The Auburn City Council will vote Aug. 5 on the request to annex and rezone the Fowler Farms property off Apalachee Church Road and turn it into a mixed-use development with over 500 single-family detached homes and townhome units, along with commercial space.
Following its Thursday, July 15 work session, indications were that the council was heading toward approval of the requests after city officials and council members reviewed the findings and recommendations of a traffic study completed for the project and expressed confidence that improvements can be made be made before much of the homebuilding is completed.
Chafin Land Development is seeking to annex and rezone the 172-acre tract to the east of the Auburn Station subdivision, south of Atlanta Highway, and build a “planned suburban village” with 335 single-family houses, 174 townhomes, 20 “model units” and commercial uses, including potential office and/or restaurant space.
The family that has been on the land since the 1940s is planning to sell the property because current owner Ray Fowler has said he and his wife are no longer able to properly maintain it and younger generations of the family are not interested in keeping the property. If the requests are approved, home construction wouldn’t begin until 2023 and would be phased in with an anticipated five-year buildout.
Several neighboring residents off Apalachee Church Road voiced opposition to the project in June, saying it would strain the road and exacerbate traffic woes. The council tabled the request last month in order to wait for the completed traffic study to come in. Officials had said a vote on the request was possible at Thursday’s work session, but the body will hold off until its monthly voting session Aug. 5.
The traffic study by Marc R. Acampora Traffic Engineering has recommended improvements along Apalachee Church Road and at its intersection with Atlanta Highway (Highway 29), which would include a new right-hand turn lane onto Atlanta Highway and a potential roundabout or traffic signal at the intersection.
“The existing side street volumes do not appear to be sufficient to warrant signalization,” the study’s authors write, and Mayor Linda Blechinger said a potential traffic light would require approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation and would need “a little more thought” because it could impede traffic flow with existing lights already nearby on Atlanta Highway at Hill’s Shop Road and the Townes of Auburn.
Either way, city planning and community development director Jay Miller said, improvements will certainly be needed on Apalachee Church Road and at the intersection — even if the Fowler Farms property never gets developed, as the Atlanta Highway corridor continues to grow in capacity. The right-turn lane onto Atlanta Highway is recommended by the study regardless of whether the new subdivision is ever constructed or not.
The improvements would involve the collaboration of the city, Barrow County and the developer, officials said. Blechinger said any work the city might be responsible for could be paid for with part of the city’s proceeds from an anticipated new round of special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) money.
The study also recommends separate left- and right-turn lanes out of the proposed subdivision as well as a southbound deceleration right-turn lane and a northbound left-turn lane into the subdivision off Apalachee Church Road. The developer would either put those in or would pay the city to do it, Miller said.
City officials also said they were confident that additional improvements planned in association with the future Rowen development in Gwinnett County between Auburn and Dacula will lessen the burden the new subdivision would cause at the Apalachee Church Road/Atlanta Highway intersection.
Miller said the study “didn’t really take into account” the Rowen project, a massive planned mixed-use development on 2,000 acres along the Gwinnett and Barrow line north of State Route 316. GDOT has plans and money and resources allocated to construct an interchange at Drowning Creek Road and 316 with a projected completion date of 2027, Miller said. He added that Rowen developers will connect the Lawrence Road/Drowning Creek Road intersection to the interchange, and therefore, residents of the new or existing subdivisions off Apalachee Church Road could go to Brown’s Bridge and Lawrence Road and have a direct route to 316.
“You’re talking about a significant traffic improvement that would alleviate a lot of the pressure on (the Apalachee Church Road/Atlanta Highway intersection),” Miller said.
“The thought is most people in Auburn go toward Gwinnett County for work,” Blechinger said. “We were really glad to hear (from GDOT) that the interchange is happening. That gives me more confidence in us being able to handle the traffic (from the new subdivision). (The interchange) is the biggest, to me.”
With the council now seemingly heading toward approval of the request, that approval will likely come with several conditions similar to those attached to a separate annexation/rezoning request to the west of the Atlanta Highway/Hill’s Shop Road intersection that received approval last month. That project, another “planned suburban village,” is planned to include 253 townhomes, 133 single-family homes and commercial space. Among them are that approved building permits will be spaced out over a few years.
“I think that’s what a lot of people (with concerns and opposition) are overlooking,” councilman Bill Ackworth said. “It’ll be stretched out over a significant period of time.”
Miller said the traffic study recommendations also would be roped into the staff-recommended conditions for approval of the requests.
After the Fowler Farms vote, the council will turn its attention to another annexation/rezoning request by Chafin Land Development and Clayton Properties on the opposite end of Auburn. That request is to annex and rezone 98 acres at 277 Carl-Cedar Hill Rd. and build 315 single-family houses. The council tabled the request earlier this month for further review, following a tabling by the city’s planning commission. The planning commission will take up the request in August, and the council is currently scheduled to vote on it in September.
Despite worries from some residents in recent months about the rate of growth the city is experiencing and their opposition to the annexations and rezonings, other residents and most city officials have said development in the areas already zoned for residential uses through the county is inevitable and that annexing the properties gives the city greater control over the development there with the ability to attach numerous conditions that would address the various concerns.