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Business owners object to zoning changes, tactics
"Intimidation" from code officers described
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An update to the Sigman Road area Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) Overlay District that requires bicycle lanes and bans various types of new businesses, among other changes, was approved tonight by Conyers City Council.

The approval came over the objections of Puritan Dry Cleaners & Laundry owner David Shipp that banning legal businesses is counterproductive. And it followed complaints from another business owner about a zoning dispute that led to "intimidation" by enforcement officers and a police officer, a case that Mayor Randal Mills said will be discussed further.

The LCI is a specialized zoning area that imposes a wide variety of restrictions and standards on new development in the area, down to types of building materials and landscaping. The overall idea is to create mixed-use developments that are friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The LCI update mandates bike lanes where they are feasible. It also prohibits the following types of businesses: alcohol sales; car dealers; tattoo or body-piercing parlors; car washes; check-cashers or title lenders; mini-warehouses; and pawn shops.

Councilman John Fountain emphasized that any such businesses already in the area can remain, including under new owners.

Before the council unanimously approved the update, Shipp objected that it decreases the value of commercial property and could lead to more vacancy.

"I'm a teetotaler myself," he said of the ban on liquor stores. "But if it's a legal business and they have a right to do it, I don't understand why the city is saying, ‘You can't come here.'"

Brad Poynter, owner of the former Fieldstone Center at Green and Bryant streets, complained that other recent zoning changes led to confusion, and then official harassment, at his property. He is leasing the space to a contractor, which has run afoul of zoning. Poynter told the council that two code enforcement officers and a police officer recently showed up and tried to get the contractor to sign a document stating he would leave within 10 days.

Poynter said that is the sort of tactic "I fully expect to hear about in Chicago... I didn't expect to have that intimidation in Conyers."
"We're going to work on this," said Mills, promising further discussion with Poynter and city departments.

Shipp said that he and other business owners have been subjected to similar "bullying" and boycotting for opposing zoning changes. Councilman Cleveland Stroud approached him after the meeting to say that police officers often go with code enforcement officers to protect them, not to intimidate a business owner.