The Dawson County Board of Commissioners had its final say in one developer's fight to bring 95 townhomes and 177 single family homes to Hwy. 53 East near the Tractor Supply.
In a unanimous vote, the commission denied two rezoning requests submitted by the Dekalb-based developer, effectively stopping plans to build homes in the area in the immediate future.
The developer, Bill Evans Jr., and the law firm that represents him submitted three applications in July, proposing to rezone the properties so that they could build housing and a commercial building on the busy section of road between Beartooth Parkway and where Dawson Forest Road runs into Hwy. 53.
The final decision comes after months of back and forth between the developer and nearby residents on Elliott Road.
The applications were sent before the planning commission on Nov. 15, and then were sent to the board of commissioners for the final vote.
The deciding factor for the commission was that the proposed zoning did not follow the future land use plan, according to District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby, who made the motion for denial.
"The future land use plan calls for something completely different from what they were planning to put there. If we're not going to follow the land use plan, what's the point of having it?" Hamby said. "I'm not against development at all, but I want it to be quality development. It very well could have been, but the developers didn't have a real clear plan of what they were going to do with it. There were too many unanswered questions to pass it."
One other factor that played a part in the denial of the single-family detached homes was the potential for a cut-through access road, a road that would connect Hwy. 53 to Ga. 400 above the continuous flow intersection, somewhere near Kilough Church Road.
The county has been milling over the road for some time, and according to Chairman Mike Berg, the county spent around $120,000 to perform an environmental study to see what paths the road could take. One idea is that the road would have to cut through the property that Evans and his developers were considering putting their homes.
"The connecting road is a big issue, because we don't know the direction of where it is going to go," said District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix. "What if they built the homes and we later realized the road should have gone through the middle of it? We already spent over $100,000 planning for it. I hope that in SPLOST VII, that road will be a big priority."
According to Evans, he would have worked with the commissioners to build the road if it ever came up.
"We'd be open to working with them on the access road," he said. "But I don't know if it will ever be built."
In efforts to stop the rezoning, residents on Elliott Road formed a group that attended the November planning commission meeting in full force, and were out again at the board of commissioners meeting to speak against the proposed single family dwellings.
The opponents presented their fears about the impact on traffic, the school system, property values, the environment and other factors.
The concerned residents even submitted a petition that had been signed by more than 400 people in the Elliott Road area who did not support the potential influx of new housing.
"Our number one concern is the high density in this residential multi-family zoning and the impact on this area, as well as the public tax burden and the safety and overall quality of life in this region," said Rhonda Goodwin, the first person to speak against the rezoning. "Decisions taken tonight could set a precedence of types of developments that will affect our county as a whole, and not only Elliott Road."
The 177 single-family homes would have been located on 57.16 acres of land, some of which directly adjoined Goodwin's property.
Another naysayer, Tony Passarello, also lives on Elliott Road, and attended all of the meetings that were held at the county level as well as those between the developer and residents where each tried to come to a compromise on the issue.
Passarello was overjoyed when he realized the commissioners had stopped the single-family home development.
"We're excited about the outcome, it was the outcome we hoped for and that we worked very hard to achieve," he said. "We were diligent in our research and tried to understand what the implications were."
Passarello was surprised that the commission voted down the 95 townhomes that were proposed across the street, as the planning commission had recommended approval of the rezoning.
Passarello commended the commissioners for standing their ground.
"What was most surprising, and I spoke to several people after the meeting who said the same thing, was the unanimous support we got from the commissioners," Passarello said. "It showed a lot of courage for the commissioners to come in with an open mind and stand up for the vision they have for Dawson County. They really reinforced the position that Dawson County is not for sale."
According to developer's plans, the townhomes would have been located on 15.83 acres on Hughes Court, sandwiched between Farmington Creek senior neighborhood and Slack Auto Parts. Its western border is Dawson Forest Apartments.
According to tax records, there are currently four occupied mobile homes on the property.
One of the homes belongs to Brenda Anderson, who spoke against the rezoning for the townhomes. Anderson's main concern was that she feared she would be forced out of her home with no compensation. Anderson said she was diagnosed with cancer, and carried an oxygen tank to the stand with her to address the board.
Another nearby resident, Betty Lou Pfister, lives in Farmington Creek and said that she would hate to see destroyed the forest that buffers her home from the noise and light of commercial businesses further down Hwy. 53.
"Another thing that concerns me is the traffic density, and the hill right there after Dawson Forest Road is dangerous, you can't see around it," Pfister said. "I don't have a degree in engineering, but I do have a degree in high school common sense, and it doesn't make sense to put these developments there."
Traffic also played a role for some commissioners.
"The impact on the traffic there just seemed too dangerous, and I already get so many complaints about traffic on Ga. 400 that I didn't want to add insult to injury," said District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett. "We have to protect the health and safety of the people."
In the end, Fausett motioned to deny the request, and Hamby seconded the motion. It was denied unanimously by the board, amidst hearty clapping from the gathered opposed residents.
"We followed the land use plan so to me the decision was pretty cut and dry," Fausett said. "I also feel like I have to represent what the majority of people want. I was in contact with people on both sides of the issue, and I saw that more people were against it than for."
Pfister said she was glad to be on the "winning side."
"I was so sure they were going to approve the townhomes...I couldn't believe they denied both of them, I was so happy," she said. "The thought of all that traffic and congestion there was frightening to me. And I'm so happy for the people on Elliott Road. I'm just a renter, but they've invested in their homes there."
The board did however approve a third zoning request for a commercial highway business. The property is located on 3.63 acres of land on Hwy. 53 with the Tractor Supply on the left and Dawson County fire station number 2 on the right.
Commissioners approved the request because it falls in line with the county's future land use plan, and is already surrounded by other commercial businesses. No one spoke against the proposed rezoning.
Bennett, speaking on behalf of the developers, said that there is still no plan for what kind of business will be located on the property.
The developers can refile their applications, but will have to wait a year to do so. If before that the commissioners decide they would like to re-assess the zoning, they can do so after six months have passed.
According to Evans, his team of developers has no immediate plans on how they will proceed.
"We may have a plan next week, but we don't have one today," Evans said on Dec. 15. "We bought this land as an investment, and it looks like it's going to be a long-term investment."
Elliott Road residents aren't holding their breath.
"I anticipate we'll have to monitor it because we don't know what's next," Passarello said.