It is now the Columbia County commissioners' turn to tackle a contentious proposal for a Kroger shopping center near the intersection of Furys Ferry and Evans-to-Locks roads.
The county's Planning Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to deny a rezoning request that Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial Corp. needs to build the 85,000-square-foot shopping center featuring an upscale Kroger grocery store.
The company is seeking a planned unit development designation to allow for a 62,000-square-foot store. Planning department officials have recommended capping the size to 47,000 square feet.
The Columbia County Board of Commissioners, which has the final vote on the rezoning, will discuss the project at its Nov. 4 meeting.
"We've got the second half left to go, but we were definitely pleased tonight," Evans-to-Locks Road homeowner Lon Purvis said after Thursday's planning board meeting.
Blanchard & Calhoun President Vic Mills said his company has worked for months to address concerns that neighbors might have about development on the 14-acre proposed site.
"We feel that we have responded to every legitimate question," he said.
The company's proposal includes tree and wall buffers between 50- and 200-feet-wide to separate the shopping center and adjacent residential areas. It also hired a consultant to estimate what effect the center would have on traffic in the area.
Those findings showed that the store would bring between 4,200 and 4,300 trips every day but would space traffic throughout the day, while the construction of an office park would cause more rush-hour congestion.
But the assurances were not enough for Jeri Whitworth, a Jones Creek homeowner who was the only resident allowed to speak at the planning commission meeting.
"A strip mall of this size should be on Washington Road with many of all the other ugly commercial properties," she said, "not in the middle of several beautiful neighborhoods, schools and a church."
At a public hearing about the project held two weeks earlier, 20 people spoke about the development with three-fourths in opposition and the rest in support.
On Thursday night, nearly a dozen homeowners showed up backing the Kroger proposal, saying that it would add convenience and would look better than other developments that could be built at the commercially zoned parts of the site.
The area surrounding the intersection is zoned for 250,000 square feet of leasable commercial space, with most of that across the street from the proposed Kroger.
"We already have a commercial presence at this intersection," said Jeff Browning, Columbia County's planning and development director. "That average now has gone up to Under today's zoning pattern or the proposed zoning pattern you have the issue of residential and commercial districts coming together, having to achieve some compatibility between them."
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