Traffic and taxes were key topics Thursday when the Dawson County Board of Commissioners postponed an ultimate decision on whether to rezone land for 152 more residences in a proposed neighborhood along Lee Castleberry Road, near Ga. 400.
The BOC tabled a vote on Flowery Branch company Stark Land Development’s request to rezone 25.35 acres until their Oct. 6 voting session.
Last fall, the board approved a rezone for an initial 48 townhomes for the development. If the developer’s newer request is approved, then the development would include 200 residential units, broken down into 160 townhomes and 40 single-family, semi-detached houses.
The two parcels that would encompass the project sit off of Lee Castleberry Road, between Stacie Lane and Lumpkin Campground Road.
The board’s decision to table follows the Dawson County Planning Commission recommending approval for the newer rezone request at their meeting last month.
At Thursday’s meeting, Planning and Development Director Sharon Farrell described the townhomes as “truly single-family attached” and not “a multifamily product.”
BOC Chairman clarified with Farrell that the request meets the county’s Future Land Use Plan.
The land’s new Residential Multi-Family zoning would allow the neighborhood to have an overall density of about six units per acre.
As at past meetings, District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines restated his concerns about the economy when asking about a timeline for the development.
Stark said that if the rezone was approved at the meeting, his company likely wouldn’t start construction on the project until next spring or summer, to be followed by about a year of development or site work and initial building permits at the start of 2024.
Then, full build out, occupation and selling of the homes would likely take two to three years, Stark added.
Stark also provided tentative estimates of the break-even prices for homes in Dawson County, sharing that that amount is expected to be about $463,000.
This would be an increase from the 2021 Georgia Tech study which pinned break-even values to be around $431,000.
The projected price point for his project’s homes would be around $400,000, the same as Redfin’s August 2022 median price for a Dawsonville-area home.
Stark added that the study doesn’t consider the increased role that sales tax collections could play in bridging the approximate $20,000 gap in revenue between property taxes and this year’s millage rate, or about $585 per home.
“We feel good about the ability to bridge that tax gap that exists between what our product is, which is still a very nice product, and what is considered break even,” Stark added.
“In the [U.S.] Southeast, there’s still a pretty strong market for residential, especially in good counties like Dawson County and other North Atlanta suburbs.”
Gaines reiterated his concerns about a recession’s potential impact on local sales tax revenue, which bolsters Dawson County’s tax base, and said he wanted “more time to crunch numbers” after Stark’s presentation.
Concept plans show most of the townhomes being closer to Ga. 400 and transitioning into more single-family homes toward Lumpkin Campground Road, Stark told the board.
Amenities inside the development would include a central clubhouse with tennis courts and a pool, an activity lawn, pocket parks and a walking trail. Plans also show two access points, with the main entrance coming off of Lee Castleberry Road and a secondary one on Stacie Lane.
Stark Land Development is proposing contributing $1.3 million in infrastructure improvements toward Lee Castleberry Road, which is classified as a non-residential collector road. County Manager David Headley clarified that the projected improvements estimate came from county staff.
As part of the 13 stipulations, a right of way of 20 feet would be dedicated along Lee Castleberry Road, and the developer would have to make improvements along the roadway.
Those fixes would include an eastbound left turn deceleration lane going into the main entrance, widening Lee Castleberry Road and installing a minimum five-acre passive or active park.
Concept plans show a linear park along the developer’s side of Lee Castleberry Road and a park or monument sign at the corner of the new roundabout.
The developer does not own the parcel in front of Ga. 400, so they would have to work with the county to install a sidewalk along there.
Road improvements would be started alongside site development, Stark told the board.
A traffic light is not currently planned at Ga. 400 and Lee Castleberry Road. Previously, area residents and planning commissioners raised concerns about people getting into vehicle wrecks with the amount of traffic that’s expected to travel through that intersection.
Stark said they had had a traffic study done and explained that his development would not warrant a light.
“I can’t speak to the apartments [being built across Ga. 400],” he said of the forthcoming Pointe Grand Apartments. “They may have the density to warrant that signal, but even if we wanted to, GDOT wouldn’t let us put a light there.”
Stark previously called the proposed subdivision’s location “smart growth,” with its proximity to Ga. 400 in southern Dawson County and nearby similar land uses and zonings.
The current property owner, Robert Edwards, said he’s lived in Dawson County since 1994 and wanted to sell the land because health issues have made it difficult to maintain.
Edwards, an industrial geographer, thought that an apt developer like Stark’s company would be a good steward of the land and envisioned young professionals who want a quick commute and space for kids and pets living in such a neighborhood.
He eschewed the project being called an apartment complex and said buyers would “want to increase the value of the property, which will give you a better tax base as it goes forward.”
Representing Stark Land Development, lawyer Simon Bloom said the county’s Future Land Use Plan calls for denser residential zoning and praised his client’s “transition within the transition” with the planned project’s denser townhomes and more spread-out single-family dwellings.
Bloom said the county’s decision to rezone Stark Land Development’s adjacent eight acres last year “precedent” and added that denser zoning makes the most financial sense for the property.
“The best evidence of why this development or property should not cannot stay as zoned is dictated and will be told by the market,” Bloom said. “Nobody is buying this property for any other reason.”