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High-end housing ducks Columbia County moratorium

Posted: May 13, 2015 - 12:05am

Halfway through a six-month moratorium on high-density housing, Columbia County continues to take a hard stance against townhomes and compact neighborhoods while still granting preliminary approval for three upscale developments that consist of at least 130 single-family lots.

The county planning com­mission unanimously voted last week to conditionally approve a community – possibly gated – of 59 single-family lots spread over 55 acres off Furys Ferry and Hardy McManus roads in Evans near the Savannah River.

Andrew Strickland, the county’s planning services director, said if the developer purchases additional land near Riverside Park, the proposal could increase to as many as 83 lots over 70 acres, each with a minimum price point of $400,000.

The approval, which now goes to the county board of commissioners for a final vote, came in the same meeting in which Blanchard & Calhoun Com­mer­cial withdrew a rezoning application to add 147 lots to 65 acres of cluster housing at Chas­tain Place, a subdivision off Wil­liam Few Parkway.

Strickland said the company did not provide a date on when it might reapply, but added the withdrawal eliminates a “potential gray area” in the moratorium the county placed on new zoning applications Feb. 17 for townhouses and “clusters” of single- and multi-family homes.

Strickland and Jim Cox, the planning commission chairman, said Friday that the riverfront community is allowed under the moratorium and not contradictory to the county’s mission of providing high-quality housing at an affordable rate for 3,700 expected cyberdefense workers coming to Fort Gordon by 2019.

“It really doesn’t matter,” Cox said of the moratorium’s effect on rezoning applications for high-end developments. “All these houses have 10-foot side setbacks, putting them outside the moratorium’s limitations. Personally, we don’t feel we can hold them back because they have followed all the rules.”

The riverfront community’s approval is one example of how the moratorium favors luxury-style homes over subdivisions where houses are more closely grouped together, have smaller yards and a common area for recreation.

On March 19, the planning commission unanimously approved a recommendation for River Island, a luxury-style community off Furys Ferry Road, to reduce a 1-acre section of the development from 12 townhomes to eight 60-foot single-family lots.

At the same meeting, the commission unanimously recommended the county rezone 32 acres on Hardy McManus Road for 63 single-family lots – if the development satisfied certain conditions. Those included providing 5-foot sidewalks, right-turn lane improvements on William Few Parkway, and traffic calming measures on any county-maintained road with straight sections longer than 500 feet.

“The moratorium deals with a specific subset of homes, and neither the planning commission nor the board of commissioners have approved any applications that would fall within its limitations,” Strickland said of high-end housing recommendations.

He said the Development Advisor Board is moving fast to allow high-density housing applications again and will consider seven amendments to residential zoning laws Monday to offer recommendations for the planning commission to review May 21.

These include a proposal for a new Planned Resid­ential Development Dis­trict that would replace townhome and cluster housing zones with guidelines aimed at creating “more coherent and coordinated” communities, according to the proposal.

The new district would require developers of subdivisions with more than four lots to provide 5-foot-wide sidewalks, 20-foot-long driveways, and minimum side and rear setbacks of 7½ and 10 feet. They also must dedicate a percentage of the project to open space.

Strickland said the improvements were drafted by county staff, residents and members of the development and construction community.

“It has been a lot of back and forth, a lot of work and a lot of discussion, but I think the documents we have now will do a very good job of creating more quality developments in Columbia County,” he said. “The standards that we have proposed are moving us in the right direction.”

Cox thinks the new measures should solve the county’s greatest growing pains, which he said includes narrow lot lines that prevent properties from properly draining and utility crews from getting equipment past air-conditioners and trees.

“Some developers have already voluntarily fulfilled the requirements we’re seeking to pass, but some just slap up homes as fast as they can and that is what we are trying to get ahead of to alleviate problems,” he said.

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MarsHeller

Something that would be

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