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Dawson County residents voice safety concerns over 332-home neighborhood proposed along Etowah River
Subdivision August 2022 Planning Commission meeting
During an Aug. 16 rezoning hearing, planning commissioner John Maloney, far left, expresses his concerns about density and traffic for a proposed 332-home subdivision. - photo by Julia Fechter

After over a dozen area residents shared safety concerns about a proposed 332-home neighborhood at Grizzle and Hanging Dog roads, the Dawson County Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of a developer’s rezone request at its Aug. 16 meeting. 

Applicant D.R. Horton has requested a rezoning of 333 acres from Residential Sub-Rural to Residential Planned Community. The development concept plan shows two points of entry along Grizzle Road and amenities such as a junior Olympic pool, kid’s pool, tennis courts and a clubhouse. 

Developer consultant Jim King, who presented on D.R. Horton’s behalf, added in follow-up comments to DCN that the price point for the homes is projected to be entry-level or around $350,000. 

This story continues below.

District 4 Planning Commissioner Neil Hornsey stated that the request “does not meet the Future Land Use Map.”

“I don’t know how Grizzle Road could handle all that traffic,” Hornsey said. 

“The traffic study only shows improvements to Grizzle Road and Dawson Forest [Road],” said District 2 Planning Commissioner John Maloney, “even though there’s quite a number of trips that go in other directions to other intersections that they’re not even showing on the recommendations.” 

Maloney elaborated that he felt “like the density was too high” for making the motion to recommend denial, which was approved 3-0, with Chairman Jason Hamby abstaining. 

The Dawson County Board of Commissioners can vote to approve, deny or table this rezoning application at their Sept. 15 voting session, which immediately follows the 4 p.m. work session. 


Home density

Though the proposed lots are listed as one-acre lots, King clarified the density will be “just less” than one unit per acre, with the homes clustered closer to Grizzle Road. 

“There are many other one-acre parcels near the Etowah River, so as far as overall density is concerned, we’re not asking for anything more dense than a lot of the surrounding properties,” King said. 

When reviewing the planning staff’s list of recommended stipulations, King did not agree with a condition for density reduction that would bring the number of homes down to 240 units. 

“We feel like the 332 units we’re asking for is justified for this particular piece of property,” he said. 

“Today’s families–at least all of the national builders I work for–everyone’s looking for smaller lots,” King said about lot size. “They don’t want to maintain the larger lots anymore. The majority of what my engineering firm designs nowadays are 50 and 60-foot lots.” 

Hamby countered by saying that not all such developments or proposed developments are on “such an environmentally sensitive piece of property.” 

Maloney inquired as to the amount of buildable acres minus land in the wetlands and floodplain area. Removing that land would mean removing 120 acres from the equation, King said, so that would leave 210 buildable acres

“So when you’re saying an acre lot, you’re not actually getting an acre lot?” , Maloney said. 

“They’re not acre lots. That’s based on the entire size of the parcel,” King added. 


Water concerns

JoAnn Hause has a farm directly across the Etowah River, along Thompson Road, that follows the land in question for roughly a third of the way. 

While Hause said she wasn’t for or against the development, she said she loses property “every time there’s a flood” and doesn’t want to lose any more land. 

Her biggest concern was with potentially having to deal with runoff from a subdivision and wondered how the developer could guarantee that wouldn’t be a problem in future years. 

Hamby said a perpetual conservation easement could be made a stipulation for approving the rezone and noted that “without some protections, we put our citizens at risk.”

“It would be a concern of all Dawson County citizens, yes,” Hamby said.

Dawson County High School alumna Lucy Martinez also raised concerns about the river area’s biodiversity, given that land’s being developed “at an abnormal rate.” 

One stipulation was that a minimum of 140 acres of the project “be preserved in perpetuity as [an] undisturbed conservation area.”

King confirmed that his client is additionally willing to do a conservation easement to restrict usage of that portion of the land. That stipulation was not put into place Tuesday, since the Planning Commission didn’t recommend approval, but the Board of Commissioners could add that condition if they decide to approve the rezoning application in September. 

