Commission fails to reach Nuwaubian rezoning decision

Macon Telegraph/October 17, 2001
By Rob Peecher

Eatonton -- The zoning status of a portion of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors' 476-acre village remains in limbo after Putnam County Commission members Tuesday made three motions on a rezoning request that weren't seconded, and a fourth motion ended in a tie vote.

The nine owners of the village sought to have 1.6 acres rezoned from residential to agricultural and another 10.67 acres rezoned from agricultural to residential.

Commissioner Howard McMichael was absent from Tuesday's zoning hearing, and three remaining commission members each made a separate motion on the request. Commission Chairman Steve Layson, who made no motions but did finally second the fourth motion, said after the meeting he was not sure what the tie vote meant.

"We're going to have to get an opinion on that; I'm not quite sure," Layson said.

County Attorney Bob Prior said to Layson after the hearing, "This was a mass confusion."

Commissioner Sylbie Yon, who has worked with the Nuwaubians on their continuing building and zoning problems, made a motion to defer any decision until about 20 buildings or structures on the property are brought into compliance with county ordinances. Her motion failed for lack of a second.

Commissioner Sandra Adams made a motion to deny the rezoning request, which initially failed for lack of a second.

Commissioner Jimmy Davis made an unseconded motion to table the request until the next meeting to give the Nuwaubians time to get a deed showing the nine property owners do actually own the property. Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who spoke against the rezoning request, said it is his opinion that the property owners do not have good title to the land.

After the three motions failed for lack of a second, Layson asked Adams to restate her motion to deny the request. Layson then seconded her motion. Davis and Yon voted against the motion, and the issue was at an end.

Frank Ford, an attorney whose wife and law partner was county attorney and who represented the county in much of its litigation during the past four years, said he believes no action was taken because the final vote, ending in a tie, was no different than the motions that failed for lack of a second.

Under a normal denial of a rezoning request, Ford said, an applicant has to wait six months to a year before bringing the request back before the commission. Ford said he believes, based on the tie vote, that no action was taken Tuesday, and therefore the Nuwaubians could bring the request back before the commission at its next rezoning hearing.

Ralph Goldberg, the attorney who has represented the Nuwaubians in the bulk of their litigation with the county about zoning and building disputes, said he believed the commission denied the request but would "hate to argue with Frank Ford on county procedure."

Al Woodall, who presented the request to the commission, said the Nuwaubians needed the rezoning as the first step to bring at least two of their buildings into compliance with county codes.

Robbie Howell, the county engineer, told the commission nearly 20 buildings or structures on the property are not in compliance.

Sills told the commission that the Nuwaubians were seeking the rezoning in an effort to circumvent a court-ordered injunction he obtained that forbids use of one of the buildings until it is brought into compliance.

Sills also said the request should be rejected because the nine individuals who claim ownership of the property have no standing to make a rezoning request because the title they hold is bad.

The Putnam County Planning and Zoning Commission last month recommended the County Commission deny the request.

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