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Mills House rezoning request tabled
Mills House-planning meeting 8-21
Hinesville attorney Joel Osteen, left, talks to the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission on Tuesday about rezoning the Mills House property. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
Joel Osteen approached the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission Tuesday requesting that the Mills House property he owns be rezoned commercial. However, after the LCPC recommended tabling Osteen’s petition and a number of opponents spoke against the rezoning, Osteen himself asked that the project be tabled until next month.
Osteen, who with his brother Jay Osteen, represents the Downtown Group LLC, said they intend to build three restaurants and a hotel on the Mills House property, which is on the corner of Memorial Drive and East Oglethorpe Highway.
The Osteens’ proposed development is the first project to be affected by the city of Hinesville’s Memorial  Drive sub-area plan, which was approved in July.
“We’re just trying to figure out what it (the new ordinance) calls for and how it relates to our project,” Osteen said in a phone interview Thursday. “We’ll meet with the planning commissioners and their staff and talk about our project and talk about the ordinance and how our project fits in with it.”
Osteen said in his opinion, the Memorial Drive plan is written more for businesses that front Memorial Drive. His development would front Highway 84, he said.
“It (the ordinance) calls for certain things that would not apply to highway commercial property,” he said.
Osteen said if his company is not granted the rezoning to commercial, they would continue to work with the planning commission on “the best use for the land.”
Planning commissioners said the new ordinance will impact any decision they make when considering the rezoning petition for the Osteens’ property.
“It’s a very gray area for us,” LCPC Chairman Donald Hartley Sr said.
“The Memorial Drive sub-area plan is a downtown overlay district where you have different standards than the rest of town,” explained Gabriel Hartage, LCPC assistant zoning administrator. “The buildings in this district must look a certain way, such as putting parking to the rear.”
Hartage told planning commissioners that staff recommended the project be tabled because all they had to work with was a conceptual drawing. She said more details would be needed because the Osteens’ proposed development comes under the city’s new ordinance.
LCPC staff also told commissioners that the proposed rezoning to high density commercial was not suitable to other nearby uses, such as schools and churches, and that increased traffic could be a problem.
The owners want to rezone two of the property’s parcels from O-1 (office-institutional) to C-2 (high-density commercial) and another parcel from R-1 (single family dwelling district) to C-2.
Osteen said his company hopes to attract “quality businesses” to the area, and said that two national chains expressed interest in locating their family-style restaurants on the property.
Osteen said he is aware his development is the first project to come under the Memorial Drive sub-area plan, and said his company would try to comply with the ordinance’s requirements, but that they would need the property rezoned first.
He reiterated that he and his brother were open to someone in the community coming forward to preserve and move the Mills House to another location. Osteen told planning commissioners that he would like to see the Mills House relocated and restored so it could be used “to its full potential.”
Osteen had previously stated that the Mills House was remodeled in 1987, thereby destroying the home’s historic character.
However, in a letter to the editor of the Coastal Courier printed on Aug. 16, Donna Shive of the Liberty County Cultural and Historical Resources Committee, wrote that the Mills House underwent a major renovation in 1938, and was renovated again in 1989.
A number of people who attended the planning commission meeting spoke in opposition of the rezoning, and said the Mills House historical value is intact and that the structure should be preserved at its current location.
“I was astounded to learn that the Mills House was in peril,” said Judy Shippy of Hinesville. “This place does matter. This home should be preserved and kept in its present location.”
Shippy suggested the Mills House be preserved as a landmark, and that is could be used for such community activities as a women’s club.
“This home is of significant historical value,” said Amanda Cox of Allenhurst. “The Downtown Group knew it was a historic site when they purchased it.”
Cox said that remodeling the Mills House and putting a restaurant inside it would be a better alternative to tearing it down or moving it.
“If we do not preserve our history, how can our future learn from our past?” she asked.
The Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission will hold its next meeting at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 15, at the Liberty County Courthouse Annex on South Main Street in Hinesville.

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