Once again, Dawson County residents made it clear: they do not want a large, mixed-use village at the northwest corner of Ga. 400 and Lumpkin Campground Road.
“Don’t ‘California’ my Georgia. Don’t ‘Fulton County’ my Dawson County,” said Board of Commissioners District 3 candidate Deanna Dickinson.
After hearing version three of the developer’s presentation, the county’s Planning Commission still had enough concerns about the proposal on March 15 to table a vote on whether to rezone 518 acres for the project.
The vote to recommend the rezone’s approval or denial was tabled until the commission’s meeting on April 19.
Before that meeting, there will be a community forum held for neighbors to discuss their concerns with representatives of developer Fox Creek Properties. A forum date, time and place have not yet been announced.
“I have a lot of folks in front of me that say they’ve never gotten a letter or never had a chance to speak, and they’d like to hear from you,” Planning Commission Chairman Jason Hamby said while requesting such a meeting.
Project spokesperson Ken Wood, president of Planners and Engineers Collaborative, agreed to Hamby’s request to bring to a future forum materials outlining plans to mitigate traffic in major intersections that would be impacted by the village.
“This tonight was our public hearing, so when it comes before us next month, there will not be a public hearing again,” Hamby said to the crowd. “It’ll go [from a] presentation and then [to a] vote.”
As is standard with rezoning requests, the Board of Commissioners will also hear the application at a future meeting. When the BOC first hears the rezone application, there will be a public hearing. The date for that part of the process depends on when the Planning Commission votes to recommend approval or denial.
Video of the public hearing can be watched on the Dawson County Government’s Facebook or YouTube pages, and a print out of the developer’s presentation can be found in the Planning Commission’s March 15 agenda packet, starting on page 93.
The proposed development includes Etowah Bluffs Township, a commercial and activity hub, and The Preserve, sections with a variety of single-family residences.
A version of the plans was originally proposed in 2019, albeit then called “Etowah Village” with the intent to establish 947 acres of commercial and residential structures to the area.
In 2020, version two was filed with the Planning Department and subsequently withdrawn later that year after multiple public hearings and meetings.
Current plans are included in the rezoning application that was filed this January.
Under the new plans, the commercial area will include about 80,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and an event space. Other portions of the development will host medical, other professional offices and a 251,000-square-foot warehouse.
In total, 986 residential units have been proposed. These housing options will range from a mix of low and mid-rise apartments to attached townhomes geared toward seniors and detached homes. All of the townhouse and home units will be sold, while the apartments would be rented out, Ken Wood said.
Also proposed is the Etowah River Trail, the second segment of Dawson County’s forthcoming greenway. The greenway’s benefits and potential route were discussed at length during the BOC’s work session on Oct. 7, 2021.
This land is bounded on the north by Grant Road; to the east by Ga. 400; and to the south by Lumpkin Campground Road/Ga. 9, Brights Way, Ga. 53 and Riverview Drive.
The land is currently zoned a mix of residential and commercial classifications.
Dawson County’s Future Land Use map has the areas marked as either Residential Town or Office Professional.
Granting the rezoning application would be in general conformity with the comprehensive plan, stated the Planning Department. The developer’s concept plan predicts a density of 1.9 units per acre across the five sections or PODs with residential units.
Overall, mixed-use villages are limited to 2.8 units per acre. As a conservation subdivision, a minimum of 30 percent must be green space. Forty-nine percent of the development will contain open space for both passive and active recreation. Utilities will have to be put underground, and stormwater functionality would also be required.
Wood said the newest iteration of the project is a “vast improvement” on previous versions in various ways, one of the biggest being the increased mixed-village configuration.
He mentioned that the five acres of civic space set aside for the county could host a library, community center or some other beneficial structure.
Likewise, he said the township’s layout has been “totally changed” and showed an expanded park and gathering facility with mixed-use buildings.
In the first phase, all of the roads, greenspace and parking will be finished, making the area ideal for hosting food trucks and drawing people there, the thought being that increasing visibility for events would draw businesses to open building spots.
The second phase would use the momentum from events and increased financial gains to complete build out of the township, Wood said.
Additionally, he shared that his team has been working directly with the Development Authority of Dawson County to plan about 50 acres for the industrial space.
Under the new plans, there will now be two different, more separated entrances into the development coming off of Lumpkin Campground Road.
For that roadway, the developer wants to add lanes for dedicated dual left-turn or straight ones, as well as additional right-turn-lanes. More room will be provided for trucks to be able to turn onto Lumpkin Campground Road safely and then immediately switch into the right-turn lane to enter the industrial portion of the development.
There will be a dedicated roadway on the far eastern side that flows into the industrial area before forming a loop road back onto Ga. 400, ideally keeping trucks out of the village.
