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Makeover planned for vacant motel in Armuchee

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Rome & Floyd County

"I know Armuchee needs more housing, more apartments ... and I'm tired of the motels out there," said new owner Tonya Shepard. "They're eyesores. I'd like to get rid of a few more of them."

Shepard is seeking multi-family residential zoning for the commercial property at 3840 Martha Berry Highway.

She told the Rome-Floyd County Planning Commission Thursday that she'll renovate the 30 units as about 15 one-bedroom efficiency apartments. There will be a gate, security cameras and a fence around the site.

"If I'm going after the Berry (College) students (as tenants), I have to go after the Berry parents," Shepard said. "I guarantee it will be a nice place."

The plan was met with skepticism by two members of the citizen-board and resident Doris Fowler, who has lived on Burr Drive behind the motel for the past 40 years. Fowler said the property has an "ugly" past and similar apartments nearby are also problematic.

"Junkies throwing needles over the fence ... a girl set her couch on fire," she said. Fowler said she was able to buy a small vacant lot as a buffer and now, "there's no police, no drugs, no drinking. Just gardening."

Planning commission members Anthony McClain and Steve Miller questioned Shepard closely, indicating concern that she may not be able to restore the blighted site. She'll need several variances from the development code adopted since the old motel was built, according to Planning Director Artagus Newell, and the amount of paved surface may trigger a water quality assessment.

However, Shepard said she bought and "cleaned up" a mobile home park near her house when she "got tired of the riff-raff" and she's comfortable taking on the project.

In the end, the vote was 6 to 2 to recommend approval, with McClain and Miller remaining opposed — mainly due to the lack of a professionally drawn plan. The majority agreed with Newell that occupied refurbished buildings are better than derelict vacant properties in the area.

"It's on her," member Ivy Lowery said. "At least we won't have that ... because that's gross."

Others in favor were Chairman Terry Jones and members John Bennett, Logan Boss, Frank Brown and Ghee Wilson.

The Floyd County Commission will make a final ruling following a public hearing scheduled for its Sept. 25 meeting.