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Riverwood rezoning request moves on to commissioners

Application changes helped win approval

Posted: Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The rezoning application for Riverwood Plantation West goes to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 20 for approval after clearing the planning commission at its meeting Thursday.

Plans to rezone 1,500 acres of land for the second phase of Riverwood Plantation from residential-agricultural to planned-unit development were unanimously approved.

Included in the plan for the development are more than 3,100 new home sites ranging from apartments, town homes, mixed residential and commercial development and free-standing subdivisions. Developers also are planning for a grocery store and more than 230 acres of retail or professional office space.

The development is divided into two tracts: one south of Windmill Plantation and bordered by William Few Parkway and Clanton Road, and a second west of Windmill Plantation and Greenbrier High School and bisected by Washington and Old Washington roads.

During the meeting, about a dozen residents of neighboring subdivisions expressed concerns about the proposal's density, impact on existing infrastructure, stormwater runoff, potential strain on natural resources, buffers to existing development and traffic.

"We've tried to respond to the problems we've heard," said Robert Pollard Jr., an owner of the tract. "I think we've made good progress in regards to the concerns of our neighbors.''

The approved application is smaller in scope than the original application received by county planning and development staff in September.

The wording of the previous application held the potential for as many as 6,000 home sites and 1.6 million square feet of commercial space, said Jeff Browning, Columbia County's director of planning and development

Browning said Wednesday that his staff recommended approval after amendments to the proposal, including reductions in density, identifying property for new school construction and requirements for 85 percent of existing commercially zoned land in the development's first phase to be used before new commercial construction could begin.

The existing commercial zoning holds the potential for 2 million square feet of building space, Browning said.

"I feel that the development, if it goes slow, will be to everybody's benefit traffic (and infrastructure) wise," said Mark Schmidt, the president of the Windmill Plantation Homeowners Association, an adjacent development to the proposed rezoning site.

"It's about 60 percent of what it was, so I am much more pleased with that," Schmidt said.

Browning said the development will take at least 20 years to be completed, and if done in steps would not have a severe impact on infrastructure.

On Nov. 29, Schmidt called for planning commission Chairman Ron Thigpen to recuse himself from the vote.

Schmidt said in a later interview that Thigpen and Pollard have a professional conflict of interest.

Both Thigpen and Pollard serve on the board of Georgia Bank & Trust and Thigpen also is the bank's executive vice president and chief operating officer, according to the bank's Web site.

Thigpen did not recuse himself from the vote Thursday and had said that he doesn't see a conflict of interest because there is no personal financial interest to him or the bank involving the rezoning.


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