Pedestrian sidewalk connectivity throughout the development’s eight sections or “pods” is a key feature of the renewed plans.
Wood also explained buffers will now be 250 feet at their narrowest points close to the neighboring Savannah Trace subdivision. He said a majority of the buffers will be undisturbed foliage, with about 50 feet to be replanted. There will also be fencing in between screenings.
More than one of the 17 people who spoke in opposition to the development mentioned light and noise nuisances, particularly affecting the Savannah Trace subdivision, should the project come to pass.
One of the public hearing’s youngest speakers, 25-year-old Max Muldoon, took pride in sharing that he was “born and raised” in Dawson County.
“While I can say there have been some drastic changes, all of them are going to pale in comparison to this place,” he said.
Muldoon mentioned a potentially drastic change in local demographics, should the development come to fruition, and that change would lead to an increase in crime, like the rash of car break-ins during January.
He could not promise planning commissioners that he’d increase tax revenues over time like a bigger development would, but he did promise that he loved his home county.
“I love the experience I’ve had growing up in this county…and I'm afraid that’s going to be taken away [from our next generation] if something like this is built,” he said.
Deanna Dickinson, who is also a realtor, explained that county growth has taken a worrisome turn since she moved here five years ago.
She shared that “too much multifamily” is being developed now instead of more single-family housing and cited a Georgia Tech study stating that units would have to cost $436,000 or more in order to help take care of taxes in Dawson County.
“If units are not that amount or more, then the tax burden’s going to be put on Dawson County taxpayers,” she said.
Post 2 planning commissioner John Maloney asked about the projected build out of the entire mixed-use village.
Wood estimated about a decade, starting with Phase 1 of the commercial or village part, including the apartments, followed by the industrial and residential sections.
Build out is projected to cost $400 million and yield $2 million in tax revenue a year, according to Fox Creek’s rezoning application.
Both the county’s planning and engineering departments expressed concern over traffic management. In particular, the Engineering Department said a plan showing all access points was not provided and added that ingress and egress may need to be re-evaluated considering GDOT’s desire to relocate the intersection of Ga. 400 and Lumpkin Campground and Harmony Church roads to the north to provide for a perpendicular intersection.
Multiple residents said routes like Ga. 400, 53 and Lumpkin Campground Road struggle to handle the current amount of traffic.
The planning and engineering departments, as well as the planning commissioners, were all interested in further traffic studies. Wood clarified that the developer’s traffic study called for lane additions at Ga. 400 and Lumpkin Campground Road, as well as potential improvements at other nearby intersections.
Maloney and fellow planning commissioner Steve Sanvi expressed concerns over golf cart and bike/walking-friendly paths co-mingling as well as multi-use paths being close to Ga. 400.
Another concern was big truck radiuses contributing to rear-end accident situations, given Lumpkin Campground’s intersection with Ga. 400.
Multiple speakers also mentioned concern about schools’ capacity, particularly at the elementary level.
Michael Cochran, a Savannah Trace resident and HOA board member, pointed out that a forthcoming emergency access road for the development was overlooked in the application. If the rezone and ultimate development are approved, such a road would connect to the back of his neighborhood’s Brights Way, which he and others claim is a private road.
Wood later replied stating that the plat for Brights Way shows it as public, not private. Steve Sanvi suggested that the developer would have to negotiate a fire-only easement. As another option, an emergency access road could be placed closer down to Ga. 53,but Wood said they’re trying not to disturb that far down in the tracts.
In a March 8 letter to the Planning Commission, Fire Marshal Jeff Bailey noted that while he
“was not in opposition of this zoning change, or any proposed land development, the scale and complexity of the developments warrants serious consideration of impacts that must be anticipated and planned for.”
He noted that such a development would “absolutely increase calls” for Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services. He added the mixed-use village could result in a population growth of thousands or “20-percent growth in the county’s permanent population” over the span of a decade when it otherwise would take 50 years to occur.
Such sudden growth would impact Fire and EMS’s ability to provide acceptable service levels. The department is actively working to hire people and acquire resources, like ambulances, at a rate that keeps up with the current amount of growth.
Therefore, Fire and EMS have to rely on mutual aid requests from neighboring counties to fill the gap, leading to increased response times.
Projections for this development are “in addition” to other permitted, underway, proposed or forthcoming projects, Bailey added.
“Dawson County is experiencing previously unwitnessed growth and if the growth is to continue, we need to start increasing public safety capabilities now and not after being outpaced by it. “
Given the amount of resources necessary to handle just one single-family residential fire,
a second ladder truck, additional pumper, medical unit, staffing and another fire station would be needed if the mixed-use village is ultimately approved.
“These items require significant time and money to acquire,” said Bailey, “and must be considered concurrently with the approval of projects such as this, and not in reaction to them after approval.”