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Vote on Etowah Bluffs rezone postponed until July
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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.

Just as the Planning Commission did, Dawson County Board of Commissioners has delayed a decision on Fox Creek Properties’ Etowah Bluffs development. 

At Fox Creek Properties’ request, the board postponed a vote 60 days on the developer's application to rezone 518 acres from five different classifications into one mixed-use village at the intersection of Lumpkin Campground Road and Ga. 400.

In total, 986 housing units are being proposed for the mixed-use village, with an overall residential density of 1.88 acres. 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. 

The BOC will now decide the matter at their July 21 voting session. Because a public hearing was held on May 19, there will not be one at the meeting in July.  

Fox Creek head developer Bill Evans asked for the postponement so his firm can “crunch numbers,” since it would not be financially feasible for his company to do the project’s commercial aspects right away.

Evans further explained that the order Planning and Zoning is asking them to do the phases may cause a problem, given the possibility of a recession later this year. 

“There just isn’t a market to put the commercial in right now,” Evans said. 

BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond reminded his fellow commissioners that it would be a two-step process to fully approve what Fox Creek wants to do, if that ends up being the board’s decision. After the zoning changes are approved, the board will have to vote on a master plan for the proposed mixed-use village. 

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines asked for the motion to postpone a vote given Evans’ request and the board’s responsibility to consider all of the relevant facts. 

“For me, I would not be ready to make a full decision because we don’t have the full picture…[tabling] would allow us the time to have all the facts and all of the pertinent details to make the best decision we can,” Gaines said. 

Many of the stipulations were ones that the county has already suggested or that Fox Creek has already incorporated into their application. 

Planning and Development Director Sharon Farrell read all of the stipulations as of Thursday into the record before the commissioners motioned to table. 

The stipulations included ones about infrastructure, such as previously-mentioned buffer and erosion/pollution-conscious rules as well as road improvements on and off of Lumpkin Campground Road. Fox Creek would be responsible for those improvements and need to dedicate right of way. 

Georgia Department of Transportation and the county engineer or a designee must decide entrance and exit points between roadways and adjacent properties. Also recommended were updated traffic studies on an annual basis or upon completion of each project “pod.” 

If approved, the project’s stipulations would dictate a 24-foot-wide access easement from Savannah Trace into the development. As of Thursday, the developer and the HOA from that subdivision had come to an agreement about the easement, which would allow neighborhood residents to access Etowah Bluffs with a key or code and allow emergency vehicle access via a gate and knock box. 

There would be no access to Grant Road from Etowah Bluffs. 

Additionally, District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield clarified that the private Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, not Dawson County, would be servicing the project if it is approved. 

Fox Creek will also be paying several million dollars in impact fees up-front to extend the sewer infrastructure north in and through the site, said an engineer with the developer. The line would stop near Grant Road at a location beneficial to any future development. 

Of the public speakers during the May 19 meeting, about an equal number, several each, spoke for and against a rezone for the proposed development.

In his comments, Evans elaborated that industrial business is in “very big demand” and something that Dawson County wants, as there is minimal flex space along Ga. 400 compared to the demand and industrial presence in every other Atlanta-area corridor. 

Development Authority of Dawson County chair Brian Trapnell spoke in favor of Etowah Bluffs, saying the county is a “diverse community with a lot of room for growth without sacrificing quality of life.” 

Trapnell cited new opportunities to live and work locally as well as a Georgia Tech commercial impact study showing that an overall 500 jobs and $23 million in income would be generated over the next decade, apart from the project’s residential aspects. 

Fellow DADC board members Tony Passarello and Carroll Turner also pointed to the economic benefits and how the proposed project aligns with the county’s long-range plan and DADC’s strategic plan for economic growth. 

Trapnell called the decision before the board “one of great consequence.” 

“Rejecting this decision demonstrates that we as a community are not open to change and partnership with a group that has clearly sought to engage in good faith compromise on this development,” Trapnell said. “That kind of rejection only pushes such development to nearby counties, while still producing the traffic congestion many fear and taking with it the jobs and investment that could benefit the residents of this community.”

Of the people speaking against the Etowah Bluffs rezone, one of the more prominent was BOC District 3 candidate Deanna Dickinson. She expanded on her idea raised during the April BOC candidate forum, adding that she thinks the county should impose a six to 12-month moratorium to allow the infrastructure and emergency services to catch up to development. In a May 23 Facebook post, she said that the county could do a 90-day moratorium. 

In her post, Dickinson also expressed her concerns about conserving the 200 acres that the development isn't building on and the number of proposed apartments and single-family home lots sizes.

Following the candidate forum, DCN contacted the county’s attorneys, Jarrard and Davis, for comment regarding the legality of a moratorium. 

The attorneys’ April 27 reply stated that Dawson County has “effectively utilized moratoriums in the past for various purposes related to a specific development issue or objective.” 

This type of regulation must comply with state law, and a moratorium’s time and scope must be limited to ensure that the county does not infringe upon property owners’ rights. 

“Based upon these legal constraints,” stated the email, “the county could not legally adopt a broad-based, full county moratorium for all development for an extended period.”