A plan to redevelop Caldwell Tanks was unanimously shot down by the Newnan Planning Commission Tuesday night.
The Residential Group had requested the rezoning of more than six acres on East Broad Street to renovate the Caldwell Tanks site for into 340 luxury apartment homes and an accompanying parking deck.
The group planned to rezone the property from CBD (Central Business District) to MXD (Mixed-Use Development) for more flexibility in developing an overall plan.
Developer Kurt Alexander told the commission the concept would ultimately drive more residents seeking an urban, walkable community back into Newnan.
“People with a connection to the city of Newnan who grew up here were forced to move to other areas to find these amenities,” Alexander said.
Despite a standing room-only crowd, Alexander was the only one to speak in favor of the development.
For the next 15 minutes, the commission heard from a half-dozen residents who explained why they thought the project was a bad fit for Newnan.
Changing a historic district
Several opponents of the development cited the fact that the entire 6.7 acres in the rezoning application is in the Cole Town Historic District.
Lyn Chapman, an East Broad Street resident who campaigned against the development, said her family moved to Newnan for the small-town charm, which included ensuring her custom-built home fit into the historic district.
“We’re not bothered by the train, the vacant lot or the old building,” she said. “It’s better than being surrounded by three-story buildings filled with transient people.”
In June 1981, residents of Newnan created the district to ensure the architecture and history of Cole Town was preserved, including from future development.
The Cole Town Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places, which is governed by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Opponents of the development said the rezoning application does not meet the criteria of a historic district – jeopardizing the designation.
Resident and local historian Elizabeth Beers spoke about the history of the Cole family, which helped develop the area, and why the new development isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.
“The main difference is that the Cole family was involved in this community,” Beers said. “They maintained those houses and contributed to the economy.”
The rise of rentals
Several residents who spoke said they aren’t entirely against developing the property – but they urged commissioners to wait for a proposal that encouraged ownership instead of rental.
Chapman claimed 46 percent of housing in the city of Newnan is rental and urged commissioners to deny the rezoning.
“You have no obligation to approve an out-of-town developer to ruin what brought us to Newnan to begin with,” she said.
Gary Martin said his family lived in Decatur and saw the changes brought about by similar developments.
“It changed the character of that town,” Martin said. "You can put all the paint on a pig you want, but this community doesn’t need apartments of this magnitude in our backyard. You will change this community forever, and not in a good way.”
Maureen Brodrick’s property on East Broad Street directly abuts a vacant lot that would have been transformed into a three-story, 48-unit apartment development.
“At three stories high, my bedroom window is directly underneath that,” she said. “I’m looking at becoming a prisoner inside my own home."
John Young, another East Broad Street resident, was more direct in his comments to the city and commissioners.
“You’re considering putting a three-story building on a one-acre site with 48 units in a single family neighborhood on the National Registry,” Young said. “This is nuts, it’s insane and it’s a nightmare. I want this to be over.”
An issue of density
When asked about issues of density, Alexander said the cost of redeveloping a site like Caldwell Tanks is a massive undertaking, which would be driven by the upfront cost out the door.
“I can’t argue with ownership, but more people are choosing to rent these days – that’s the way it’s going,” Alexander said, arguing that developing fee-simple townhomes of the same scope would mean even more residents in the area.
“You’re still looking at three-story buildings, but with more bedrooms than what we’re proposing,” Alexander said.
Commissioner Greg Gause wanted clarification on the rental percentage of Newnan, which the city has determined is around 46 percent.
“Our national average is 36 percent, and the only city at 45 percent is New York City,” he said. “I think we might be a little off-balance.”
Commissioner Proctor Smith said his primary concern was the scale and magnitude of the project.
“Our most intense residential zoning district allows 12 units to the acre, but this project has 52 units to the acre – that’s four times what the ordinance allows,” Smith said. “It’s just too much in one small area."
A motion to deny the request was unanimously approved by the commissioners and elicited applause from the audience.
The rezoning request will now be sent to the Newnan City Council, which will have the final word when it meets again on July 16.