Richard Sims has passed one test, but another one awaits him next month.
The Milledgeville resident appeared before members of the Milledgeville Planning & Zoning Board Monday night to request an overlay on three historic properties he owns in the city.
Sims, who moved to Milledgeville in 2008, convinced members of the city Planning & Zoning board to see things his way, as they recommended approval of an overlay on all three of the properties — 240 W. Washington St.; 230 W. Washington St.; and 211 S. Wilkinson St.
Each of the properties is currently zoned as single family. Sims is requesting an overlay of each so as to completely renovate them into group residences.
The meeting, which drew more than 30 people, many of them opposed to the request, was overseen by Andrew Strickland, who served as the acting chairman in the absence of David Grant. The only other P&Z board members in attendance included Herman Driskell Sr., Richard Brookins, Donald Hill and Phillip Joiner.
During the lengthy meeting, several of the board members asked questions and heard from residents in public hearings.
P&Z members voted on each property separately following the hearings.
Jimmy Jordan, the city attorney, explained that the overlay is similar to the overlay that appears on the official zoning map designating the boundaries of the city’s historic district.
“If an SFRI (single family) zoned area is included in the overlay for group residences, then a property owner within the boundaries of the overlay can apply to P&Z and then of course to mayor and council for a special use permit to have a group residence in a house that is otherwise designated single family, meaning they can have more than three unrelated persons living in the house,” Jordan said. “This could include allowance of a fraternity or sorority, but it is not limited to such. In addition, there are other requirements that must be met to adequate parking, compliance with fire codes, etc.”
When Sims spoke to P&Z board members, he told them he was merely seeking permission to apply for group use in the future.
Sims lives directly across the street from the Old Governor’s Mansion and was accompanied to the meeting by his attorney, Matt Roessing.
Sims said he has a “great personal passion in historic preservation with the city of Milledgeville, and the local institutions.” He called his request “a very serious issue.”
He said if his request was approved that he would be back before the city’s P&Z board to discuss his group use details.
“I have already invested millions of dollars in cash and capital, and hundreds of hours of personal labor,” Sims said. “And I plan to invest millions more of capital.”
Sims pointed out that he has restored his own personal home and put in thousands of hours of labor and hired manual labor.
He said he was currently completing what he described as “a most fascinating renovation” of a Victorian mansion across the street from the Antebellum Inn at 201 N. Columbia St.
“My goal is to have a safe and beautiful downtown with high property values, great tax revenue and a happy, healthy city,” Sims said. “Life is good.”
Now that Sims has passed the one test, he must gain the approval of city council members before he can proceed with the next step, which would take him back to the P&Z board and city council for approval as it would involve detailed accounting of his renovation plans.
City council members will hold a public hearing to decide whether to approve or deny the overlay request at their first meeting in July, according to Mervin Graham, the city’s zoning administrator.
Several residents spoke against the overlay proposal.
Edwin Atkins was one of them.
“I am a resident of the city and founder of the Friends of Central State Hospital, a group of over 6,000 members whom I feel support historic preservation,” Atkins said. “I live at 321 S. Liberty, the Fort Hollis home, which is 100 feet from the property located at 240 W. Washington St. I am concerned about the request for a change in use of the property and I urge the board to not allow any changes to the current use.”
Atkins cited concerns over the potential for traffic disruptions and excessive noise.
“I have witnessed a number of homes on South Liberty Street, which are associated with the college students and found the neighborhood to be infested with loud parties, noise and lack of parking spaces. The Milledgeville Police Department has on many occasions received complaints and the Milledgeville Fire Department has responded to a fire in one of the historic homes.
“I appreciate the appearance of the preservation work on many exteriors that Mr. Sims has purchased, but I expect the interior changes needed to accommodate group residents will cause the home to lose its historic integrity and elements,” he said.