving it]. If this was detrimental to the business, it would be one thing, but ... this person bought it on speculation, not realizing the current zoning.”
One of the issues at stake in the disagreement over the zoning of these properties is what the long-term use should be. The properties include: 7710 and 7728 Tara Blvd., which is already a Cars and Credit Assistance used car lot; 7780 Tara Blvd., which is mainly taken up by Jester’s Creek, and 0 North Main Street, the former site of Payless Car Sales, which closed approximately three years ago.
Opponents of the change argued that a 2008 land-use plan, along with the creation of the Tara Boulevard Overlay District and a study done by the Atlanta Regional Commission, recommended the site be used for multi-modal, or pedestrian-friendly purposes. “It’s certainly not multi-modal, or pedestrian friendly, as the plans call for,” said Jonesboro resident, David Clark, who addressed commissioners as an opponent of the zoning change.
Proponents of Cars and Credit Assistance’s request argued that it would be better used for housing businesses, however. Cars and Credit Assistance has been in operation on part of its current site since 1985, according to attorney Crandle Bray, a former county commission chairman who is representing the car lot’s owners. The other part of that site housed a Waffle House until it closed a couple of years ago.
“Until you have a real economic change, I don’t see how this property would do anything but sit there, if it were not used for car sales at this time,” said Bray.
Edmondson said there was no benefit to the county in letting the business expand to the old Payless Car Sales lot, which would give Cars and Credit Assistance more space to park used cars, but would also add few, if any, jobs. “Does it benefit the county?” Edmondson asked. “They are not doing any improvements on the property. They are just expanding their business.”
Bray said the land was zoned for car lots until the county drew up its comprehensive land-use plan in 2008. He said the commissioners should approve his client’s request, in part, because nothing else has been built on the properties since the land-use plan was adopted. The Payless Car Sales lot has sat empty since that car dealership closed.
But, Clark countered that approving Cars and Credit Assistance’s request would be a backward step for the county, and efforts to clean up Tara Boulevard. “The request for re-zoning from regional mixed use, to general business, is a step down in zoning, not an improvement,” he said. “As a county, we have worked diligently, and hard to clean up the thoroughfares and the blighted mess that is Tara Boulevard — conditions largely created, permitted and encouraged by previous commissioners.”
But, Bray said that putting mixed-use developments on the land could create traffic hazards on Tara Boulevard and North Main Street. “I don’t know how many of you remember when Waffle House was open, but it was a cut-through, and there were so many wrecks where people would cut through the Waffle House [parking lot] because it looked like a road,” he said. “It was dangerous. If you developed it for anything that is mixed-use or high occupancy, at that location, I think you are creating a hazard.”
In the end, however, it was the lure of having a business occupy a vacant lot that swayed commissioners to override the zoning board’s recommendation, according to Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell. He said the commission could always change it back in the future, but it would be better to let an existing business use it in now. He also said that having businesses occupying more vacant properties could provide tax relief for county residents, who saw their property taxes raised by more than 30 percent last year to cover a shortfall in the county’s budget.
“I’m going to take every opportunity to get businesses in this county,” Bell said. “There may be some [residents] that don’t like it, but they’re certainly income. I am going to make every effort this year to give these residential taxpayers some relief, and what better to give them their relief than adding businesses.”