Despite the objections of nearby residents, the Columbia County Planning Commission voted Thursday to recommend the re-zoning of 10 acres in Evans for use as apartments.
Currently zoned for commercial use, the land at the corner of Washington and Kroger roads borders about 20 acres already zoned apartment-residential, according to county records.
"I think this is a good zoning," Planning Commissioner Tony Atkins said. "I think we look for the highest and best use for the property. ... It's a heck of a lot better than C-2 (commercial zoning)."
Chairwoman Deanne Hall and Commissioner Jean Garniewicz sided with Atkins, while Commissioner Dean Thompson voted against the rezoning.
Four residents asked planning commissioners to deny the rezoning, citing school overcrowding, traffic and other concerns.
"It's crazy to think we could have more traffic on Washington Road than we already have," said Beth Frits, a resident of the Spring Lakes neighborhood.
Dennis Trotter, a real estate agent representing the landowner, said the proposed 312-unit apartment complex would produce less traffic than if a retail venture were located on the property.
Frits said an apartment complex would add too many additional pupils to overcrowded schools.
According to county studies, the complex would likely house about 44 school-age children.
Jim Berardinelli, the director of real estate for Johnson Development Associates Inc., said his company intends to build an upscale apartment complex targeted to young, single professionals at an average cost of $900 per month per apartment.
The 10 acres in question previously had been zoned for apartments but was rezoned for commercial in mid-2007 for a proposed Tractor Supply store, said Jeff Browning, the county's director of planning and development. That plan did not materialize.
The additional 10 acres would allow developers to shift the apartment buildings away from neighboring homes, Berardinelli said.
"We're of the opinion that this property zoned as A-R (apartment residential) will make this site a much better site for apartment development," Browning said.
Berardinelli added that his company likely would not build on the area should the zoning not pass. With just 20 acres, the county likely would get government subsidized apartments, because it would be the only cost-effective means to develop the property, he said.
A previous rezoning condition stipulates a 150-foot buffer zone between the apartment complex and the Heritage Hill subdivision. Berardinelli said his company's plan is to double that.
The planning commission's recommendation will be heard Tuesday by the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, which is the final authority for rezoning.
County Commissioner Tom Mercer, who was at Thursday's meeting, said he intends to oppose the rezoning.
"We've got eight locations already zoned for apartments," he said. "We don't need any more apartments."
In August, county commissioners rejected the rezoning of 24 acres near Wheeler Road for a proposed apartment complex. The developers for that project, Atlanta-based Hathaway Development Co., later filed suit against the county. The case has not yet been resolved.
Before Tuesday's meeting, Browning said this situation differs in that the property had been zoned for apartments and was only recently changed. Also, the neighboring property is zoned apartment-residential.
In other news, Atkins announced that he intends to resign from the planning commission because of back problems.
"I really have difficulty sitting here for two hours," he said.
Atkins' resignation is the second from the board in just more than a month. Former Planning Commissioner Brett McGuire resigned Dec. 1.
A new rule approved by the county commission in December requires planning commissioners to resign their seat should they seek an elected office and start soliciting campaign contributions. The ordinance still needs approval from the U.S. Justice Department before it can be enforced.
McGuire intends to run for a state House seat and said he resigned partly because of the new ordinance.
If the Justice Department approves the ordinance, planning commission Chairwoman Deanne Hall might also be forced to resign as she is seeking a county commission seat.
Hall was re-elected as the commission's chairwoman during the meeting. Thompson was elected vice-chairman.
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