The developer of a residential community planned to the east of the Barrow Crossing shopping center hopes to change the scope of the project by eliminating all 300 proposed apartment units and replacing them with 250 additional townhomes for a total of 349. But those plans could run into significant complications, according to a representative for the developer, if the Winder City Council backs a recommendation made Tuesday, March 16, by the city’s planning board.
In a discussion Tuesday night on proposed changes to conditions for the rezoning of 67 acres at 399 Carl-Bethlehem Rd. on the south side of Highway 316, the panel voted to recommend denial of Farm Development LLP’s request to reduce the required front- and side-yard setbacks from 35 to 13 feet. Shane Lanham, a Lawrenceville attorney representing the applicants, said his clients were seeking the reduction in order to allow the development to have a more traditional townhome community “feel,” but also to provide for “more efficient” design and cut down on construction-related costs.
Without the reduction in the setbacks, the city’s requirements would present the developer with “unnecessary hardships,” Lanham said.
The planning board’s recommendation now heads to the city council for a public hearing at its April 1 work session and a scheduled vote at its April 6 meeting.
The city council last August approved a rezoning request by the applicants for the property for 300 apartment units and 99 townhomes along with several amenities — including a pool and community clubhouse of at least 5,000 square feet, nature trails, dog parks and pedestrian paths that would connect the development to the shopping center. Instead, Lanham said, the developer now intends to build only townhomes with 349 units, adding that the developer “sees a strong market” for a 100-percent townhome project in the city and has had success with similar developments elsewhere.
Because of the proposed change from apartments to townhomes, the developer requested eliminating the 5,000-square-foot clubhouse and instead having two separate swimming pools with smaller clubhouses of a bout 1,200 square feet. The planning board recommended approval of that change by a 3-1 vote.
But the request on the reduced setbacks, which Lanham said would leave 25 feet between front doors and the back of the sidewalks, hit a snag when no one seconded planning board member Russell Shepley’s motion to approve the request. Instead, the board voted 3-1 in favor of Taffy McCormick’s motion to deny with Shepley opposed to that motion. Stephen Keller and Justin Bailey supported McCormick’s motion. Members David Brock and Brian Deaton were absent, and chairman Robert Lanham (no known relation to the applicants’ attorney) typically does not vote, except to break ties.
If the city council upholds the planning board’s recommendation for denial of the setback variance, that could potentially end up impacting the total number of townhome units built on the property and could relate to concerns raised by the Barrow County School System about the project.
While the overall number of dwelling units would be reduced from 399 to 349 under the proposed change in scope, the number of bedrooms would likely increase by more than 200. When the city council approved the rezoning last summer, it did so with the condition that at least 40 percent (120) of the apartments be one-bedroom units and no more than 5 percent (15) be three-bedroom units. Under the new proposal, Lanham said all 349 units would be at least three bedrooms with the possibility of some four-bedroom units — meaning there would be at least 1,047 bedrooms in the development. If the project were developed under the original plan with the city council stipulations in effect, even if the remaining 165 apartment units all had two bedrooms, that would only total roughly 800 bedrooms for the entire development.
School district officials raised those concerns in a letter to the city, projecting that the development would add 346 children to already-crowded nearby schools and require 14 additional teachers and more than $1 million in additional educational expenses, only about half of which would be covered through property-tax revenues. District officials asked for larger lot sizes to cut down on the number of units.
City administrator Mandi Cody said Tuesday she had not independently verified the school district’s calculations. Lanham told the council in August that the development wouldn’t exclude families but that it would be targeted toward young professionals without children and “empty nesters” and older adults looking to downsize.
School district leaders also raised concerns about traffic and on-street parking plans for the development. Cody noted that a homeowners' association would be in charge of the development’s internal streets.
It’s not yet clear whether denial of the variance request on setbacks would reduce the number of townhomes that can be built on the property and thus alter the school district’s projections. When McCormick asked that of Lanham, he didn’t directly answer but said that the smaller setbacks would provide a more efficient design and a workaround on issues like the size, shape, layout and topography of the property. Adhering to the “strict” setback requirements would mean more impervious surfaces, resulting in higher construction and stormwater-retention infrastructure costs, Lanham said.
When McCormick asked if sticking with the apartments would present a similar hardship, Lanham said the hardship “applies generally to the property,” but that going more vertical and consolidating units with the apartments might help mitigate some of the challenges.
RECOMMENDATIONS MADE ON PROPOSED ANNEXATIONS
In other business Tuesday, the planning board:
•recommended approval of a request to annex 3.59 acres at 851 Loganville Hwy., Bethlehem, into the city from the county and rezone the property in order to build a 2,700-square-foot coffee shop and a 3,751-square-foot restaurant. The back part of the property would be reserved for potential future development. The property is to the south of a planned RaceTrac gas station and convenience store on the west side of Loganville Highway (Highway 81) and is to the north of the 81/316 interchange. The applicants told the panel they are wanting the property to be annexed into the city because trying to develop it under current county zoning would present them with an economic hardship. County setback requirements under the current zoning would only allow the property to be developed into two separate parcels, while the applicants are seeking to develop it into three, they said.
•recommended denial of a request by applicant Mike Rice to annex 0.83 acres at 241 and 247 Hwy. 211 NW into the city and rezone the property in order to build a convenience store with groceries. Neither Rice nor a representative for the application were on hand Tuesday night to address the panel, and one neighboring resident spoke against the request, saying a store at the location would add to traffic issues along the stretch of road near Highway 211’s intersection with Cedar Creek Road.
The annexation requests will also be taken up by the city council at its April 1 work session and are scheduled to be voted on April 6.