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Commission rejects large development proposal

Posted: August 9, 2017 - 2:19am

Longtime Kettle Creek residents Stephanie and William Brown and some neighbors say they are happy that a large parcel of land near their home will remain undeveloped, for now.

Three Columbia County Commission members voted to reject the rezoning request that would allow development of nearly 300 homes on a parcel of land on Wrightsboro Road, in a move that came as a surprise to other commissioners and the developer.

"We were shocked by the vote on the subdivision that we had planned that I thought embraced the character of the neighborhood. It was the perfect vision," said Matt Mills, senior vice president of Southeastern Development. "Many of the residents complimented the plan and complimented us on other subdivisions that we had done."

Mills is referring to subdivisions including Jones Creek, River Island, Oakbrook, and a new development called River Oaks located on Hardy McManus Road.

Stephanie Brown addressed the commission during the meeting last week speaking on behalf of her neighbors and her family. She said that the group's main concern was increased traffic in an area was "already overtaxed."

"There have been four fatalities, and one has been right at the Kettle Creek entrance and it was very disturbing to the homeowners there in Kettle Creek that witnessed the accident and what happened after the accident," she said.

The development proposed an addition of 297 homes on a parcel of land at the corner of Wrightsboro and Reynolds roads, in what Mills called a prime location, putting homeowners near possible employers in the large manufacturing and commercial district, with shopping and other services.

Commissioner Gary Richardson called for a motion to oppose the rezoning, and Commissioners Bill Morris and Trey Allen voted in favor of the opposition. Commission Chairman Ron Cross voted against the opposition and in favor of the development and commissioner Doug Duncan abstained.

Cross said that he was surprised about Richardson's "change of heart," although Richardson said he had struggled with the idea all along.

"I have been struggling with this and the large amount of other properties that are of a large size, and I just don't think that Wrightsboro Road is ready for this development, with what would come with it and the county infrastructure, the sewer and so forth that are out there that can handle it at this point," Richardson said after the vote.

Morris raised concerns about traffic and an already overcrowded Grovetown High School, echoing the concern that he believed the area was just not ready for a development of this size.

However, Cross said that Mills had already confirmed with the board of education that with Grovetown High School and the opening of the new Grovetown Elementary School the schools were not at capacity.

Morris also said he shared concerns about the traffic on the two-lane road.

"You drive the roads, I drive the roads, it's a tough situation, and Wrightsboro Road I think was designed many, many years ago, never imagining it would be a corridor for a large number of cars," Morris said after the vote. "I do have a concern about the lift station coupled with the large parcels of land that are there. My concern is that if we approve this, we will have another one in six months and another one, more lift stations to maintain.

"I think we are a little bit ahead of ourselves. That doesn't mean the property can't be developed as it is currently zoned, but I am just uncomfortable with voting in favor of this," Morris added.

William Brown also commented on the sizes of the lots, comparing them to Jones Creek.

"They didn't stuff those houses together in Jones Creek. They're farther apart and that makes a big difference," he said.

Mills said that the level ground at the Wrightsboro Road location would contain 60, 70 and 80-foot lots, and that at the entrance of Jones Creek, some lots are as small as 50 feet.

Mill said the difference was that the land in Jones Creek was not flat and that the development was much larger, including some 700 homes.

William Brown said that he knows the development will come, and he isn't opposed. His hope, however, is that it come with fewer homes.

"If they'll lower the number of houses, we won't have a problem," he said after the vote. "One hundred to 150 houses, somewhere in that neighborhood. But 297 houses is just way too many for the traffic out there on Wrightsboro."

William Brown said that the houses would bring the potential for two or more cars per household in the new development, which would make an already highly traveled area that much worse.

"You can come out there now, if you leave at the wrong time in the morning, you will sit there 15-20 minutes, and it's easier to actually make a right turn, go down and come up the interstate to go where you want to go instead of trying to make a left turn," he said. "You truly sit there that long. I'm glad it got stopped for right now."

And while he said he knows the development will come, he is still glad it was put off for the moment.

"Eventually they will probably get it, they will probably win. We are just tired of seeing stuff that's rubber stamped," William Brown said. "We are hoping that maybe they will take a better look at what needs to be done out there. Wrightsboro Road just can't handle that kind of traffic."

During the meeting, the county's traffic and engineering director Steve Cassell said that Southeastern Development was planning to hire an engineer to conduct a traffic study in the area and that the county would be proactive in increasing safety by including turn lanes and other roadway features aimed at reducing congestion on Wrightsboro Road.

"We are addressing a lot of what we have out there," Cassell told commissioners during the meeting. "For this site, we will make sure that what (the developer is) doing is safe and efficient and will reduce the impact on Wrightsboro Road."

Mills said he believes the location of the subdivision will ultimately reduce traffic issues.

"If you can locate subdivisions closer to an employer base and closer to the area where people, residents, receive their services and do their shopping, it's the smartest way to grow and will long-term cut down on traffic," Mills said of the location of the proposed subdivision. "These types of locations are the best way to combat our traffic problems, and grow smart."

Mills said he plans to approach the commission for a second time as soon as possible to move forward with the development. But with the formal denial by the commission, Mills will have to wait six months to reapply.

"I think that once we are able to understand what their concerns were, are, that we will be able to provide them with enough information to reassess their decision," Mills said.

According to county planning director Andrew Strickland, Mills would have been able to reapply at any time had the request been withdrawn before the commission had taken any action.

Cross and Duncan said it was common practice for the commission to allow applicants the option to withdraw if any issues were present, which is what surprised Cross, who said he asked if anyone had any concerns before the meeting began.

Duncan said that he went into the meeting undecided and ultimately ended up abstaining after discovering he had new questions surrounding the traffic concerns and stormwater retention ponds. Duncan said he was more surprised by Richardson's motion to oppose the rezoning revision.

"I expected him to make the motion and then vote against it," Duncan said. "I went into the vote undecided, and as I listened to the debate, a couple other questions came up about stormwater retention. I was not ready to vote no."

Duncan said he abstained in an effort to gather more information, adding that "it was voted not, before I blinked."

 

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