King said his client is fine with keeping the recommended buffers along wetland and riverside areas. These proposed buffers include a 250-foot undisturbed vegetative buffer from the banks of the Etowah River, according to the stipulations in the Planning Commission’s agenda packet. 

Also listed are conditions for a 50-foot, undisturbed buffer on banks of state waters (except for perpendicular road and utility crossings) plus an additional 25-foot setback from all stream banks. Disturbance or encroachment by any stormwater, sanitary sewer or other related easements shall not encroach a buffer, “except as necessary for access and the utility crossing” and “as near to perpendicular as practical,” barring encroachment by grading for stormwater detention ponds.

Daniel Brown, also not for or against the rezone, said he was thinking about the land where he plans to build a family home that would use well water. 

“I haven't heard anything about a municipal system going in. All we’ve heard is everything coming in off of Grizzle [Road],” he said. “Obviously, I don’t know what the sewer system’s going to be on that development, but with 240 or 300 [plus] homes, it’s going to be pretty concerning.” 

In its comments to planning staff, Etowah Water & Sewer Authority stated there were “no plans for expansion at this time.” Thus, the developer would have to pay for any water and sewer main upgrades and extensions in accordance with EWSA regulations. 


Traffic problems

During the meeting, public speakers doubled down on the need for infrastructure and services to come before development to help promote more gradual, planned growth. 

One of Tuesday’s speakers was lifelong Grizzle Road resident Candida Elkins Castleberry, who said the road is often used as “a racetrack.” She said one driver two weeks ago came around a curve at about 85 mph and rolled their car three times in her front yard.

“I don't want somebody to die in my front yard,” she added. “One person has already died in my front yard in the last 20 years.”

As part of the stipulations, planning staff recommended at the proposed northern site driveway a left turn lane; left and right-turn deceleration lanes; a left-turn only lane and a shared through/right-turn lane separating the southbound approach. 

Proposed at the intersection of Dawson Forest and Grizzle roads were a westbound right-turn lane, eastbound left-turn lane and a left turn-only lane and a shared through/right-turn lane separating the southbound approach. 

King acknowledged the need for traffic improvements and was amenable to those. 

Hamby cited a traffic study showing a potential 3,044 vehicles on Grizzle Road, most of which King clarified would likely take Grizzle to Dawson Forest Road, instead of taking the road to Lumpkin Campground Road. The consultant then confirmed that Hanging Dog Road would remain stopped off as a dead-end road, and all traffic would go out via Dawson Forest way, thus avoiding Ga. 9.

Resident Lydia Gonzalez, who was neither for or against the rezone, said the 332 houses would likely have double the cars, if not more vehicles, a problem since “Grizzle Road is over trafficked as it is,” she said. 

Other speakers pointed out that Hanging Dog Road is still a dirt road and that Grizzle Road, though it’s been paved now, is a mish-mash of angled curves in need of straightening. 

Tonia Bagwell, a 26-year resident of Dawson County, asked who in the county is talking to the school system, sheriff’s office and fire and emergency services about “all that clustered growth between Grizzle and Dawson Forest roads.” 

Bagwell echoed another speaker’s description of the dynamic as “a future nightmare” and urged common-sense development. 

“I appreciate you guys (the Board of Commissioners) for putting in the emergency moratorium and really taking a step back, but this is a development that really, really needs a lot of research.”

Bagwell then pointed out the aforementioned traffic study and said the traffic rating at Grizzle and Dawson Forest roads is a D-, not including school commute times. 

“That doesn’t include the thoughts of school buses, all the crime that could potentially come…

it could just be a domino effect to watch a community [decline] that so many of us in this room love and appreciate and want to keep it the way it is.” 

She added that if the rezoning is approved and the project commences, Dawson Forest Road needs to be four lanes, and Grizzle Road should be straightened. 

Speaker Larry Statham said that the near future “might be a bad time for this building,” given looming economic concerns about a recession. 

“Use your true judgment on this,” Castleberry said to the Planning Commission. “Please think about the ramifications of what’s already happening there [on Grizzle Road] and how this is going to add to what’s already happening there.”