Early plans for a 520-acre multi-use development proposed to be built off Ga. 400 and Lumpkin Campground Road in Dawson County, have already earned the disapproval of local residents.
At a Dawson County Planning Commission meeting held on Wednesday night, commission members heard from both development stakeholders and local residents on the unnamed project, which would be situated on a large tract of land formerly owned by the Southern Catholic College in between the Etowah River, Ga. 400 and Lumpkin Campground Road.
In 2019, the site at Ga. 400 and Lumpkin Campground was home to another, much larger proposed multi-use development called Etowah Village, which sought to bring 947-acres of retail, office spaces and housing, similar to that of Alpharetta’s Avalon development, to the area. Amidst intense disapproval from the community and local elected officials, the proposed Etowah Village project was later withdrawn.
According to Kenneth Wood, president of Planners and Engineers Collaborative, this new project has no connection to the previous Etowah Village development. But with their new plans for the land, Wood said they will correct the oversteps and flaws in previously proposed developments while bringing an upscale, live-work-play community to the area.
"We really think it's a good project and we've taken care of the land that's been provided to us in order to work with it and not work against it, like you see so many different times," Wood said in his presentation to the planning commission.
What does this project propose?
In his presentation, Wood explained that the proposed development would involve a commercial section, with a 125-room hotel, 60,000 square feet of restaurants, shops and office spaces, and 30 acres of 'light industrial", at the front of the property, and a residential section with a 288-unit multi-family development and sprawling neighborhood of more than 600 single-family homes stretching back towards the Etowah River.
Wood said that his firm, along with Fox Creek Properties, the current landowner, have spent a large amount of time looking at the topography and geology of the site, and have designed the current plan with conservation of the Etowah River and surrounding land in mind.
He said that with the current plan, they will leave the entire western portion of the property open as undisturbed land, and unlike previous plans, they will stay as far away from the Etowah River and its small tributaries as possible.
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“It’s environmentally sensitive,” he said. “We know there’s been a lot of plans that look at pushing really close to the river, but it makes sense to stay up on the ridges, work with the topography, control the stormwater and have really nice homes that sit up on the top of the hills.”
Homes in the neighborhood would range in size and price, from the upper $200,000’s to lower $400,000’s, Wood said. While the multi-family development would be similar to other more expensive, “high end” developments in the region.
When asked about the timeline of the project and how the different phases would be built, Wood said that they have seen interest in the commercial and multi-family elements, and would likely start at the front of the property with those, building back towards the Etowah River as the development’s "spine road" was completed.
"That would kind of be the first phase of it, so you can start working on the lots that would go east and you could also start on the west, but that spine road is going to be really important," he said.
Latching onto the idea of a timeline for the project, Planning Commission Chair Jason Hamby said that in the past, Dawson County has seen many other developers come in with lofty plans for mixed-use developments, only to abandon the commercial phase and walk away from a residential-only development.
Hamby asked if Fox Creek would agree to a timeline stipulation that would ensure the completion of both commercial and residential components of the development.
"Because we have seen several things over the years come, put in the residential phase and just forgo the commercial phase,” he said. “And as a county, we're left with another subdivision or in this particular case, another multi-family subdivision, without the commercial component being developed."
Bill Veringa, spokesman for Fox Creek Properties said that at this point in the process, they can’t commit to any timeline for the project.
"I think it depends on the time-frame of commitments from buyers for the apartments, the rental units, as well as the commercial piece. I don't think that we could commit to a timeline particularly at this time." Veringa said.
What did community members say?
After commission members had their chance to question Wood and other development representatives, the floor was opened so that local residents could voice their support or opposition for the project.
All five residents that spoke at the meeting, spoke in opposition of the plan, voicing concerns about the environmental impact of the development, the increased burden on local schools, emergency services and utilities, and the ripple effect of other impacts caused by potentially increasing the county population by 10 percent with nearly 1,000 proposed residences.
"We're ultimately recommending disapproval of the zoning request because we're ultimately recommending disapproval of the entire development," local resident Bruce Duncil said to the commission members.
"I think we're just buying ourselves a massive maintenance nightmare," he said. "This development, as beautiful as it is, I think it would be great for DeKalb County, it's not for Dawson. That's not why we move here, that's not why we live here, that's not why we stay here."
Duncil, who spoke second during the public comment portion of the meeting, raised several issues he saw in the proposal, like the question of how utilities would be provided to the development and what the impact of those new utilities would have on existing county residents.
"We have to be thinking about where's all this extra water going to be coming from, where is all the extra sewage going to be going, where is it going to be processed, none of those things that I could see are being addressed yet," he said.
Duncil also pointed out statements made by county fire and law enforcement officials in the Planning Commission Staff Report on the proposal, which stated that a large-scale development like what Fox Creek is proposing, would vastly outstrip the capabilities of the current departments.
In a memo on the proposal, Dawson County Fire Marshal Jeff Bailey said that even at the county’s current call volume, they frequently find themselves without EMS units available. Without bolstering the department’s staffing and resources, that trend would surely increase, Bailey said.
“The same holds true for suppression/rescue operations as well. With current staffing levels, a single-family house fire in Dawson County requires every person on shift to respond to it,” he said.
Those thoughts were echoed by the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office, but not by the Dawson County Board of Education, which noted that the school system currently has room to accommodate several hundred students at each school.
When asked how the development could offset the impacts on local services, Wood answered that taxes on high property values and collections from the commercial phase of the project would pay for the increase in services, “Over and above.”
Another resident that spoke at the meeting, Keith Pagel, who is reportedly an adjacent property owner, said that his main concerns for the project are the impact it will have on the environment and the local traffic infrastructure.
“You'll never get that many people on Lumpkin Campground Road. Can you imagine trying to get everybody out at 6 o’clock in the morning, down 400, it's not going to happen. You'll cause backups, you'll cause nightmares," Pagel said.
Like Duncil, Pagel said that many of his concerns came from what the proposal doesn’t explicitly state yet and the areas of the project that will be harder to control.
"Can they really do what they say and preserve the quality of the land,” he asked. “I think the land will be destroyed. I honestly feel that way. Yes, this is not going directly across the Etowah River, but there's still going to be tremendous impacts to the land, there's no guarantee that they can do what they say they're going to do and preserve the land. It's lip service."
"This is not a good idea," he concluded.
At the end of a brief discussion on the development’s light industrial component and the different studies that would need to be completed on the property, commission members voted unanimously to table the proposal until the next meeting in October.