County demands concessions
After much discussion, the Morgan County Planning Commission voted at their Thursday, July 26 meeting to table, until their next meeting, a petition, from Synergy Lake Oconee, LLC, requesting a rezoning of nearly 900 acres of land in Buckhead.
Â The project, Kingston on Lake Oconee, bound by Kingston Road and Marshall Road, straddles the border between Morgan and Putnam counties, with approximately 884 acres in Morgan County and 271 acres in Putnam County. The petition, which seeks to rezone the acreage from Lakeshore Low Density Residential/Recreation Zoning District (LR1) and Agricultural Zoning District (AG) to Lakeshore Town Center Overlay (LTCO), came across the desk of the Planning Commission 18 months ago for rezoning approval before being withdrawn.
With this most recent petition, the developers have proposed a total of 1,801 residential units within the project, a mix of 1,564 single-family detached units and 237 multi-family and/or single-family attached units, according to Morgan County Senior Planner Allison Moon. Of this total, 1,185 units will be in Morgan County and 616 will be in Putnam County.
A small, non-residential area the developers are calling â€œNeighborhood 16,â€� approximately 64 acres, was also proposed. Neighborhood 16 includes a Town Center area, with 25,000 square feet of space for smaller businesses, like a coffee shop or small grocery store, as well as a lake club, lakefront dining facility, boat storage one of two amenity centers, to include access to swimming and tennis, and an 18-hole golf course.
The Morgan County Planning and Development Department did submit a series of comments for the Developments of Regional Impact (DRI) review, and Moon addressed these issues, the vast majority of which were able to be reconciled in the proposed Development Agreement.
â€œFor the most part, the developers have indicated ways they are willing to work with the county to mitigate our concerns on this project,â€� Moon said.
Moon expressed concern about the viability of the project, whether or not Kingston on Lake Oconee would work in Morgan County, citing Madison Lakes, the Kenwood Project and the recently failed deal with Silver Companies as examples.
â€œFor whatever reason, these big, master plan projects do not tend to be successful in Morgan County,â€� Moon said.
In an effort to combat the potential failure of the project, the developer has agreed to phasing of the project, which is proposed to begin with the filing of the first approved subdivision plat â€" at least 50 certificates of occupancy (C.O.) within the first year, 125 in the first two years and 250 within the first three years. If the developer fails to meet these minimums, they wonâ€™t be allowed more than 500 building permits without coming back to the county for approval and, if eight years passes and the 500 minimum mark isnâ€™t met, the developer will be allotted no more than 700 building permits.
If the developer does meet the minimum in the first three years, they are entitled to their 1,801 residential units.
â€œTo dissuade our concern that this project isnâ€™t going to be successful, weâ€™ve set these minimums so that they can demonstrate to us as a community that, yes, this project is going to be successful,â€� Moon said.
Access to the project and, consequently, the impact of traffic is another concern.
Several routes may be used to get to and from the project â€" I-20 to Highway 441 South to Cochran Road to Kingston Road, I-20 to Seven Islands Road to Cedar Grove Road to Kingston Road, I-20 to Highway 441 North to the Bypass to Bethany Road to Kingston Road and, in Putnam County, I-20 to Highway 44 South to Harmony Road to Parks Mill Road to North Sugar Creek Road at Marshall Road.
Moon acknowledged the Bethany Road route as being best able to handle the potential traffic.
â€œIt is the best road in the county in terms of right-of-way and pave width to accommodate the traffic,â€� Moon said. â€œBut, at the end of the day, what we all realize when weâ€™re trying to figure this out is that we have no idea which way people are going to choose, nor can we control it.â€�
To better understand the impact of traffic in regards to the project, Moon cited text in the proposed Agreement that provides for a traffic study after the issuance of the 600th C.O. The developer and the county will, together, select an engineer to perform the study and will evenly split the cost of the study. If any suggested improvements are made, the developer and the county will, again, split the cost.
Commission member Brian Lehman later expressed concern about the timing of the traffic study.
â€œIt seems to me that the project is going to generate a couple of thousand round trips a day,â€� Lehman said. â€œIt is bound to have a significant impact of Bethany Road and the surrounding roadsâ€¦Why are we waiting on 600 for the traffic impact study?â€�
The Planning and Development Department arrived at that number, the issuance of the 600th C.O., knowing that the developer is entitled to 588 housing units.
As far as fire and emergency services, a mutual aid agreement is in place with Sugar Creek Fire Station in Putnam County, the back-up fire station being eight to 10 minutes away in Buckhead.
If the project does reach a point at which fire protection becomes a concern, the proposed Agreement requires a total of $800,000 from the developer â€" $350,000 for the construction of a fire station and $450,000 for equipment, including two fire trucks.
The proposed Agreement also specifies the developer build a Dumpster site in addition to having a private curb-side garbage collection service, as Moon expressed the anticipation that many of these units will be second or vacation homes and residents would be more inclined to use a Dumpster than have year-round garbage collection service.
As the proposed project borders land with a history of agricultural use, the proposed Agreement asks that an agricultural-use notice and waiver be a part of the Agreement as well as any real estate transfers within the project. Further, Moon outlined proposed actions to protect the viewshed, including not building residences close to the property line that backs up to poultry houses already in existence, maintaining a 100-foot buffer adjacent to Kingston Road, screening structures visible from Kingston Road and prohibiting structures visible from Cedar Grove Road unless the exterior of such structures are â€œneutral, earth-tone colors.â€�
As far as the potential impact to the Morgan County School System, the Morgan County Board of Education hadnâ€™t made a comment on the project as of the meeting, according to Moon.
