After it was rejected last summer, a modified request to annex more than 200 acres of old Russell family land into the City of Winder and rezone the land for a large residential development and some commercial uses was approved by the council by a split 4-3 vote Tuesday, Jan. 12.
With the council’s approval of MMK, LLC’s and Sullins Engineering’s requests to annex and rezone the seven parcels south of Atlanta Highway between Pine Hills Golf Course and Russell Cemetery Road, developers cleared a key hurdle to build a 232-home residential subdivision known as Fieldstream on the bulk of the land and undetermined “neighborhood commercial” uses on the roughly 45 acres at the front of the land along the highway.
Mayor David Maynard broke a 3-3 tie in favor of councilman Travis Singley’s motion to grant the annexation and rezoning requests, joining Singley and council members Sonny Morris and Kobi Kilgore in support. Council members Chris Akins, Jimmy Terrell and Holly Sheats objected to the requests, and the final votes on the residential and commercial components came after motions by Akins and Terrell, respectively, failed along the same 4-3 lines.
The council’s vote was a significant move that will reshape the appearance of the city’s eastern gateway coming in from Athens on Atlanta Highway and a stark reversal from its position in July, when it rejected similar requests by a 5-1 vote. It also came after the city’s planning staff recommended approval of the requests with several conditions and the planning board unanimously recommended denial due to concerns over what board members contended were a lack of specifics about the project and a lack of community input.
Julie Sellers, an attorney for the applicants on the residential end, noted Tuesday and during a council work session Thursday, Jan. 7, that the applicants made substantial changes to the original request, which sought a higher-density residential development with just under 400 homes and “light industrial” uses on the proposed commercial parcels and garnered significant pushback due largely to traffic concerns. The property has been under the county’s agricultural zoning and designated “Rural Reserve,” which would have only allowed for about a third of the homes originally sought if the applicants had tried to rezone it through the county. The applicants have said previously that less than 150 homes wouldn’t be economically feasible for the project.
According to the revised site plan, the number of proposed homes would be reduced by 165 and the commercial components would be “neighborhood commercial.”
Sellers said the revised site plan increases lot widths from 75 to 100 feet and commits to having at least 43 percent of the homes be on 15,000-square-foot lots with a minimum of 12,000 square feet. Homes would be a minimum of 1,800 square feet for single-story and a minimum of 2,200 square feet for two-story houses.
The residential development is also slated to include 42 acres of open space and an amenities area that will include a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool, community lawn and children’s play area.
Sellers said Fieldstream would give the city new “quality single-family homes” that the city “doesn’t have a lot of right now.” She said it would help improve the city’s tax base, attract new residents to the city and be a potential boon for downtown-area businesses.
“It shouldn’t be an easy decision to make, but we think it would be a good decision (to grant the annexation and rezoning),” Sellers said.
But the council’s views on that sentiment were divided, Akins argued ardently that the council shouldn’t approve the requests without a better idea of what the commercial components would entail. Storage units have been one idea under consideration, city administrator Mandi Cody said last week, but representatives from Sullins Engineering did not address the council about their plans at either the Thursday work session or Tuesday voting session.
“We don’t know what it could be,” Akins said. “This is the gateway to our city. We only get one chance to get this right.”
Terrell said he would like to see a residential development with higher-end homes on even larger lots and also worried that additional commercial development could draw business away from the downtown area.
Sheats’ objections centered around whether the city would be straying too far from its comprehensive plan by allowing higher residential density than in nearby neighborhoods and what she views as the city not taking adequate steps to solicit community feedback, particularly from the county and the Barrow County School System.
While the county is not formally contesting the annexation, it doubled down on its objection to the annexation and proposed project, as board of commissioners chairman Pat Graham sent a letter to the city on Jan. 6, urging the council to deny the requests. Jennifer Houston, the school system’s assistant superintendent for business services, said during Thursday’s work session that the district leadership was opposed to the development due to concerns over traffic and the additional financial and student population strains it could place on schools in that zone.
“My biggest issue is this body’s treatment of the comprehensive plan,” Sheats said. “We are unilaterally making this decision without involving the county in conversations.”
Singley, the lone council member to vote in favor of the original requests last summer, said Fieldstream would be a quality development that the city should embrace.
“There are very limited properties available inside the city limits, and this is one of the only opportunities we have and is one of the nicest (proposed) communities that’s come before us,” Singley said during last week’s work session. He said Tuesday improvements the city has made to its residential and commercial building standards would help ensure the quality of the development.
“I think we should give it a chance,” Singley said.
In other business Tuesday, the council:
•approved the master plan for the Winder-Auburn water reservoir project as well as engineering support tasks and design services for the development of the raw water storage pond and ancillary services with Carter Sloope, Inc. and Hayes James and Associates. The council also authorized the mayor to apply for a loan with the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to borrow $25 million from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for the financing of land acquisition and construction of the project.
•approved a professional services agreement for $330,762 with ESG Engineering to complete the engineering, bid documents and bidding services for an upgrade to the city’s water treatment plant on Highway 53. The upgrade will expand the plant’s capacity from 6.2 million to 9.2 million gallons per day.
•approved a professional services agreement with Kech and Wood for the final design for the Linwood Avenue/Mimosa Road and utility rehabilitation project. The city has been eyeing upgrades to the stretch of road, which is a common traffic cut-through between North Broad and East Broad streets. The projected cost of the work, not including the construction administration on an hourly basis, is $123,520. The upgrades will include new curb and gutter along both sides of the road, a new sidewalk along the east side of the road, rehabilitation of the existing pavement, and drainage, water, sewer and natural gas utility improvements. The design and land acquisition phases of the project are projected to take 60 days each, followed by a 45-day bidding period and an estimated nine months of construction. The total project cost is expected to be $1.6 million and will be funded through SPLOST proceeds and the city’s Water Fund.
•authorized the mayor to execute an agreement with Kaizen Collaborative Design, Inc. to provide design and project management services for a sidewalk that will extent from the new Fort Yargo State Park trailhead on Lee Street to the existing sidewalk on South Broad Street. The fee for the services is $42,000.
•approved an amendment to the city’s Fiscal Year 2021 General Fund budget to utilize salary savings to contract with a professional recruitment service to assist in filling the current planning director and IT director vacancies.
•approved the creation of the city engineer and assistant to the city administrator/management analyst positions and the elimination of the purchasing director position.
•approved the purchase of a hydraulic excavator from Yancey CAT in the amount of $94,251.
•approved the purchase of furniture for the city’s new finance department, human resources and records building at 136 Sweetwater Trail at a price not to exceed $26,848, a little more than $11,000 than the originally-recommended price by city staff.
•set the qualifying fees for the November council elections at $180 each for Ward 1 (Morris), Ward 3 (Terrell) and the at-large seat held by Akins.
•reappointed Dorothy Thomas to the Barrow County Board of Health for a six-year term that will expire Dec. 31, 2026.