The Forsyth Planning & Zoning Commission recommended denial of a request for a variance to expand the commercial truck parking lot on Benson Ham Road to include truck maintenance services. The variance application will go forward to Forsyth city council for a final decision, but it will do so with a recommendation for denial.
The 22.63 parcel at the I-75 exit is zoned Highway Business, which would only allow a truck stop with a variance from city council. Request for the variance was made by Steven Rowland of Rowland Engineering in Macon. The owner of the property is Lorenzo Taffolla. Rowland spoke to Planning & Zoning and gave plans for the property.
Last year a variance was approved to allow use of the property for commercial truck parking, with Planning & Zoning recommending the approval. Rowland said what is being proposed is bathrooms, a waiting area for drivers, truck washing services and a free-standing 1,000 gallon fuel tank to provide fueling for patrons of the parking facility. Under the city’s zoning definitions these services would constitute a truck stop.
Rowland said the additions would provide much needed services to the drivers who use the parking facility. He said the current parking facility is clean and well run.
Planning & Zoning chair Steve Coleman said that when the application for the variance for the truck parking facility was brought to Planning & Zoning previously it was presented as being primarily for truck drivers who live in the Monroe County area and need a place to park their vehicles while they are at home. He knew there was a need for this service and at the time it was allowed in the zoning, although the zoning guidelines have since been updated. Coleman said he wouldn’t have been in favor of a facility that serviced trucks at the Benson Ham Road location.
Coleman recalled that when Planning & Zoning had approved variances for the Quik Trip near the location, it made it clear that providing maintenance for commercial trucks and allowing overnight parking for truckers wouldn’t be allowed. Coleman asked if truckers were staying overnight at the truck parking facility. Forsyth economic development director Cody Ellis said the facility advertises for daily, weekly and monthly parking. Rowland said the facility isn’t marketed as an overnight stop for truckers but he wasn’t sure whether any drivers were using it as such.
“You’re already allowing it as a truck stop by your definition,” said Rowland. “You can’t ask for a much better one.”
Coleman said that with its access to I-75 there are better uses for the property, such as retail and professional offices, than as a truck stop.
“If it was presented to me this way on Day 1, I would have said ‘no.’”
Planning & Zoning vice chair Martin Presley asked what kind of trucks are parking at the facility, and Rowland said over the road trucks, like 18-wheelers. Martin said it was probable that some truckers from out of town were stopping to meet federal guidelines for hours on the road. He asked Rowland if tire changes and oil changes would be done at the site if the variance is approved and was told they would.
Planning & Zoning member Hal Clarke commented that the facility is visible up and down I-75 and is not an attractive addition to the city of Forsyth.
“It’s hard to make a truck stop look good,” he said.
Presley made a motion to table the variance and have Tafolla come to the next Planning & Zoning meeting and give details about his plans. Rowland said he would prefer to take the request on to city council, which has the authority to make a decision. Planning & Zoning then voted unanimously to deny the request for the variance, with Coleman, Presley, Clarke, James Freeman and Michael Brewer in attendance. Members Kathy Rowland and Keisha Rawls were not present.
George Emami then asked to speak to Planning & Zoning. He said he was asked to help with the construction and development of the service center at the truck parking facility. He said it is in line with other businesses in the area and asked what needs to be addressed in taking the variance request to city council. He said Taffolla works in Atlanta most days and, because of concerns about language skills, usually has someone else speak for him at official meetings.
Coleman said the business would match Williams Brothers, which is across the street, but Williams Brothers is downsizing rather than expanding. The residences in the area are older and are not likely to be maintained in the future, clearing the way for other development using the easy access to the interstate.
In other business Coleman and Presley were reelected chair and vice chair of the Forsyth Planning & Zoning Commission. An updated table of permitted, not permitted and conditional uses in Forsyth’s seven non-residential zoning districts was unanimously approved as presented by Ellis. Ellis said he created the updated table over the last two years according to what citizens and elected officials have said they want.