A proposed large mixed-use development in Hoschton was rejected Thursday, Sept. 17, by the Barrow County Planning Commission after strong public backlash against the project.
The panel voted to recommend denial of Ridgeline Land Planning and Holt Persinger’s request to rezone 53.2 acres at 1308 Lec Stone Rd. — about a mile south of the intersection of highways 211 and 124 — in order to, according to a revised site plan, build 280 apartments units, 158 townhomes and roughly 8.5 acres set aside for commercial space (with about 37,500 square feet of that taken up by three buildings). The request and the commission’s recommendation now heads to the county board of commissioners for a public hearing and final vote at the BOC’s 7 p.m. meeting Oct. 13.
Persinger presented the planning commission with a revised site plan that lopped off 32 apartment units from the initially-proposed 312 and realigned the townhome configuration. He also proposed 23.9 percent of the proposed development be open space (slightly above the required 20 percent).
The county’s planning staff had recommended changing the future land-use map and rezoning the property (with 19 conditions attached to that approval), but only recommended R-2 density, which would eliminate the apartment component and only leave the townhomes and commercial development.
As an alternative, Persinger proposed allowing the R-3 high-density zoning and keeping the apartments while proffering conditions that the development only include market-rate apartments, that there be no small-footprint grocery store allowed and that the developer present a full traffic study prior to submitting for land-development permitting approval. He said he offered those conditions after meeting with nearby homeowners.
But those offered conditions did little to assuage the concerns of a large group of neighboring residents who have expressed strong opposition to the proposed development. Around 30 of them piled into the commission meeting chambers — several holding signs urging the commission to vote “no” and most of them wearing red — while many others waited out in the downstairs lobby and watched the proceedings from a television monitor.
During the public hearing, resident Bryan Capes said the shirts represented their “anger” at the request.
“We are begging you to spare our community from this garbage development,” Capes said to the panel, noting that there were over 1,000 signatures on a petition against the proposed development. “This is bad growth for Barrow County. This is going to be a bad development.”
Capes and other residents’ concerns centered around potential negative impacts on their property values and traffic problems the development could present for an already heavily-congested area.
Jennifer Houston, the Barrow County School System’s assistant superintendent for business services, also spoke in opposition to the request, saying that system officials had projected the development would cost the school district an estimated $1.1 million annually in education costs and that the district would likely have to increase the millage rate to keep up with that demand. Houston noted that if the request were to be approved by the county, it would send the total number of apartment units approved but yet to be built to over 1,800.
“We’re the eighth smallest county and this is a lot of apartments,” Houston said, repeating a often-cited school district position that the county should be pushing for residential developments with higher home price points. “We are covering the (apartment) needs with the developments already approved. It’s time to start being picky with the types of developments allowed.”
Persinger said — to address the schools’ concerns about the financial burden and the prospects of overcrowding at Bramlett Elementary, Russell Middle and Winder-Barrow high schools — the developers would propose limiting three-bedroom units to 15 percent, while they could also accommodate the district’s request for a common area to pick up and drop off students with school buses.
He responded to a question about the traffic study by saying they wanted to wait until the COVID-19 pandemic had subsided to where more people were working and in school in order to get “the most accurate” counts.
The planning commission’s vote on Deborah Lynn’s motion to deny the request was 5-1 with Robert Lanham opposed and Vince Cain absent.
In other business at the Sept. 17 meeting, the planning commission:
•accepted the withdrawal of applicant Embry Real Estate’s request to rezone 24.5 acres at McNeal Road and Highway 211 NW in Winder and amend the future land-use map to allow for the construction of 240 apartments under R-3 high-density residential development. Staff had recommended scaling the scope back to R-2 levels and not allowing the land-use map change for high-density development. School system officials had also raised concerns about the size and scope of the proposed development.
•recommended approval of a request by Bruce Russell and the Alex B. Russell Estate to rezone 49.51 acres on Mulberry Road for a 42-lot residential subdivision. Among the five recommended conditions for approval are that the homes have a minimum of 2,000 heated square feet.
•recommended denial of a request to only have a 6-foot-tall privacy fence between a convenience store being developed at 1158 Carl-Bethlehem Rd., Winder, and neighboring properties instead of a 12-foot-tall fence. Stanton Porter, an attorney for the applicant, was requesting the waiving of that requirement, saying because adjoining properties are within the West Winder Bypass character area and slated to eventually be commercial development. But the request drew pushback from some neighboring residents over privacy concerns. The rezoning for the project was approved last year with the 12-foot-tall fence as one of the conditions.
•recommended approval of a special-use request by Elizabeth Milan at 2276 Hwy. 82, Statham, to operate an art school there, utilizing existing structures on the property, with the possibility of adding an additional building with an adjoining parcel for student lodging in future years. Any other parcels in the future would also be subject to a special-use approval.