â€œNeither Morgan nor Putnam County Board of Education has commented on the DRI, nor has the Morgan County Board of Education asked me specifically to try to mitigate the impact on schools or to bring to my attention any concerns they might have,â€� Moon said. â€œWeâ€™ve contacted them. Therefore, weâ€™re assuming their negative consent on this.â€�
Morgan County School Superintendent Stan DeJarnett said, in a later interview, that a report had been in the works to send to the Planning Commission, but that a project of the size of Kingston on Lake Oconee could have a â€œsignificant impactâ€� on the school system.
â€œThe impact to us of between 600 and almost 1,100 studentsâ€¦that number of students to our school system would double the enrollment projections we currently have,â€� DeJarnett said.
DeJarnett said that the report in question would be sent to the Planning Commission early this week.
The developer has complied with the request that no neighborhood within the project straddle the county line, a request that applies not only to the respective Boards of Education but also to things like permitting and building inspections.
Moon concluded by stating that the DRI review came back favorable, and there would be no negative impact to the region or state. Also, the review recommended an archaeological survey of the acreage not mentioned in the proposed Agreement.
Following Moonâ€™s presentation, Planning Commission member Tom Joiner asked about the potential consequences of the land being cleared and the deal falling through.
â€œThey are going to have to meet our Tree Protection Plan, under the county ordinance, which requires, at minimum, 100 inches of trees per acre in the county,â€� Moon said. â€œSo, because this met the DRI threshold before final plats were approved, they are going to have to submit a landscape plan showing us how they plan to meet that requirement.â€�
Further, the proposed Agreement states that the developer is only permitted to cut trees in a phased schedule relating to the amount of C.O.s obtained.
Joiner continued to ask about the effect of the fertilizer and herbicide runoff from the golf course, especially as it is planned to be located so close to Sugar Creek.
â€œI think probably my answer, at this point, is no, thereâ€™s not going to be a way that we can guarantee there wonâ€™t be an impact to the environment because of the golf course,â€� Moon said. â€œThey will have to meet Best Management Practices in regards to storm water runoff.â€�
Don Davis, representing Old Mill Realty, then addressed the Commission regarding the Kingston on Lake Oconee project.
â€œOne of the reasons the application was withdrawn previously was that the owners of the property at that time took a look at the project and the market theyâ€™re in and they said â€˜We need to go find some people that have expertise specifically in large-scale master planning communities,â€™â€� Davis said. â€œThatâ€™s where me and my company came into partnership with the Synergy teamâ€¦Weâ€™ve got a lot of experience developing large master plan communities.â€�
Davis said that one of the first items his company addressed with Synergy was the need for a golf course.
His company develops the course and only approved regulated pesticides and herbicides are used in an effort to decrease impact, Davis said, addressing Joinerâ€™s previous concerns.
Davis concluded by reassuring the Commission of the viability of the project.
â€œOne of the things that make a project of this nature successful is the ability to have a mix of project types,â€� Davis said. â€œWeâ€™re planning on having a product that starts below $200,000 and goes up to homes in excess of millions of dollars on the Lakeâ€¦Diversity of product is important.â€�
The floor was later opened for public comment, and the majority of those speaking voiced objections to the proposed project.
â€œI have four poultry houses that join (the property),â€� Greg Aliston said, speaking against the project. â€œThereâ€™s a field that I spread chicken litter on. Iâ€™m scared this will ruin my way of lifeâ€¦My concern is thereâ€™s going to be smell. The wind comes out of the west a lot; it blows right across there. Eventually theyâ€™re going to smell it and theyâ€™re going to complain, whether they sign a waiver or not.â€�
â€œMy issue with this project is high density,â€� Brad Morgan said. â€œThis development itself would outstrip the size of Madison. I just donâ€™t feel we need high density growth hereâ€¦The Lake, in that area, wonâ€™t support the boat traffic.â€�
â€œRight now in the county there are hundreds of new homes that are sitting empty, that arenâ€™t selling,â€� Pamela Hendrix said. â€œI just think itâ€™s a terrible time. According to the news I read today, theyâ€™re not expecting the housing market to improve until 2010, 2011â€¦It has taken Madison 200 years to get where they are. Why would we, in one night, approve another one?â€�
â€œI think it will help Morgan County better prosper,â€� Earl Moorhead said, speaking in favor of the project. â€œAs for the traffic, I have no problem with it. Anything that makes our community better, Iâ€™m for it.â€�
Davis then addressed the public commentary.
â€œChange is uncomfortable often,â€� Davis said. â€œIn terms of what we would do, as opposed to somebody elseâ€™s, we have a thorough well-though out planâ€¦Nobodyâ€™s immune to situations, to changes in the economy. We try to plan for that the best we can. Thatâ€™s sufficient by the fact that weâ€™ve paid the money, weâ€™ve purchased the property and weâ€™re already financed.â€�
The Planning Commission, having just received the proposed Development Agreement that day, elected to wait until the next meeting before making a recommendation so that they have sufficient time to digest the various reports, contact the Morgan County Board of Education and hear more public comment.
In other news, the Planning Commission passed a unanimous motion, with one abstention, to recommend denial of a request from Hannah Shafer and Apalachee Enterprises, Inc. for three acres of property located at 4381 Athens Highway in Madison to be rezoned from Agricultural Zoning District (AG) to Neighborhood Commercial Zoning District (C1). Morgan County Commissioners are expected to take up the matter at their next meeting.