Despite objections from a large and vocal crowd in opposition, the Barrow County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 10, voted in favor of a controversial rezoning request for a mixed-use development in the Hoschton area. The decision came roughly 10 months after the board denied the original request and followed a settlement agreement reached last month between the county and applicants for the BOC to rehear the case.
After a more than 20-minute public hearing, the board was unanimous in its decision to rezone and change the county’s future land-use map designation for 53.2 acres at 1308 Lec Stone Rd. — about a mile south of the intersection of highways 211 and 124 — which will allow for Ridgeline Land Planning to develop a mixed-use project with 280 townhomes and 130,000 square feet of commercial space on 8.5 acres of the property.
The latest plans from developer Holt Persinger marked a change from plans presented last year that called for 280 apartment units, 158 townhomes and commercial space. Aaron Kappler, an attorney representing the developer, said the apartment component had been entirely removed from the plans, and a prohibition on apartments was one of 20 conditions attached to the BOC’s approval of the requests Tuesday.
Among other conditions:
•A traffic study must be prepared by a registered engineer in Georgia and submitted to the county’s planning department, and the developer must comply with any and all recommendations, standards and requirements set by the county and the Georgia Department of Transportation.
•The owner/developer must dedicate right of way necessary to “safely realign” the intersection of Highway 211 and Freeman Johnson Road.
•The commercial component of the development must not include any mini-warehouses or storage units or “grocery stores smaller than 30,000 square feet.”
•The residential portion of the development must have restricted gate access.
•The townhome units must be a minimum of 1,800 heated square feet with no vinyl siding.
•There will be a mandatory homeowners’ association and the residential streets must be privately owned and maintained.
•There must be amenities for residents — including a pool, clubhouse, fitness center, walking trails and open space.
The BOC also granted variance on stream buffer setback requirements, from 100 feet to 50 feet.
The board in October 2020 rejected the applicants’ original request by a 5-2 vote following a contentious public hearing, following along with the recommendation by the county’s planning commission and after hearing public comments from a contingent of residents who opposed the project over concerns ranging from traffic to stormwater issues to what they feared would be negative effects on their property values.
The developers and property owners, the Stone Living Trust, who are under contract for the sale of the property, filed suit against the county, and the parties agreed to stay the litigation while the BOC reconsidered the request. Kappler argued that the rezoning request was a property-rights issue and that the county would be wrong in allowing strong public resistance to control its decision.
The long list of conditions, including the requirement of the traffic study and required implementation of its recommendations, did little to appease the large contingent of area residents opposed to the development, as they once again packed the board’s meeting chambers wearing red shirts, several of them holding signs protesting the development. Following the board’s vote Tuesday, the residents angrily and loudly filed out of the chambers with comments like: “Vote them out,” “See you in court,” “Elections have consequences” and “You let us down.”
During Tuesday’s public hearing, Jerold Davis, a resident of the Cruce Lake subdivision across Freeman Johnson Road from and to the west of the planned development, pleaded with the commissioners to stick to their original decision despite the lawsuit.
“You (denied the request) for very good reasons. The facts haven’t changed,” Davis said. “There’s still traffic concerns. The increase in density is inconsistent with the planning principles, with the rural nature of the neighborhood and character area. And one thing that’s changed, and I’m astonished by it, is that you all are going to carry this forward.”
In a rebuttal, Kappler pushed back against Davis’ remarks and disputed claims from Joe Cooley, an attorney representing the concerned residents, that the county was “giving away” its zoning powers and was, at least in effect, engaged in “contract zoning” with the county, which is illegal in Georgia. County attorney Angie Davis pointed out that the board was not bound by the settlement agreement to approve the request, only to reconsider it, though Cooley suggested that the plaintiffs’ reserving the right to resume the litigation in the event of a denial amounted to the threat of more legal expenses being held over the county’s head.
With the board’s approval, the applicants have agreed to file for dismissal of the lawsuit within the next 35 days.
OTHER PUBLIC HEARINGS
Following other public hearings Tuesday, commissioners:
•approved requests to rezone, change the future land-use map (FLUM) designation for and grant a special use for 64.5 acres of the Royal W. Hardigree estate property on Highway 211 Northwest, just south of Pinnacle Drive, in order for a subdivision of more than 170 single-family homes to be built. The subdivision will be called Royal Estates as a tribute to Hardigree.
•approved requests to rezone and change the FLUM designation for 4.05 acres at 405 Patrick Mill Rd. and 914 Fred Kilcrease Rd., Winder, in order for a gas station and other commercial/retail space to be built.
•denied a request to rezone and change the FLUM designation for 2 acres at 334 Dunahoo Rd., Winder, in order for a towing storage lot to be built.
•approved a request by Berean Church of Free Seventh-day Adventist to rezone 9.2 acres at 1340 Old Victron School Rd., Hoschton, in order for the church to build a 10,500 square-foot building and a 2,800 square-foot building on the property for church and community activities.
•approved a special-use request by Charles Howard to operate a wedding venue at 854 City Pond Rd., Winder.
In other business Tuesday, commissioners:
•accepted nearly $16.2 million in federal funds through the American Rescue Plan, which county manager Kevin Little said will primarily be put toward water and sewer infrastructure projects in the county, following along with “strict” conditions attached to the money. The county has already received half of the money and is slated to receive the other half by next May. He said county officials would be providing future updates to the board on recommended projects for the money to spent on.
•approved the purchase of a new excavator for the public works department in the amount of $196,890 to replace a 1995 excavator.
•approved the purchase of a new work truck for the public works department in the amount of $54,823. The truck will replace a 1997 truck, which will be surplused.
•approved the purchase of a mobile-based system for the county assessor’s office in an amount not to exceed $24,520 for the fiscal year. The county’s agreement with the provider runs through September 2027.
•approved annual renewals of the county’s aging services and coordinated transportation agreements with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission Area Agency on Aging for fiscal year 2022.
•appointed Joe Costello to the Keep Barrow Beautiful board to fill an unexpired term that will expire at the end of 2024.
•reappointed Mace Strickland to a four-year term on the Keep Barrow Beautiful board that will expire at the end of 2024.
•reappointed Lisa Maloof to the Joint Development Authority of Northeast Georgia.