The Barrow County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday, Nov. 9, to remove some of the conditions attached to a long-planned major residential project of more than 300 homes off Highway 53 — but not two of the main ones that had been sticking points for the county planning commission and residents who live near the proposed development.
After spending nearly an hour on homebuilder D.R. Horton’s request for relief from several conditions attached to the 2008 rezoning of 144.7 acres along both sides of Rockwell Church Road to the west of Highway 53 — including a public hearing and more than half an hour of discussion — the board voted 6-1 in favor of commissioner Ben Hendrix’s motion to keep in place requirements that the portion of the development on the northern side of Rockwell Church Road remain age-restricted to residents 55 and older and that all homes throughout the development be a minimum of 2,000 heated square feet.
The BOC differed in its vote from the planning commission, which recommended an across-the-board denial of the requests last month.
The board also voted to cap the number of homes at the originally-approved 305 instead of the 313 shown on D.R. Horton’s latest site plan.
Tiffany Hogan, a representative for D.R. Horton, had asked the county to lift the age requirement for the northern side of Rockwell Church Road and substitute a condition that the 75 or so homes would be “age-targeted” and marketed toward seniors. She also proposed that those homes be allowed to have a minimum of 1,800 square feet so that the company could build its ranch-style homes it markets toward seniors. She argued that putting age restrictions in place would present legal limitations and “could result in not all of the homes being sold in a timely manner.”
But Hendrix and chairman Pat Graham both were vocal in support of keeping the age and house size requirements in place, agreeing on the need for more senior housing in the county but also adding that the county should keep the size requirements in line with other developments it has been greenlighting. While 2,000 square feet has been a standard condition, Graham even suggested a 2,400-square foot minimum before ultimately supporting Hendrix’s motion.
When the county initially rezoned the property, owned by the J. Daniel Blitch Family Partnership, over a decade ago, a commercial component was planned but has since been scrapped.
Family representative Jim Blitch reiterated to the BOC on Tuesday that the family had been approached by several developers in recent years but chose D.R. Horton to sell to based on its reputation.
“We’re trying to provide homes for families and people in a growing community,” Blitch said.
But the project has continued to draw pushback from neighboring residents, who acknowledge the land is zoned for residential development and that many more homes will be built but have still expressed concerns about the overall scope of the project and D.R. Horton’s request to be relieved from several of the conditions.
Hendrix sided with the residents on most of the major issues at hand Tuesday, but his motion that was approved did allow for some of the conditions to be waived. For example, his motion did not contest changes to a county staff recommendation that the previous prohibition of clear cutting on the entire tract be substituted for a tree-planting replacement plan. Residents Joel Bell and Patricia Stallings had previously advocated for stronger language on clear-cutting, and commissioner Rolando Alvarez, the lone vote against Hendrix’s motion, indicated he would favor that as well.
“I’ve tried to listen to all sides of the arguments,” Hendrix said, noting that he’d had several meetings and phone calls with the applicants, county staff and residents.
Stallings had pressed to keep a condition in place requiring a professional study to be conducted to determine the extent of an on-site cemetery and whether there may be bodies outside the cemetery boundaries. Hogan said ground radar penetration had been conducted and found some “anomalies” and that the company was preparing a final report and “looking at” hiring a professional archaeologist.
Also as part of Hendrix’s motion, the BOC added conditions that the developer will have to account for a 40-foot easement county has on a portion of the land and that the proximity of a Winder Police Department firing range be disclosed in the contracts and on the final plats for the lots that would be next to it.
It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday what D.R. Horton’s next steps would be after the board’s vote, though it will have to modify its conceptual site plan to account for the new slate of county conditions. Hogan has said once more advanced engineering is done, it’s likely a number of homes would have to be dropped from the site plan.