The Barrow County Board of Commissioners cleared the way Tuesday, July 13, for a large subdivision of more than 500 single-family homes to be built on the southwestern edge of the county.

The board voted 6-0 Tuesday — with commissioner Billy Parks absent — to approve a request to rezone a 328-acre swath of open land at 979 Tom Miller Rd., Bethlehem, in order for 565 homes to be built, primarily on the west side of Tom Miller Road.

Developer Ashton Woods Residential had originally sought to build a mixed-residential subdivision with 506 single-family detached homes and 123 townhomes, but scrapped the townhome portion after numerous residents in the area objected to those plans. Residents had also expressed concerns about traffic and the projected impact the subdivision would have on capacity at the nearby Yargo Elementary, Haymon-Morris Middle and Apalachee High school complex.

After the county’s planning commission tabled the request earlier this year, representatives from the developer and the neighboring Kensington subdivision told the panel last month the camps had settled their major differences from a land-use perspective and that the majority of the homeowners were now in favor of the development.

Property owner Greg Low, who has sought to sell the land along with his siblings, said last month they have turned numerous developers away in the past because none were willing to take on the whole tract and they did not want to open up the land to a potential “hodgepodge” of development with “no theme involved.” He said Ashton is a “well-funded” national developer with “an excellent reputation” and has committed to — and would be bound by the planning commission-recommended conditions — to provide several pockets of open greenspace to eliminate intrusion into floodplains and streams on the property.

The BOC’s vote to approve came with more than a dozen staff- and planning commission-recommended conditions. Among those are that the homes be a minimum of 2,000 heated square feet and have no vinyl siding; that the subdivision be governed by a mandatory homeowners’ association; that there be minimized disruption to existing streams and ponds on the land; and that there be at least 20 acres set aside for open space.

OTHER REZONING REQUESTS

Following public hearings on other rezoning requests Tuesday, commissioners:

•denied requests to amend the county’s future land-use map and rezone 22.3 acres between Bethel-Bower Road and Loganville Highway to allow for a townhome development. Cook Communities of Gainesville had sought to build 136 3 bed/2.5 bath townhomes with 1,600 heated square feet and two-car garages with a proposed density of 6.1 units per acre, which would require a rezoning from R-2 to R-3. The planning commission and county planning staff recommended denial of the request last month, but staff suggested 13 conditions for approval, including developing the property under R-2 zoning with a density of a little more than 2 units per acre. But attorney Jane Range, who represented the developer during Tuesday’s public hearing, said the applicants were not interested in developing the property under R-2 zoning. The vote Tuesday was 5-1 with commissioner Joe Goodman opposed to commissioner Rolando Alvarez’s motions to deny the requests.

•approved a request to rezone 41.7 acres at 622 Tanners Bridge Rd., Bethlehem, in order for a single-family subdivision, with no more than 41 lots, to be constructed.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business Tuesday, commissioners:

•approved a three-month transitional EMS budget for fiscal year 2022 to allow Northeast Georgia Health System time to hire the personnel it needs to take over ambulance-transport services for the county later this year. Commissioners also approved a roughly $65,000 budget amendment, with the use of contingency funds, to fully fund the transitional budget. Barrow County Emergency Services chief Alan Shuman said there would be an increase in personnel costs in order to allow BCES to fully staff four ambulances during the transition period. The county and health system are finalizing an agreement for the system to take over ambulance transports in a move that county officials have long said is necessary amid a continuing nationwide struggle to find qualified paramedics to work for local governments when there are higher-paying jobs and more flexible hours available in the private sector. Under the agreement, NGHS would staff four 24-hour ambulances and two 12-hour ambulances, which would be housed at BCES fire stations with the exception of the unit that is already stationed at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow. The county will retain the EMS zone license. The transition is now expected to take effect in October. The proposed agreement was presented as an agenda item Tuesday, but commissioners tabled it at Shuman’s request in order for the final details to be worked out. Shuman said he expects to be prepared to present the agreement to the board at its July 27 meeting.

•approved an agreement with GMASS for the revaluation of commercial and industrial properties in the county for $149,000, which was part of the county’s approved budget for FY22. Guy Rogers, the county’s chief appraiser, has said the revaluation, which will take about a year to complete, is necessary so that the county can have more accurate data on all of its commercial and industrial properties. He said the internal sales ratio of those properties fell below state-mandated ratios in 2020.

•approved the annual indigent defense services agreement with the Piedmont Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office for calendar year 2022. Barrow, Jackson and Banks counties split the costs on a pro rata basis with Barrow contributing 47%, meaning Barrow’s cost for the year will be $637,432.

•approved an annual work detail agreement for FY22 with Phillips State Prison for $49,318, which will go toward paying the guard’s salary.

•approved the purchase of a compact loader for the stormwater department for $58,496 and the surplus of another compact loader.

•reappointed Janet Edgar to the Barrow County DFCS board for a five-year term that will expire June 30, 2026.

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