Town Council paves the way for massive development
By Tia Lynn Ivey
Buckhead is now poised to become the epicenter of development in Morgan County.
The Buckhead Town Council passed several measures at a special called meeting on Nov. 30 to clear the way for significant expansion and developments to unfold. The Town Council approved a large land annexation and a new zoning designation to allow for a variety of residential and commercial developments.
“I would give anything if Buckhead could stay like it was when I was a little boy,” said Buckhead Mayor Ricky Walker. “I wish it could stay the way is was before I-20 came through and before Lake Oconee was built. Buckhead was a very peaceful farm community and it was quiet. I wish it could have stayed that way forever but I know things change.”
And that change has now arrived for Buckhead. The Buckhead Town Council voted 3-to-1 to annex seven parcels of land totaling 487 acres, into Buckhead, which has nearly doubled the size of Morgan County’s smallest municipality. Next, the council voted 3-to-1 to adopt a new Interstate Mixed Use (IMU) zoning district that will accommodate a plethora of residential and commercial projects. Finally, the council voted unanimously to rezone four parcels of land under the new IMU designation, and table rezoning the remaining three parcels of land.
Despite some reservations from Mayor Walker, Morgan County Planning Director Chuck Jarrell and Buckhead Councilman Drew Miller, the rest of Buckhead’s Town Council decided to take a chance on the new proposals in hope that future developments would help stabilize Buckhead’s finances as well as bring the town into “modern times.”
During the meeting, Councilman John White expressed his belief that this opportunity determine Buckhead’s fate.
“This is it,” said White. “This is the one shot Buckhead has to try to get some money off the land. If we don’t approve it, I don’t know where we turn to next.”
Councilman Richard Harris also favored the proposals, citing the future developments would “save” Buckhead.
“This can be what saves this city, or at least part of what saves it, because otherwise we’re looking at it not being a city for much longer,” said Harris.
Harris said he was willing to move forward with the proposals right then and there, despite more details and language needing to refined.
“The way I see it, we need to get on the stick about what this city needs,” said Harris. “Our best chance in getting the city straightened out is to get somebody who is willing to develop here to get out there and start developing because we need the money. There are some if’s in there maybe, but a lot of this is going to come back to the town and the city council before it even started…We need to get some money coming in and the only way it is going to happen is through development and annexation.”
Planning Director Chuck Jarrell recommended waiting to hammer out some of the details surrounding the wording of the new IMU district and said the concept plan submitted by applicant Richard Schimdt was thrown together “last minute.” However, the council proceeded with the votes, approving each proposal.
Schmidt, along with five property owners, requested seven parcels of land near Seven Islands Road on the Northside of I-20 to be annexed into the Town of Buckhead and rezoned to accommodate future residential and commercial developments. The proposed new zoning district would allow for dozens of various commercial uses, as well as single-family and multi-family residential units. Schmidt presented a tentative concept plan at the Nov. 30 meeting showing how possible future residential and commercial developments would be arranged throughout the new IMU zoning district.
About 20 people attended the Nov. 30 meeting. No one spoke against the proposals. Several spoke in favor, and a couple supported the proposals just with a few caveats suggested.
Those who spoke in favor of the proposals included Tara Dillard, a member of the Morgan County Planning Commission, Robin Bone, a former Buckhead Town Councilwoman, and Thomas Bell, a former Morgan County Commissioner. Morgan County Commissioner Ron Milton said he was neutral about the proposed measures, but deferred to Chuck Jarrell’s recommendations.
Jeff Grant, one of the applicants, pledged to bring quality developments to Buckhead.
“I think we come in and build something nice,” said Grant. “I think you’ll be surprised what it can do for this little city. There’s a lot of charm this little city can bring and listen, that’s all I want to do and help you do here.”
Mayor Walker hopes that any residential developments will be larger and high quality.
“I don’t want to see a bunch of small subdivisions out there, I want to see something real nice that will make Buckhead look good,” said Walker. “But really, I hope and pray it stays farm land for the next 20 years if it can.”