The rumble of diesel earth movers on a work site has replaced the cheers of spring baseball games that Brandy Silas once heard through the trees behind her backyard.
The tall, leafy hardwoods surrounding the ballpark and former Evans Middle School site have been razed for a development that will include a new Home Depot located between North Belair Road and Silas' Pheasant Run Drive home in Evans.
"We just have no privacy, especially during the day," Silas said, as crews stuffed the splintered remnants of trees into an industrial wood chipper beyond her back fence where the school once stood. Silas said there is constant noise when crews begin grading and chipping trees about 8 a.m., which continues until about 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Officials with Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial confirmed on April 30 that The Home Depot plans to house a more than 100,000-square-foot building on the former middle school site. An additional 50,000-square-foot building and free-standing restaurants are also planned for the 25-acre tract.
The entire development will be called Evans Town Square and will have about 170,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Smaller stores would face the road, with The Home Depot at the rear of the property, according to county officials.
Evans Middle Partners, an investment group that includes Blanchard and Calhoun, bought the school site at North Belair and Washington roads from the Columbia County school system for $4.8 million in March 2005.
Since then, the group has purchased at least nine residential parcels along Peachtree Road near the property. Crews also gutted and demolished those nine homes, removed roads and parking lots and leveled the former Evans Presbyterian Church next to the property.
Crews with Thompson Building Wrecking Co. finished demolition of the school in April and removed about 500 tractor-trailer loads of debris from the site, co-owner Hiram Thompson said.
Silas said she and her husband are considering building a new fence in their backyard and they hope developers will build a wall or other sound barrier. Columbia County Planning Director Jeff Browning said the tract's zoning requires developers to retain a 20-foot buffer from residential development, which must include a 6-foot-tall fence, wall or earthen berm and vegetation such as oak trees or Leland cypress.
Eric Neumeister, who lives across the street from the Silas family, said he misses the school his two sons once attended and the sounds of ball games.
"The disappearance of all the buffers has been a nuisance," the 11-year Pheasant Run resident said. Neumeister said that with the loss of the school and trees, he can easily see and hear the traffic along North Belair Road.
Increased traffic is also a concern, he said. Left and right turns from the neighborhood onto Washington Road are nearly impossible, he said, and he doesn't want his street where children play to become a cut-through.
Ronnie Hutto, the county's preconstruction engineer, said traffic studies for the site likely will go before the Georgia Department of Transportation for approval because Washington and North Belair roads are state routes.
Still, Neumeister said he doesn't mind having The Home Depot nearby, as long as adequate buffers and a nice development are built.
"If it's done in an aesthetic way and I'm not looking at an eye sore and it doesn't affect our property values, I'm all for it," he said.
Neumeister's wife, Joanna, said she misses the trees, which blocked her view of North Belair Road.
"I was so sad to see those trees go," she said. "We are losing all our greenery around here and it's a shame. It makes everything look so plain."
Silas, who has lived on Pheasant Run Drive for about five years, said she was glad to hear about the buffers, but still has concerns.
"The school was more to itself," Silas said. "We didn't have to worry about the kids" from the school.
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