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County puts brakes on dense residential developments

County places hold on dense development

Posted: February 22, 2015 - 1:11am  |  Updated: February 23, 2015 - 4:35pm
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The Columbia County Commission voted unanimously to impose a six-month moratorium on high density housing building permits as an attempt to get a handle on the booming growth.  Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The Columbia County Commission voted unanimously to impose a six-month moratorium on high density housing building permits as an attempt to get a handle on the booming growth.

 

Earl T. Morris was hoping to sell nine acres of land he owned in Grovetown near the intersection of Lewiston and Mill Branch roads.

The property, valued at $238,525, was scheduled to go before the Columbia County Board of Commissioners on April 17 to be rezoned for high-density housing.

Now, thanks to a six-month moratorium commissioners placed last week on new zoning applications for townhouses and “clusters” of single and multifamily homes, Morris thinks he will be lucky to close a deal with Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial by the end of the summer for the expansion of a William Few Parkway neighborhood.

Morris’ property is part of 65 acres of land the real-estate company requested for rezoning on Feb. 9 to add 147 lots, another entrance and an expanded pool, as requested by residents, to a new subdivision called Chastain Place.

Matt Mills, senior vice president at Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial, remains optimistic the applications will be approved, but says the halt will significantly impact whether four Grovetown property owners, including Morris, will be able sell their properties to developers seriously considering a transaction.

“It would have been a plus,” Morris said of the zoning’s impact on the property’s potential resale value. “Now, I am not sure what is going to happen.”

County officials say the six-month hiatus from approving these types of dense residential developments is an attempt to get a handle on the county’s booming
growth.

The county is facing the relocation of 3,700 cyberdefense workers to Fort Gordon, and as a result more than 5,000 relatives moving to the area by 2019.

Even in an area of Augusta familiar with new construction, the sudden pause in rezoning by county leaders has left some residents and industry leaders questioning whether a moratorium is a necessary and effective way to keep pace with developers and preserve the community’s high quality of
life.

In the past year, the county has received zoning applications for eight projects for 965 homes that would fall under the commission’s moratorium, which covers four zoning districts and mostly features smaller homes priced below $175,000 that make up about 18 percent of new house sold the housing market, data shows.

The county’s Growth Management Plan, which was updated in 2011, only allows commissioners to approve 60 townhomes a year.

According to records from the Columbia County Department of Planning Services, commissioners approved 44 townhomes earlier this month and 64 last year in Grovetown’s Warrior’s Walk and Hidden Creek subdivisions, respectively.

Of the eight high-density applications submitted, the commission denied their only request on Feb. 3 to rezone two acres on Fury’s Ferry Road from professional to townhouse-residential for 16 units, because of an existing community of about 30 duplexes a half-mile away.

Community leaders say the rejection was a sign of commissioners slowing new development to ensure the county has the resources and infrastructure to handle the increase in traffic and utility needs that come with growth.

Jim Cox, chairman of the Columbia County Planning and Zoning Commission, said a moratorium has been under discussion formally for about three months and informally for five years.

“All the commissioners at some point, have voiced concern about the density of a lot of the projects that have been proposed over that last several years and I think it just finally came to a head,” Cox said. “They realized in order to preserve the county’s quality of life and the quality of our school system we need to be developing in a reasonable fashion, as opposed to cramming as many lots as we can into every subdivision.”

Cox said the root of the problem is the county’s residential districts usually require 10-foot setbacks, but can be amended to five feet when applicants request a planned-unit development.

This lets builders construct housing clusters within 5-feet of the property line, leaving only 10-feet between homes.

“Because of the way houses, trees and air conditioners are situated, there have been some instances where the county could not get equipment behind houses into easements to fix drainage, sewer and water-line problems,” Cox said. “Another concern is the land separating homes is not wide enough for sunlight to shine through, dry out the property and prevent mosquito nests from forming.”

In the community, Cox said planners fear side-effects of increased housing density could result in more crowded roadways and classrooms, particularly in the area surrounding Greenbrier High School on William Few Parkway, and Washington and Hardy McManus roads.

He said developers can pick up an extra lot for every five they reduce setbacks from five to 10 feet.

In a 60-home neighborhood, he said the county could see an additional 10 lots on their books and 20 cars on their roads.
With this concern, Cox said he has asked the county attorney to clarify the moratorium before voting on a request to increase Phase 4 of The Ridges at Riverwood West, a 19-acre planned subdivision off Franklin Ridge Road originally approved for 46 lots on Aug. 21, to 50 lots.

The proposed setbacks for the project, which staff recommended for approval, will remain unchanged at five, 10 and 30 feet in the side, rear and front respectively, the application states.

Andrew Strickland, director of Columbia County Planning Services, said the moratorium takes effects immediately, but only impacts new applications not already approved by the Board of Commissioners.

“They have already received their zoning entitlements and had their planned-unit development approved, so they would be unaffected,” he said of The Ridges at Riverwood West.

Strickland said he regrets allowing developers to use 5-foot setbacks and hopes to have a plan ready for commissioners in three to four months – possibly including alternative setbacks of 7 ½ to 10 feet – to keep the moratorium from lasting any longer.

“Five-foot setbacks are not necessarily bad,” he said. “You just have to be very careful about how you handle drainage on site.”
Mills said he is not sure where the county could tweak its planning regulations, but said setbacks have not been a problem at Chastain Place or another Blanchard Commercial housing community called River Islands.

Like Morris, he said his company would be supportive of any changes made. The two agreed, however, that Grovetown is ready to handle the growth.

“I would rather see residential go in there than commercial,” Morris said his land. “Some of the property they are trying to rezone over there right now is actually heavy industrial and in my opinion, it would be more convenient and safer for those living in the area if it was rezoned for residential housing.”

VOTE RESULTS

Columbia County commissioners voted unanimously last week to place a six-month moratorium on requests for residential lot sizes below 10,000 square feet within Planned Unit Developments or rezoning applications in following districts: R-3 (Single Family Residential), R-3A (Single Family Residential and Two Family Residential), RCO (Residential Cluster Overlay), T-R (Townhouse Residential)

Source: Columbia County Board of Commissioners

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Comments (5)

Riverman1

Transparency

Let's just be upfront about this moratorium. The county is trying to slow down growth. This zeroing in on houses with smaller lots is discriminatory. Are the lots up to code or not? Are these patio homes allowed in other communities or not? I think we all know the answers.

afadel

Poor People Not Welcome

Columbia County doesn't want you to live there unless you can afford a home with a lawn. Also, you need cars, because there's no public transportation. So if the only job in Columbia County you can find doesn't pay enough for that, or you have children and you want to feed and clothe them and treat them if they get sick, please live elsewhere and commute. And please don't try to sneak your children into our public schools.

Twitter @AymanFadel
Blog: http://aymplaying.wordpress.com

MaceRodg222

That is something that we all

That is something that we all need to know for our own sake as well. - Flemings Ultimate Garage

jerryrice

It is an awful news, many

It is an awful news, many people who hoped to have a home this year will face the sad reality. Other people who wanted custom homes were smarter and resorted to a reputed construction company to let those experts build their dream house, a house which is energy efficient, green and make with quality materials to be safe for adults and children, as well.