Planning commission

The Barrow County Planning Commission has recommended denial of requested changes to conditions that were placed on a 2008 rezoning of land to the west of Highway 53 along both sides of Rockwell Church Road, where a subdivision of more than 300 single-family homes is planned. 

Developers’ proposals for changes to a long-planned, but still unbuilt residential subdivision in northern Barrow County failed to gain the blessing of the county planning commission last week, as home sizes and whether or not a portion of the development would be required to be age-restricted left most panel members in opposition.

During its monthly meeting Oct. 21, the planning commission voted 4-0 to recommend denial of a request by developer D.R. Horton and co-applicant the J. Daniel Blitch Family Partnership to change or be relieved of roughly half of the conditions attached in 2008 when the county board of commissioners (BOC) approved the rezoning of 144.7 acres along both sides of Rockwell Church Road to the west of Highway 53 to allow for a subdivision of more than 300 single-family homes.

The request and the planning commission’s recommendation will now go before the BOC next month for a public hearing and vote.

D.R. Horton, which plans to scrap a commercial component of the development included in the 2008 rezoning, has proposed to build up to 321 homes in the subdivision — an increase from the originally approved 305-maximum, though company representative Tiffany Hogan said developers were willing to cap it at 313, adding that “we fully anticipate units will be lost” once full site engineering is completed.

Hogan said the 75 planned homes on the northern side of Rockwell Church Road on the site plan would be “age-targeted” and marketed toward seniors. She requested that homes in that section of the development be allowed to have a minimum of 1,800 square feet rather than the 2,000 square-foot minimum recommended by county staff — so that the company could build its ranch-style homes it markets toward seniors — and that the county lift a 2008 condition that requires residents in that portion of the development be 55 and older with limited hardship exceptions for children.

“A lot of times that market requires less space,” said Hogan, who sought to assure the planning commission that the company wouldn’t “run out and look for someone else to get in there” if it found trouble selling the homes to people 55 and over.

County staff has recommended language for the northern tract of the development that the homes be targeted toward seniors with “active-adult” amenities included. But commission member Deborah Lynn said she favors keeping the senior requirement in place.

“Barrow County needs senior housing,” Lynn said. “If we’re going to reopen this box, I feel that our citizens need to know what they’re getting. What can we do to guarantee that product?”

Lynn was joined in opposition by members Ronnie Morrow, Barry Norton and Kevin Jackson. Members David Dyer, Robert Lanham and Ray Fowler were not in attendance at last week’s meeting.

The latest public hearing came after the commission tabled a decision on the request last month and developers met with both county representatives and nearby residents in attempts to assuage their concerns about the project and proposed changes.

Hogan told the commission she believed progress had been made on that front and said the developer made several “concessions” on the conditions. She noted that recommendations from a traffic study for the development have been and will be incorporated into the site plan, that the developer has agreed to a condition to install decorative fencing along the full length of the development and that any and all zoning buffers will remain undisturbed, including a 25-foot buffer around an on-site cemetery.

County staff also recommended substituting a condition prohibiting clear cutting of timber on the entire tract for a tree-planting replacement plan and agreed to recommend waiving a condition that capped the number of building permits issued each calendar year at 50.

But while residents Joel Bell and Patricia Stallings acknowledged they had found some consensus with the developers in their discussions, concerns about the proposed changes remained.

Stallings said she was in favor of keeping a condition that requires a professional study to be conducted to determine the extent of the cemetery and is seeking stronger assurances that as many existing trees be protected as possible. Bell noted that the county had to issue a stop-work order last month after workers were on-site clearing paths and knocking down some of the trees without a land disturbance permit.

Bell said the residents understand the project will be built under its approved R-3 zoning, but added that the “spirit” of the 2008 conditions was to mitigate the impact an R-3 development would have on the surrounding developments with lower density. He also said additional traffic analysis should be performed and there should be more feedback from the Georgia Department of Transportation before work proceeds. According to county documents, a GDOT representative in fact wrote that coordination with GDOT would be required for the development.

“I do believe the intent (of the 2008 conditions) was to offset the R-3 zoning (effects),” Bell said. “Overall we’re asking it to blend in better with the surrounding development.”

The BOC public hearing is scheduled for the BOC’s 6 p.m. meeting Nov. 9.

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