The Augusta Planning Commission has denied a request from the owners of the Bon Air Apartments on Walton Way to build new units after several nearby residents and an Augusta Commissioner lobbied against the petition.
The petition, considered at the Jan. 5 commission meeting, also included a request for a zoning variance that would allow the additional units without adding the required additional parking spaces to the parking lot of the iconic Summerville complex.
“I am thankful that the Planning Commission decided to deny this petition until the owners clean the place up and properly disclose their plans to the community,” said District 3 Commissioner Catherine McKnight.
Owners of Bon Air Apartments, LP, of Austin, Texas planned to convert the building’s historic ballroom into 23 new single bed or loft units.
McKinight says that despite having met with the owners via Zoom several times, she was unaware that the complex planned to add rental units until it was disclosed at the meeting held on Jan. 5.
“There are serious problems there, and they need to address those before they add more apartments,” McKnight said.
The owners have agreed to meet with McKnight and other concerned citizens at the end of the month.
According to McKnight, crime has become a problem at the complex that has been known for decades to house primarily the disabled and the elderly. Mcknight says more than 50 calls have summoned police to the complex in the past six months.
Frank Dolan, who lives adjacent to the property, says the Bon Air is no longer home to the elderly. He says the new absentee landlords, who he dubs “mercenaries,” have allowed the building to become a hub of drug and gang activity.
“It is normal to hear gunshots coming from that parking lot, and they are dealing meth, coke or whatever the new drug is out in the open,” Dolan said.
Dolan estimates that fewer than 5% of the building’s occupants could be considered elderly or disabled.
“You see them going back and forth to the liquor store and hanging out in the parking lot. I can assure you those people are not disabled or elderly,” Dolan said.
McKnight and Dolan both say the complex’s owners tried to bulldoze their plans through the Planning Commission without consulting any of the other quasi-governmental groups that have jurisdiction over any changes made to the property.
The Bon Air building, erected in 1924 after a fire destroyed the original wooden structure, is on the National Register of Historic Places and was listed by Historic Augusta, Inc. as an endangered property in 2013.
Altering such an historic property requires more than just a planning commission’s approval, according to Dolan.
The Summerville Historic Association has to be consulted before any additions to the exterior of the property are made, says Brian Kepner, a senior planner with the Augusta Planning and Zoning Department.
“They don’t need to be talking about packing more residents in the building. They need to be putting in security cameras and making the place safe for the neighborhood,” McKnight said.
The owners of Bon Air LP could not be reached for comment, and there does not appear to be a working phone number to the management office.