Despite a unanimous vote from the county planning commission recommending denial of rezoning Crystal Falls Lake & Golf Club, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners voted last week to approve the rezoning request from Residential Sub-Rural to Residential Planned Community.
After an unsuccessful motion to deny the rezoning request by District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett, District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines motioned to approve the rezoning with several stipulations at the March 21 meeting.
The motion passed 3-2, with Fausett and District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix opposed.
Dawson Cherokee Capital LLC made a request to rezone 1,038.46 acres with proposed plans to have an ultimate buildout of 1,012 homes at the same density, just smaller lot sizes.
Phase one of the buildout would contain 367 age-targeted homes for those 55 and older with homes on smaller lot sizes.
Though the lots would be smaller, the number of homes would remain unchanged. Instead that unused space will be set aside as additional undisturbed green space.
The plans for the development denote that 53.6 percent of the property will be green space. In order to meet the requirements as a Residential Planned Community, or RPC, a development must contain at least 40 percent green space.
According to the application, amenities will be added to the existing club including tennis courts, bocce, pickle ball, shuffleboard and an Olympic size pool and clubhouse. An on-site wastewater plant will be constructed and then maintained by Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, so the new development can utilize sanitary sewer and avoid the septic systems that can lead to long term contamination of the lake, which is used as a drinking water reservoir by Cherokee County.
In 2002, the property owners submitted a master plan to the county that specified plans for 422 lots on septic tanks, with the rest of the property designated for future development.
“We live and breathe by a land use plan, and that land use plan is vetted out on a regular basis and approved by the community on a regular basis,” Gaines said. “My concern is the fact that this particular area was specifically called out to be what the developer has come in and said that they want.”
According to Planning Director Jameson Kinley, the Crystal Falls development has been approved as a Residential Planned Community since the 2003 comprehensive plan update.
“This board did not approve the original zoning so we can only deal with the cards that we’re dealt and to deny the developer that’s requesting to do exactly what the community has said they want to have happen in that area, to me, opens us up to some ambiguity and some long term implications,” Gaines said.
Chairman Billy Thurmond reiterated that the density of the subdivision is the density and that under the current Residential Sub Rural, or RSR, zoning there is still a maximum buildout of 1,038 homes with one home per acre.
“It does concern me at some point in time that it might go belly up to the point where it is sold to someone who would come in and build $150-200,000 homes and that can’t be stopped by this board,” Thurmond said.
Before the request was approved, Gaines required a number of stipulations including: a limit on construction times from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and no construction on Sundays; reduction of entrances from three to two, plus one for emergency vehicles only; at 50 percent buildout the board would require the developer to conduct a new traffic impact study; developer is required to come back for approval of the commercial aspect of the development; developer must pay $70,000 to help pay for traffic light at Cowart Road and Hwy. 53 once it exceeds acceptable traffic standards; all lighting throughout the neighborhood must be LED lighting that does not bleed outside of the property; an increase from 50 feet buffers to 100 feet; and establishment of a homeowner’s association, containing board members from the subdivision.
A number of residents came out to the meeting to express their concerns regarding the rezoning, with many citing concerns for traffic, road conditions, increased law enforcement and emergency services and effects on surrounding counties.
Cowart Road resident Fay Bohlayer, who also voiced her concerns at the Feb. 19 planning commission meeting Feb. 19, addressed the board citing the impact the development would have on the nearby farming community.
“This is a pleasant community, a tranquil, rural community,” she said. “When you have a lot of people living real close together it is more chaotic, traffic is worse. We came here as far away from [Ga.] 400 that I could get…This is an area that I think is worth preserving in Dawson County.”
Also speaking in opposition was Rebecca Bannister who spoke for the residents of neighboring Cherokee County.
“It’s also important to point out that paying for these road improvements, who’s going to pay for that? And the law enforcement that’s going to be required, it’s Cherokee County residents,” Bannister said. “If you approve something you’re going to put that right on our backs.”
Bannister said that Cherokee County residents currently deal with numerous problems daily from surrounding counties, including the stench from the Eagle Point landfill and the noise from the River Bend Gun Club, two projects approved by neighboring counties.
“We try to be a good neighbor. We shop in Dawson County. I spend a lot of money in Dawson County, but let me tell you we didn’t have a voice for all the things that hit us,” Bannister said.
Residents speaking in support of the rezoning were quick to point out the lack of options for senior living in Dawson County.
Jenna Johnson, 69, said that she is one of the seniors who would like to live in the proposed age-targeted area in Crystal Falls.
“We don’t have places for people who live in Dawson and Pickens to go when they no longer want to live on a big piece of land or they no longer want to live on the side of a mountain,” Johnson said. “I would like to have a place where people like me can go and live and have walking trails out the back yard and be able to lock the door and go visit my grandchildren in Florida without having to worry about anything.”
Other supporters of the rezoning came from the property owners inside Crystal Falls who wanted to protect their investments and also see the golf community thrive.
“In reality what we’re talking about, we’re not talking about substantially changing the impact to the community from the original plan was. We’re talking about making a change that is going to make it viable,” Crystal Falls homeowner Michael McMann said. “If you’re not making money and this doesn’t get approved, (the property owner) can pull out of this and just close the golf course then we have a ghost town sitting here.”
After hearing arguments from both sides, Gaines addressed the crowd and said this decision is the toughest one that he has had to make in the two years he has served on the commission.
“We can only manage and make decisions based on the cards that we’re dealt. The cards that we’re dealt in this particular situation are, there’s already 1,000 units that have been approved for this,” Gaines said.
Gaines said his fear is that by not approving the rezoning, the current property owner could choose to sell to another buyer who would mass grade.
“I do not want to see mass grading. I want to see, and we, historically as a board, tried to encourage conservation type developments where we look at that 40 percent green space,” Gaines said. “This gives us an opportunity, in my opinion, to protect the amount of green space that is available in this subdivision instead of a mass grading and instead of potential $150,000 houses being thrown down by a national builder. This gives us an opportunity to protect a particular area and with the amount of green space that’s there, with the investment that’s already been made and make sure that it’s done correctly.”