The Dawson County Board of Commissioners last week voted to deny two zoning requests that would potentially allow 272 age-targeted homes for seniors to be built on Hwy. 53 East near the Tractor Supply.
The assembly room at the Dawson County Government Center erupted into applause Jan. 18 as the board denied the zoning requests, mirroring the celebration that came after a December 2016 vote by the commission to deny the same requests.
This time, a different lawyer spoke for the owner of the two parcels of land in question, and didn’t waste any time telling the commission what would happen if they denied the requests.
“With a denial of the application tonight, we have no choice...but to appeal the decision to the superior court in the form of a lawsuit,” said Joshua Scoggins of Cumming law firm Miles Hansford & Tallant in his opening statements to the board.
But Scoggins was up against a packed room of Dawson County residents who booed and heckled the lawyer as he presented the two applications.
They weren’t quieted by the board.
Dawson Forest Holdings LLC first purchased three parcels of land in the vicinity of Elliott Road in early 2016, and applied in July of that year to have two of the parcels rezoned from a Residential Agricultural classification to Residential Multi Family. The purpose of the rezoning was to increase the housing density allowed on the land should it be developed.
The BOC voted to deny the requests by Dekalb-based developer Bill Evans Jr., keeping him from building 177 single family homes on 59.5 acres of land (a density of nearly three units per acre) behind the Tractor Supply as well as 95 townhome units on 15.8 acres of land on Hughes Court, which is located between Farmington Creek and Slack Auto Parts.
The density of the townhome units would be six units per acre.
A third parcel, 3.63 acres zoned Residential Agricultural, was successfully rezoned to Commercial Highway.
Commission members in 2016 denied the request because it did not comply with the county’s future land use plan. Betty Lou Pfister, who livers in the Farmington Creek community next to Hughes Court, said after the vote that she was glad to be on the "winning side."
"The thought of all that traffic and congestion there was frightening to me,” Pfister said. “And I'm so happy for the people on Elliott Road. I'm just a renter, but they've invested in their homes there."
Elliott Road and surrounding area residents, who had fought hard against the applications, weren’t left celebrating for long: Evans sued the commission citing legal errors in the application process made by the county.
The developer and county attorney eventually reached an agreement that errors were made, and instead of continuing to pursue the matter in court, Evans reapplied in November 2017, requesting the same rezoning and planning for the same number of housing units and the same amenities as before.
His requests were quickly shot down by the planning commission, which recommended the BOC deny the rezonings.
When the issue finally got to the board of commissioners on Thursday, Evans tried to put the brakes on the vote.
“I was contacted by my client this morning...they have been talking with a developer or builder who wants to do a project on this property...that has bigger lots, less density. I have not seen the plan, I have not been given any specifics,” Scoggins said. “My proposal to [the board] was that rather than take action on this application tonight...I would ask that you defer your decision for 30 days just to let us have an opportunity to see this plan.”
But neither the commissioners, nor the audience, were having it.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said he took issue with being notified of the new option only a few hours prior to the meeting.
“Your opening statement, you’re pretty much guaranteeing if we hear this that you’re going to sue us regardless of what we decide to do,” Gaines said. “However, if we wait, you’re not going to sue us regardless of our decision, is that what you’re saying?”
Scoggins again stated that the only option, if no zoning was given, was an appeal to the Superior Court.
“At the end of the day, what I said was why not wait to look at the proposal before we go down that road. What’s 30 days?” Scoggins said. “If we don’t like it, we’re going to end up in the same place.”
An audience member scoffed.
“They’ve had a year,” he said.
The commission voted unanimously to deny both applications.