Commissioners Set to Vote on Overlay Zoning District Today for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem

Will Dee Mathis and her allies be able to stop the Overlay Zoning District?

Originally posted by CityStink
November 15, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

The author, Al M. Gray, was President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s leading companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns. Cost Recovery Works is no longer in business, as of December 31, 2020.

Today is the day when Augusta commissioners will vote to either approve or halt a controversial proposed Overlay Zoning District for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhoods in inner city Augusta. was the first in the media to tell you about the concerns over the overlay zoning proposal on October 6th in Urban Redevelopment or Land Grab?

Laney-Walker homeowner Dee Mathis got wind that the Augusta Planning and Zoning Department was planning to quietly approve an Overlay Zoning District for her neighborhood on October 3rd. Neither Ms Mathis, nor any of her neighbors had previously heard about this proposal, and none of them were notified prior to the Oct 3rd meeting. Ms Mathis and property rights activist Mike Sheil, showed up at the meeting and challenged the legitimacy of the proposal moving forward because property owners had not been properly notified. Ms Mathis and many of her neighbors wanted more specifics about how the zoning changes would affect them and the use of their property. There were also concerns that the Overlay Zoning District would introduce commercial zoning into areas that are now zoned residential and impose architectural review guidelines on existing property owners. Because of the challenge by Ms Mathis and Mr Sheil, the vote by Planning and Zoning was postponed until November 7th.

Dee Mathis, Laney-Walker Homeowner

The Dog and Pony Shows

In the meantime, Planning and Zoning began to notify the affected property owners by mail and a series of informational seminars were scheduled to supposedly give residents more specifics. Dee Mathis kept requesting  all of the details of the proposal that would actually be voted on, but instead got mostly “vague” concepts and pretty water color sketches… but not a lot of specifics. As you are probably aware, when dealing with Augusta government it’s always important to get the specifics in writing.

The seminars were not much more informative. Critics referred to them as being more “Dog and Pony Shows” than being informative and offering specifics. It became obvious to homeowners like Dee Mathis that the seminars, conducted by the private developer requesting the overlay zone and The Augusta Housing Authority, were mostly propaganda sessions designed to mislead residents with pretty water color sketches that had little to do with what would actually be voted on in the application.

In fact, Dee Mathis and a group of allies found glaring inconsistencies, vague language, and an application that was essentially incomplete. How could an incomplete application be approved? Well, according to the law, it shouldn’t. But that didn’t stop the Planning and Zoning Department from giving their seal of approval to the Overlay Zoning District on November 7th, despite the objections raised by Ms Mathis and her allies. However, for the overlay zone to go into effect, it would need approval from Augusta commissioners. And that is where we are today.

What Will Commissioners Do?

Commissioners will take up the Overlay Zoning District at today’s 5pm BOC meeting at The Marble Palace. Inside sources are telling that Dist 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken (who represents the bulk of the proposed Overlay Zoning District) plans to vote in favor of the OZ. Commissioner Jerry Brigham (Dist 7) has  made public statements indicating that he would likely support it as well. So will this vote fall along mostly racial lines with white commissioners voting in favor of imposing  an Overlay Zoning District in a mostly poor, and black inner-city neighborhood at the behest of a private out-of town developer? What about the “cafeteria” sometimes-leaning-libertarian Mayor Pro-tem Joe Bowles? Will he side with the property rights activists and the rule of law? Or will he fall in line and side with the private developer and approve restricting property rights and approve an incomplete application with inconsistent and vague information that would likely not withstand a legal challenge? Where do minority Commissioners Mason, Lockett, Hatney, and Johnson all stand on the Overlay Zoning District?

The Dee and Al Show

Dee Mathis will be joined by ally and property rights advocate Al Gray at today’s commission meeting. Both are on the agenda to speak before the commissioners in opposing approval of the ordinance. Ms Mathis has also been organizing her neighbors and supporters on Facebook to pack the commission chambers today at 5pm to stop the overlay zone. Al Gray is scheduled to speak first.

Property Rights Advocate, Al Gray

Mr. Gray is no stranger to these sorts of battles. He successfully challenged a similar Overlay Zoning District in Columbia County for the Evans Town Center area. Though not a resident of Richmond County, Mr Gray is coming out to lend his support and knowledge to Ms Mathis and the residents of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem in fighting against this proposal. For Mr Gray it boils down to the simple issue of protecting individual property rights and following the rule of law. received the following press release from Al Gray regarding today’s vote:


Property rights activist and Overlay Zoning District veteran Al Gray has the following comment on the overlay motion coming before the Augusta Richmond County Commission Tuesday night.


The Augusta Richmond County government has been caught with its pants down so often Sheriff Strength could arrest them all for indecent exposure, yet it is poised to execute a plan initiated by a private entity that fails its own ordinance in uniformity, required notices, and completeness. This malignant plan as it is being executed is a dagger to the private property rights of every Richmond County landowner from McBean to Warren Road. Richmond County citizens are being told “trust us” yet again. They say this, “Trust our plan. We don’t know the details, but we MUST pass it to before you find out what is in it.”

When these overlays came to Columbia and Lincoln Counties, they were met with public hostility to the point that there was nearly a riot at the Columbia County Planning Commission in 2000. (Reporters at the Columbia News-Times of that day can attest to this as can Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross who was seen on the front row waving his fist and being decidedly loud in defense of property rights.) The overlay ordinances had to be scaled back to meet public acceptance. The Evans Town Center Overlay was thrown out in Superior Court for lack of notification, yet many Laney Walker residents had not been notified as recently as October 25. In Lincoln County, negating a corridor overlay was a key campaign issue in Chairman Wade Johnson’s victory in 2008 and the proximate cause of the firing of his Planning and Zoning Director.

We trust that residents throughout Richmond County are acutely aware of the many recent failings of its government and have ample reason to be terrified at what lies in store for their most precious property rights at the hands of these failed “leaders.”

I suggest you all wake up. Now.

Al Gray

What Will Happen Next?

Inside sources are telling that the commission will likely approve the Overlay Zoning District proposal at today’s meeting. However, commissioners could be swayed by a large turnout of residents in opposition at today’s meeting. Dee Mathis has been making the rounds of local talk radio and has been busy getting the word out. Also, the property rights and rule of law arguments made by Mathis and Gray may also have an impact on some commissioners.

However even if the proposal does pass today, Al Gray doesn’t see it as a defeat but rather just the beginning, “The vote is (really) meaningless as the matter violates notification, common purpose, and completeness requirements of the application.”

Most opponents believe that the ordinance, if passed in its current form, could not pass a legal challenge in the courts.

What to Know if You Plan to Attend:
  • What: Augusta Commission Meeting
  • Where: Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, 530 Greene St, Room #803
  • When: Today (Tuesday Nov. 15th) at 5:00pm

**Advisory** You are encouraged to arrive early if you want a seat in the chambers. Protest signs are not permitted inside commission chambers. Opponents of the Overlay Zoning District proposal are planning to wear GREEN to show solidarity.

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