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Sylvania’s ‘Main’ street of contention
Despite listening to impassioned pleas from homeowners on S. Main Street to leave their residential area as-is, Sylvania’s Plans and Design Commission voted 3-0 to recommend that two houses on Main Street be rezoned from residential to professional.
The issue now goes to the full city council, which will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at City Hall, right before its regular council meeting. No specific date has been set for the city council to vote on the issue, but the council must take action on the request on or before its third regular meeting after the public hearing, said City Manager Carter Crawford. The council meets at 6 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, at City Hall.
Lawyers Grady Reddick and Donald O. Sheppard III are asking that the house at 307 S. Main St. be rezoned so they can move their offices there. Reddick said the house they bought in December is larger and nicer than their current office, which is next door to Farmer’s Hardware on E. Ogeechee Street.
They have spent six months doing extensive renovations to the property. Reddick, who also is a state court judge, declined to say how much he and Sheppard spent for the property or how much they have spent on renovations. Public records indicate they paid $10 “and other good and valuable consideration” for the house.
Reddick said they didn’t apply for the zoning change six months ago, when they first bought the property and before they did the renovations, because they wanted to show the neighbors that the building was still going to look like a house.
“We wanted to get the building looking good, to show there would be no radical changes and show our appreciation for the concerns for the dignity of the neighborhood,” he said.
He said if the zoning change doesn’t go through, they’ll probably rent or sell the building. “I’m not in the house-owning business,” he said. Donald Sheppard said if the zoning isn’t approved, they’ll lose money and would expect to have a hard time selling the house in these tough economic times.
The house next door, at 305 S. Main St., also would have to be rezoned because it’s between Reddick’s house and the Platinum Properties real estate office, which already is zoned professional and spot zoning is illegal, Crawford said. The owners of that house, Mr. and Mrs. A.W. Robinson III, said they have no specific plans for their property but want it to be zoned professional if houses on both sides are zoned professional.
The Robinson house has been vacant for several years and the Reddick house has been vacant for about a year, according to Gary Weaver, who acts as building inspector for the city.
Reddick said the house sits on nine-tenths of an acre that there’s room for “parking galore” on the side and the back of the property. “Lots of times, you may not even know we’re there,” he said.
“People have the idea that S. Main Street is all of a sudden going to turn into an industrial district,” but he said that’s not going to happen. “I’m pro business. One or two businesses on Main Street is not going to be the end of the world.”
He said the office will have a positive effect on property values. “It’s not going to be a change,” he said. “It’s going to be a house.” He said the building had roofing problems and if the leaks hadn’t been fixed, within a year, “You’d have nothing but a heap of trash.”
Donald Sheppard said he owns another house on Main Street and has an interest in seeing that the values there don’t decrease.
Fourteen people attended the Plans and Design Commission meeting on Sept. 3 that lasted about an hour and a half. Voting to recommend the zoning change were board members Mike Daley, Warren Poythress and Hilda Boykin. Stan Sheppard recused himself because Donald Sheppard is his nephew. Board member Roger Cleland did not attend the meeting.
Some residents who attended the meeting said they feared rezoning the two houses would be opening “a can of worms” and that S. Main Street will eventually wind up being more professional than residential, similar to Zetterower Avenue in Statesboro.
That’s a concern that City Manager Crawford expressed in a letter he wrote to the Plans and Design Commission. Crawford, who was city administrator of Statesboro from June 1990 through July 1998, said in the letter, “I am very concerned about the future of S. Main Street maintaining its status as a residential neighborhood. … Twenty-five years ago, Zetterower Avenue was very similar to what S. Main Street is today. I hope that the homeowners who have maintained and remodeled homes on S. Main Street will be able to enjoy their homes and neighborhood without any further encroachment of non-residential zoning.”
Tom Avret, of 407 S. Main St., told the board that when the Platinum Properties building was rezoned professional, homeowners in the area expressed concern that the change would lead to other houses on the street also being turned into offices, and now those fears are being realized. “I can’t see this being done,” he said. “If you want to upgrade the house, upgrade the house, sell it as a residence.”
Avret’s wife, Linda, said the city has other vacant commercial spaces where lawyers could have an office, without going into the S. Main Street neighborhood. “Don’t come into the residential area,” she said. “Leave us alone.”
The vote by the Plans and Design Commission made one homeowner on Main Street so angry that he said he is going to sell his house and leave the city. “They don’t represent the community,” Bill Revesz said. “They represent business.”
Revesz said after the vote, later that same day, he resigned as chairman of Keep Screven Beautiful and also quit his positions at Friends of the Library and the VFW. “I will not work for community organizations in a community that doesn’t support residents.” He put a “for sale” sign in front of his house that same day. He said he plans to move no matter what the city council decides about the issue.
Revesz said he and his wife moved to Sylvania in 2001 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., where he retired from Boeing. He lives at 315 S. Main St., two houses away from the Reddick house and in the same block.
He told Reddick, “You’re not there 24/7. You’re not a neighbor. You don’t come down and say, ‘Hello,” or have a drink with me once in a while. When you put a business in a residential area, you take the neighbors away.”
Karen Thompson, who owns the house next door to the Reddick house, said she “was on the fence about a law office,” but when she learned that a doctor’s office could be opened in a house zoned professional, she said, “I would have a very strong objection to it.” She said people might come and go from a doctor’s office at odd hours and doctors store drugs that would be attractive to thieves.
“A doctor’s office?” she asked. “No, absolutely not.”
Boykin said as Better Hometown manager, it’s her job to help maintain the historical integrity of the community. She said she had received a number of calls about the issue and was torn about what to do. “I want to promote new businesses, offices, but that’s one of our signature streets,” she said.
After about an hour of discussion at the board meeting, she said she was “still on the fence. “ Ten minutes later, Daley moved to recommend rezoning. Poythress seconded the motion and she voted “yes,” making the decision unanimous.
Daley said he doesn’t think the change will lower property values in the neighborhood. “I don’t know about opening the floodgates,” to additional properties being changed to professional. “They’d have to come before the board piece by piece.”
Poythress said he hadn’t been shown that the change would hurt the neighborhood. He said the building will retain its residential appearance. “I don’t think it’ll go farther down the street,” he said.
Diane Revesz disagreed. “We love Main Street,” she said. “When it’s gone, it’s never coming back.”