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Etowah Village hearing tabled until April 16
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Citizens inspect plans for a large mixed-use development at the northwest corner of Lumpkin Campground Road and Ga. 400. - photo by Allie Dean

Developers of the proposed mixed-use development tentatively named Etowah Village will have another month to prepare to go before the Dawson County Planning Commission after their scheduled appearance at the March 19 meeting was postponed until April.

Dawson Village Partners submitted a request March 13 to table their rezoning application until the April 16 planning commission meeting. The request also moves the date the application will go before the Board of Commissioners to May 16. Both meetings will begin at 6 p.m. in the second floor assembly room of the county courthouse.

Corey Gutherie, an engineer on the project, said during a March 12 public information meeting that the postponement was necessary because the county did not expect to receive a review of the project from the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission until March 18.

The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission reviews large-scale projects such as the proposed Etowah Village, which are called Developments of Regional Impact, or DRIs.

According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs website, the DRI review procedure is “designed to improve communication between affected governments” and “provide a means of revealing and assessing potential impacts of large-scale developments before conflicts relating to them arise.”

The project review will include recommendations and conditions that will be implemented in the project plan.

Gutherie submitted the DRI Jan. 29, which detailed the desired use of the property and the number of residential units, hotel rooms, recreational space and park space.

Gutherie and other parties involved in the development gave residents more details on the project during the March 12 meeting, which was attended by property owners and residents whose property is adjacent to the proposed 877-acre development. The meeting took place at Fire Station No. 2.

Changes in the plans and acreage have dropped the number of projected residential units from 2,727 to 2,174, and the numbers could still fluctuate, according to Gutherie. The overall density will remain 2.8 units per acre with 319 loft units, 800 apartment units, 451 Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) beds, 33 active adult units as part of the CCRC, 171 single family detached homes and 400 active adult units. 

Shaun Adams, an attorney representing the developers, said that the buildout will come in five phases, with retail space developing first closest to Ga. 400, followed by the convention center, hotel, performing arts center, fire station and loft space on top of retail.

The third phase will consist of the construction of office space, apartments, the Continuing Care Retirement Community and active adult housing. The fourth phase will jump the Etowah River with the construction of a new bridge, and will contain a large neighborhood of active adult housing. The fifth phase will finish out the middle of the development with single family residential units.

Adams said that having a master plan for the development will create more uniformity as opposed to zoning the property piece by piece over the years.

“What this development is doing is giving you a 10-15 year vision that is a uniform development that’s going to work together,” Adams said. “By working together it's creating more opportunities for inter-parcel connectivity, which minimizes the traffic on the roads... (creates) more opportunity for jobs and increases the tax base.”

The full market value of the development when built out would be around $750 million in 2018 values, Adams said, which would bring in several million dollars a year in property taxes for the school system and county government.

Gutherie addressed some of the most asked questions of the meeting when he discussed traffic implications. Entrances to the development will be on Etowah River Road, at Grant Road and Ga. 400, on Hwy. 53 in front of Byrd’s Mini Storage and on Lumpkin Campground Road.

Darwin Douglas, who lives in a subdivision near the proposed Hwy. 53 entrance, said he was already concerned about the safety of that section of the roadway.

“You can’t see traffic between Meadows Court and just beyond Rob’s Way; there’s a dip in the road,” Douglas said. “You can’t see cars coming, they have wrecks there all the time and traffic gets backed up from the traffic light there at Lumpkin Campground all the way past Savannah Trace.”

Gutherie said the developers can’t and won’t propose any intersections that could cause fatalities due to limited sight.

He also said there will be a parkway through the whole development, running from an entrance at Ga. 400 to an entrance on Etowah River Road.

“That parkway would be a primary artery that could relieve some of the traffic on Hwy. 53,” Gutherie said.

He also said that due to growth in the region, Hwy. 53 will have to be addressed at the state level at some point, which could include expansion to a four-lane highway among other improvements.

 “We will have a meeting with the GMRC, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the county to discuss the entrance on Hwy. 53,” Gutherie said. “This is a development that we anticipate will take 10-plus years if not even 20 years to fully build out where everybody is living in a house, and we have to think about what the landscape’s going to look like 15-20 years from now, which is going to be a lot different than it is today.”

Sara Reed, another resident, brought up another concern and said it looked like the plans were drawn in such a way that homes would be built on floodplains along the Etowah River.

Gutherie said that the plan is currently designed around the floodplains according to information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that he will need to obtain more accurate data during the design phase of the project to determine where the development should actually go.

Other citizens asked why the development was necessary at all.

Ty Hudson, a Dawson County resident, said he liked the project but didn’t want it to negatively impact Dawson County’s existing retail.

“My question is: Is this us? We have a very big difficulty in filling a grocery store that was replaced, you’re talking about bringing in all this new retail space,” Hudson said. “I don’t want it to become a ghost town at the outlet mall...we need a Lowe’s and we need a Kohl’s and we’re done.”

Gutherie said the developers are looking for comments from citizens and want to address any concerns.

“This plan that you see here and on the walls is a concept; it’s not set in stone,” he said.