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Vote again tabled on rezoning for proposed mixed-use village
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Fox Creek Properties has applied to rezone 518 acres for a mixed-use village along Dawson County’s bustling Ga. 400 corridor.

Before tabling a rezoning application for Fox Creek Properties’ proposed mixed-use village, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners made it clear on July 21 that their central concern was residential development outpacing commercial and industrial aspects of the project. 

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines recognized the developer’s willingness to work with the county on the proposed project’s “moving parts” and to “bend over backwards to make concessions,” “but we've got to get it right for their benefit as well as ours”. 

“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.”

This story continues below.

During their July 21 voting session, the board voted unanimously to table a decision on the rezoning application for Fox Creek’s proposed mixed-use development at Lumpkin Campground Rd. and Ga. 400 until the Aug. 18 voting session, which will also be held in the Dawson County Government Center’s assembly room. There will not be a public hearing at that time, since one was held during the May 19 BOC voting session. 

The board tabled a vote to ultimately approve or deny the rezone of 518 acres from five different classifications to better define in the project stipulations what would constitute imbalance between the development’s PODs.

The tabling gives Fox Creek a month to meet with the Development Authority of Dawson County (DADC) and firm up a forthcoming agreement as to the latter’s role in securing an industrial occupant. Further talks would also allow for conversations to clarify restricted uses as to medical device manufacturing, in which the development authority has expressed an interest. That way, clearly allowing that particular use would make the proposed industrial space more marketable. 

As part of the stipulations, non-residential space can be a maximum of 84,000 square feet general office, medical and dental space; a maximum of 50,000 square feet retail and restaurant space; and a maximum of 250,000 square feet or about 35 acres of warehouse, logistics and flex space.

The residential PODS will include the following 986 units: 465 single-family detached homes; 121 active adult detached homes; 300 multifamily apartments; and 100 attached residences. 

Each residential POD will have an amenity area comprising five percent of its section, according to the stipulations. Overall density will be 1.9 units an acre. 

Tentative site plans show the multifamily and senior units closer to the front and the single-family detached lots extending toward the back of the property. 

“I think we’d want to have a max on the residential side because that's an expense to the county but a minimum on the commercial side because it's a revenue generating aspect of the project,” Gaines said. 

County attorney Angela Davis with Jarrard & Davis explained that the comprehensive plan code does provide for “some minimums” but suggested adding more such language if that wording wasn’t enough for the board. 

The comprehensive plan considered employment uses as inclusive of office, retail, service, restaurant, civic or institutional in multi-use or free-standing buildings. Between 150,000-250,000 square feet with a general land area range of 7-20 acres would be needed. Additionally, an activity center comprising 1-2 percent of the non-residential area would need to be included. Parking structures, parks, open space and roads would have to be carved out separately, Davis added. 

Part of the language at issue were some of the triggers for residential permits mentioned in the current stipulations.

As it was worded, residential permits would not be issued until the industrial POD is deeded to the development authority; there’s a grand green in the commercial center; and 3.5 acres is dedicated to the county for future civic uses. 

Dedication of land would have to happen prior to the earliest development for the office industrial and industrial flex PODs. 

Davis suggested that if the board wanted to convey POD C and do nothing else, then that needed to be specified in the stipulations. 

Both Gaines and District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley took issue with the tenth stipulation, which would allow a portion of residential housing to go forward and put the onus to ensure the industrial aspect on to the development authority. 

Gaines mentioned the key cash flow that commercial or non-residential aspects would bring and how those parts would help offset the cost of servicing the residential parts. What he “wanted to avoid” was a repeat of smaller-scale multi-use efforts in Dawson County before 2007.

“What wound up happening is there wasn't any teeth into it, and they started [building] residential, and then it went defunct… and commercial didn't come to fruition,” Gaines said. “The whole point is the concurrency of both of them.”

Speaking on behalf of Fox Creek, Jim Bowersox replied 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,” Gaines said. 

BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond clarified that the board wasn’t ruling out any residential at first, just desiring for concurrent development.

Dooley said he hadn’t seen “anything thus far that spelled out concurrent,” but Thurmond pointed out that such a provision was already stated in the comprehensive plan regulations.

Angela Davis said the addition of an eleventh condition also took care of that ambiguity. 

“Development of each POD must be phased so that within the first phases. Both residential and non-residential spaces are provided at the same time, as opposed to one or the other being built first,” she said, reading from her notes. 

She and Thurmond also hammered out an additional sentence before the voting session. 

“In the event the proportion of residential, commercial and industrial development becomes imbalanced, permits will not be issued until development comes into compliance with this condition,” she added. 

Project phases 

Tentative project plans detail a two-phase plan to build out Fox Creek’s mixed-use village. Bowersox clarified that there would likely be four to five phases overall. 

In the first phase, padding and grading would be done for POD A, which encompasses the town center. Entrances and roads would be done for the town center and up to the first residential POD. The industrial flex area or POD C would be made “pad ready” for an occupant, to include improvements proposed along Lumpkin Campground Road. 

The office industrial and medical office spaces, PODs B and D, would not be done. Pendler, who’s handling the apartments in POD E, would be doing that part on their own, but Fox Creek would be responsible for bringing the utilities and roads to that portion of the project, so there may be a lag on the multifamily part, Bowersox said. 

“The only way it works for us and the reason we’re willing to move forward is because of what we keep hearing from the development authority and the industrial developer we’re working with,” he added, reiterating that it’d be the DADC’s responsibility to ensure an industrial vendor. 

Bowersox clarified that he doesn’t think it’d take longer for the industrial component “to go vertical” but said “they [Fox Creek] couldn’t afford to stop the project.”

DADC member Tony Passarello agreed with others’ sentiments that the costs for an industrial component would have to be agreed to before proceeding further with POD C. 

Bowersox explained that the contract in question would be “more of an agreement.” Once there’s a set price for the land and the space goes through engineering, that part of the project would be bid out, and then the DADC would see and presumably agree on the numbers. 

The DADC would then turn around and sell the industrial space for a set cost, ensuring the developer gets paid for that part of the mixed-use village, Bowersox said. 

Additionally, Planning and Development Director Sharon Farrell did state that making medical devices could be allowed despite the listing under prohibited uses, since it’d be more akin to research efforts and actually allowable under the list and NAICS land use code. 

District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett also inquired about the price points for the active adult single-family units, which would be some of the first residential ones being built. Bowersox gave a tentative quote of “mid-$300,000s” for those residences. 

Gaines followed by asking if Fox Creek was confident in the local market that they’d have an absorption period to take those prices down quickly.

“No,” said Bowersox. “If it (the rezoning) is passed, our next stage is to go into engineering, which would take us until the end of this year, and we’d start development closer to the beginning of next year. This type of development is going to take a minimum of 12 months.” 

The commissioners reiterated their concerns about balancing commercial and residential aspects, which Bill Evans acknowledged.

“You can do anything you want,” Evans said. “You’ve been very clear that the concurrency thing was important to you from the beginning.” 

Evans elaborated that as residential developers, his area of expertise was not in the development of industrial or office spaces, so “promising to do something I don’t know how to do is the problem.” 

He clarified that that being the case, the DADC owning the industrial space would prevent that land’s changing to another use later and added the “problem with going vertical” is the market’s current volatility and tying residential to commercial development. 

Evans reiterated his stance, explaining that the desire for industrial space is the “hottest it’s ever been in my lifetime” and sharing that Dawson County is “sorely in need of industrial development.” 

Emory Dooley reaffirmed his agreement with Gaines as to balancing development, stating that it’s “hinging so much on POD C” to offset residential costs, making it hard to make a decision without having more details. 

“I think there's definitely room for…needing more information and getting it worked out [before] actually going to go forward with that,” Dooley said.