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Etowah Bluffs mixed-use project may be dead after this vote
Dawson County courthouse

Following months of public meetings and input from dozens of residents and government officials, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners approved a developer’s Aug. 18 request to withdraw an application to rezone 518 acres for a proposed mixed-use village off of Ga. 400.  

During their Aug. 18 voting session, BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond recounted a summary of the developer’s reason for withdrawal. 

“Basically, this says that the cost of developing the site continues to increase with the economy at this time, and with some of the other requirements associated, [they're] just not able to do it at this particular time,” Thurmond said. “They appreciate the board working with them and look forward to working with the board in future endeavors later on.”

If approved, Fox Creek’s Etowah Bluffs project would have entailed 986 residential units ranging from multifamily apartments to single-family detached homes. It would have also included up to 84,000 square feet in general, medical and dental office space; 50,000 square feet for retailers and restaurants; and 250,000 square feet or about 35 acres of warehouse, logistics and flex space.

 In July, the board tabled a vote on the rezone so county officials and developer Fox Creek Properties could better define in the project stipulations what would constitute imbalance between the proposed mixed-use village’s different PODs or sections. 

Previously, representatives for the developer balked at the county commissioners’ insistence that both residential and non-residential development occur simultaneously and in a balanced manner. 

Speaking on behalf of Fox Creek, Jim Bowersox said at the July 21 BOC voting session that that approach “is not how it works,” saying the developer’s approach is “an economic thing.”

“It’s an economic thing for us too,” said District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines at the time. 

“If you ask me to go concurrent with commercial [development], I’ll tell you to turn it down and let me withdraw, because I couldn’t do it,” said lead developer Bill Evans. “If what we’ve done is not good enough, I understand.”

At the Aug. 18 meeting, BOC Vice Chair and District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley thanked his fellow board members, county staff and the developer for their efforts surrounding the proposed rezone. 

“They (Fox Creek) listed a lot of the citizens around that are affected in that area, and they decided to work with those citizens to take care of what their wants and needs were,” Dooley said. 

Gaines pointed to District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield’s previous comments about the Development Authority of Dawson County’s role in working with Fox Creek and the county on the proposed mixed-use village’s plans, particularly the industrial component. 

“The developer was trying to work with them (the development authority) as much as he could to make sure that we have a balanced approach to development with the commercial aspect,” Gaines said. “That's important to this board as we move forward.” 

Impact fees

The county’s emergency moratorium on residential development, enacted in July and extended earlier this month, did not apply to developments like Fox Creek’s project that were already going through the county’s planning and zoning process. 

This temporary pause on acceptance of new residential rezoning applications was extended until Nov. 2, 2022, to allow Dawson County to take another look at zoning regulations and impact fees to see if those are adequate or need to be changed.

The Board of Commissioners approved a request Thursday to move forward with the retention of Ross + associates for $63,700 to do the impact fee study and provide related deliverables. 

Dawson County has retained Ross + associates for impact fee consultant services since 2005. 

Planning and Development Director Sharon Farrell reiterated that 2018 was the last time the impact fee process was updated. Since then, she alluded to county growth as far as the price of land, level of services, population and census and in commercial property.

Farrell predicted November would be the timeline for delivery of “the true bulk of the work.” 

The city of Dawsonville is also looking to contract out consultant services for its own impact fee study. During its Aug. 15 meeting, the city council voted to reject two bids for those services.

City Manager Bob Bolz said the city is in negotiations with the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission to have the latter assist in submitting a proposal and if that doesn’t happen, the city will consider re-advertising for bids. 

“We feel like it’s in the best interest of these two companies to go ahead and reject these two bids so they’re not just sitting there waiting for a decision from us,” Bolz said.