Columbia County Commission agreed to withdraw a proposal to rezone 27 acres of residential property on Blanchard Road for professional use at its meeting Tuesday.
In a letter dated Dec. 14, one of the property owners, Superior Court Judge James Blanchard, asked county officials to withdraw his family's rezoning request "without prejudice," which means the proposal can be made at another time.
The Blanchard family had proposed to rezone the 27 acres of residential property on Blanchard Road for commercial use and seven acres for professional use, according to county records. They later changed their proposal to omit the seven acres and rezone the 27 residential acres.
The Columbia County Planning Commission voted 2-1 against the rezoning at a Dec. 6 meeting.
County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said county officials intend to start negotiations with the Blanchards to buy the land for use as parks and green space.
The county is working with the family for the purchase of 35 acres on Blanchard Road to add to Blanchard Woods Park. The 153-acre park was built on land purchased from the Blanchards five years ago for $1.6 million.
Also at the meeting, commissioners gave final approval to a new set of rules governing the county's planning commission.
The planning commission must now resign from the board if they declare an intent to seek elected office and start collecting campaign contributions.
The new ordinance allows the commission to remove a planning board member from office with a majority vote as long as the commissioner who appointed him or her is in the majority. Before the ordinance, there were no rules determining how to unseat a planning commissioner.
The rule change first must receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department before it can go into effect.
The most contentious segment of Tuesday's meeting was an approved change to the Marshall Square development that many nearby residents opposed.
The changes move a hotel further north and add a series of mixed work and residential units along the edge of Evans Town Center Boulevard.
What concerned homeowners was the fate of a series of parcels lining North Belair Road on the east side of the development.
A revised plan introduced at Tuesday's meeting showed the parcels would be used as office and retail spaces.
Jim Ellington, a lawyer and a resident of nearby Northwood subdivision, told the commission he and his neighbors were concerned about the possibility of fast-food restaurants appearing on those parcels. Also, he said the changes were happening too fast and without public input.
"The commission, respectfully, should be very careful with how changes are taken into account," he said.
Jeff Browning, the county's director of planning and development, said the changes proposed for Marshall Square are in keeping with the planned unit development and called them an improvement. It's not unusual to change a PUD as the market of the area changes, he told commissioners.
Noel Schweers, an attorney for the Marshall family who owns the site, told commissioners he believed residents were confused by an undefined draft of the changes first presented earlier this month to the Columbia County Planning Commission.
"Leaving the properties on North Belair Road blank was not intended to (mean they would be) removed from the PUD," he said. "The Marshalls have no intention of doing that."
After the meeting, Marshall Square developer Don Lawrence said he and other developers intend to create structures in keeping with the Evans Town Center overlay district in addition to adding covenants and restrictions of their own.
The commission approved the changes, 4-0. One commissioner, Lee Anderson, was absent from the proceedings.
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