A controversial high-density housing development on Poplar Road was approved 4 to 0 Thursday night by the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.
The commissioners voted to designate the property, which was zoned to New Community in 1971, as residential, with a 2-acre commercial-office area. The commissioners also voted to approve a development agreement with the applicant, D.R. Horton, Inc.
The proposed Poplar Road Crossings development would include 547 homes on the 200-acre property, which is located on both sides of Poplar Road at Yeager Road.
Tract 1, on the north side of Poplar, is 144 acres and will have 335 lots. Tract 2, which is encircled by Yeager Road, is 56.5 acres and will have 212 lots, which will be geared toward senior citizens.
The overall density is 2.73 units per acre. Under the New Community zoning district, density can be as high as five units per acre.
New Community was done away with as a zoning district in 2008, but the old rules still apply to property that was already zoned NC.
Under the agreement, D.R. Horton will agree to construct roundabouts at two entrances to the development, one at the eastern intersection of Yeager Road and Poplar Road. The homebuilding company will also contribute $25,000 to future road improvements.
There will be a 25-foot evergreen buffer along the property line of Tract 1, which backs up to SummerGrove.
The initial plans were for only a 15-foot buffer between Tract 2 and Yeager Road. However, attorney Melissa Griffis, representing the applicant, said that they had agreed to an additional 10-foot “landscape easement." In the development agreement, which was provided in agenda materials, that extra 10 feet on lots adjacent to residential areas on Yeager Road is called a buffer.
However, no buffer is required for areas that are adjacent to property owned by Duke and Lynn Blackburn, who are also partial owners of the property that is being developed.
The buffer will be planted in evergreen trees that are at least six feet tall at planting, according to the agreement.
The applicant had originally planned to have the property, as well as the adjacent tract owned by Duke and Lynn Blackburn, annexed into the city of Newnan. When plans were first being put together, it was thought that the land was zoned Rural Conservation, the common zoning district for residential property in unincorporated Coweta County. However, in early stages of working on the annexation proposal, Comprehensive Planner Sandra Parker informed county staff that the property was actually zoned NC.
The NC zoning was established in 1971 for the proposed new town of Shenandoah. It encompassed some 4,000 acres. The proposed new town was never built, but the property ranged from the Shenandoah and Creekside Industrial Parks to most of the commercial development on Bullsboro Drive between Herring Road and Shenandoah Boulevard, as well as SummerGrove. Back then, the Poplar property was marked as “reserve.”
Under NC zoning, property could be used for just about anything.
“It can be residential, commercial, it can go industrial,” said Angela White, assistant director of community development. The original rezoning laid out certain percentages of the various types of uses.
“We have checked the percentages to ensure we meet those requirements, within what was originally designated back in ’71,” White said.
Commissioner Paul Poole asked how much other land is still zoned NC.
“We are trying to narrow that down,” White said. The county’s zoning map shows two large tracts remaining as NC, as well as the Shenandoah Wastewater Treatment Plant.
One tract, of a little over 200 acres, is behind the Shenandoah Industrial Park with an address on Walt Sanders Road. The other is three tracts tucked between the Chesterfield and Sawgrass Manor subdivisions on Lora Smith Road, the Big Horn and Vineyard subdivisions on Lower Fayetteville Road and Peachtree Landing off Hwy. 154.
The commissioner’s meeting room was filled with a standing-room-only crowd, and about 18 people spoke about the issue, with most opposed and a few with questions.
Residents of SummerGrove were concerned that houses built in the development could affect the rating of their dam. The commissioners added a condition that no houses could be built in the area that would be flooded in the event of a dam breach.
Many Yeager Road residents have lived in the area most of their lives, and are opposed to the high-density development. They asked that the request be denied, or at least that the commissioners delay a decision.
“We are accustomed to country living,” said Gloria Glass. “I am just asking our commissioners to please look at this project again before you approve it … we are really opposing this."
“Everything has come by too fast,” said Sylvia Yeager. “Y’all haven’t had time to digest it.”
The latest conceptual plan for the development was only submitted to the commissioners the morning of the meeting.
Yeager asked the commissioners to take a step back and look at the project more closely.
Attorney Harry Camp, who is representing several Yeager Road residents, said he doesn’t think the issue is quite as simple as it has been portrayed. Camp said some of the residents “felt like they haven’t been able to get answers to what they feel are simple questions… and we believe, fundamentally, there remains a question to if this property is properly designed as New Community.”
Camp read from a letter written by one of the developers of the original Shenandoah project. It says that marketing the property by selling it in segments wouldn’t be compatible since the types of development are so flexible, and that marketing it by selling in sections to different owners would require rezoning.
Smith said he would forward that information to the county’s legal department.
Lastly, if the project does move forward, “I think a more appropriate buffer would be 50 feet,” Camp said.
Smith told the applicants that the main concerns he hears are density and buffers. He asked if they would consider lowering the density, “so that we can have consensus and agreement among you and … the residents who have been there for so long.
“It appears on the surface that that is a whole lot of houses in a small area,” Smith said. “It just doesn’t look like Coweta County.”
Griffis said they feel a concession has already been made in not developing at the five units per acre that is allowed. “We believe we have done more with the buffer than we can do at this point and more than we wanted to do,” she added.
The original plan for annexation into the city had almost 600 homes and an additional five acres of commercial, she said.
But the city of Newnan has impact fees, said Poole.
The $25,000 the developers are proposing for road improvements isn’t enough, Poole said. “The citizens out here are going to have to pay for that road, to widen it and everything else,” he said.
When the county approved other dense developments, the developers agreed to pay substantially more money, he said.
“To be honest, I think $25,000 is an insult,” Poole said. He said he wants to see $250,000.
“What if we did the one roundabout that was required instead of the two?” asked Griffis.
“I want them both and $250,000,” said Poole.
“We’re at the point of whether we like it or not, the developer and the landowner have the authority legally to propose what they’re proposing,” said Commissioner Tim Lassetter. “Whether I like 2.75 units per acre or not. It really doesn’t matter what I like. I hate it. I wish it was half a unit per acre."
County Attorney Jerry Ann Conner asked to call a recess, and she, Griffis, representatives from D.R. Horton and Fouts discussed the issue for several minutes. Conner and county staff also spoke with commissioners.
After returning from recess, Conner said they had discussed putting together a schedule of development that would be approved by staff so that the county could keep up with the traffic issues. The applicants won’t agree to the $250,000, Conner said.
Commissioner Rodney Brooks made a motion to approve the designation and the development agreement with the discussed conditions.
Brooks said he made the motion with “great hesitation."
“But I know if we don’t do it, the consequences to the taxpayers could be more severe."
Lassetter and Poole wondered where the money will come from to make the improvements that will be needed with so many more residents.
“It’s difficult to even keep the millage rate where it is now, because people want to do the rollback,” he said. “How can I support raising the millage rate to widen Poplar Road or Lower Fayetteville… when it’s difficult to even get it approved to keep the millage rate the same?”
Lassetter said that the Development of Regional Impact study said that no major improvements would be needed to serve the development.
“That’s ludicrous, quite honestly,” Lassetter said. There are already traffic problems on Poplar Road, even without the development.
“Going forward, I do think D. R. Horton and groups like that ought to pay their fair share of what road improvements are necessary,” Lassetter said.
Following the approval, the next item on the agenda was D.R. Horton’s request for annexation into the city. That request was withdrawn.