Coweta's first higher density "PDP" residential development was rejected 4 to 1 Thursday night by the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.
There was a standing-room only crowd at the commission chambers, and numerous area residents spoke against the rezoning. Commission rules set a time limit on public hearing speakers; two speakers who had signed up to speak in opposition were unable to.
The commissioners voted in August to allow higher-density development on property that adjoins municipalities. One driver of the change was a hope to reduce annexation by the city of Newnan.
The commissioners also wanted to be able to require developers to pony up money to mitigate traffic impacts of their developments.
The PDP ordinance allows an overall density of up to four homes per acre, and sets no minimum lot size.
The proposal by Green Top Road LLC and Pulte Homes is for 366 homes on 163 acres, a density of 2.3 homes per acre. The developers proposed a minimum lot size of 8,500 square feet (approximately 1/5 acre), but 89 percent of the lots are over 10,000 square feet, according to attorney George Rosenzweig, who spoke for the applicants.
The 163-acre property is on Greentop Road and touches the city of Newnan at the rear, along the railroad tracks. The city of Newnan denied annexation of the property in 2015.
A traffic study showed that the roundabout at Hal Jones Road and U.S. 29 would perform poorly in the future, with or without the development, but that the operations would be worse with the development. The developers pledged to contribute $340,000 to a project that would realign Hal Jones and Greentop Road so that the intersection of both roads with U.S. 29 would be served with a single, full-sized roundabout.
“We listened to what you were looking for.”
According to the Coweta Community Development Department report, the proposal is consistent with the county's new comprehensive plan and the comprehensive plan's growth management strategy.
However, the development scored only 35 points out of a possible 100 points on the community development department's scoring sheet, which primarily considers the transportation network.
"We listened to what you were looking for," said Rosenzweig. The development has a variety of different home sizes, and starting prices would range from $355,990 to $439,990, he said.
Commissioner John Reidelbach expressed some concerns about information the developers included in the packet, such as a replica of an amenity center that seemed to be significantly larger than the 1,800-square-foot clubhouse proposed for the development.
"To me there seems to be a lot of missing information," Reidelbach said.
The site plan for the development shows three entrances. The center entrance is fully functional and would have turn lanes; the other entrances, one on each side of the main entrance, would be right-in, right-out only.
Commissioner Tim Lassetter asked about that. If someone wanted to turn left and head to U.S. 29 from the westernmost drive, they would need to go down to the main entrance and turn around. Or from the eastern entrance, they'd have to go all the way to Herring Road.
Going to “choke us to death”
Most speakers expressed concerns about the traffic from 366 new homes, particularly its impact on Greentop Road and the existing mini-roundabouts.
"This high density development is an absolute killer. This is going to choke us to death," said Richard Yancey of Herring Road. "There is no way the infrastructure can take this many homes … the quality of life will be dead."
Tom Reese of Newnan Pines said he's opposed because it's the wrong location. While it may touch the Newnan city limits, there's no access to the city from the development. It would be better to start those developments closer to the Bypass, he said.
The Green Top Road LLC property is adjacent to 120 acres owned by NCTI. The owners had twice attempted to rezone the property to the county's old higher-density RI-B zoning and been rejected. The owners had also sought annexation into Newnan but withdrew that request after the city rejected the Green Top LLC annexation. The county required connectivity between the current proposal and that development, if the NCTI property is developed.
"How long, do you think, after you approve that that the adjacent 120 acres is going to seek the same approval with 268 homes?" asked Bob Ziifle. And those would all be on property "with about a quarter mile of road frontage on a 1-mile long, two-lane rural road … that is already heavily traveled?”
People are already dealing with traffic, and this would make it worse, according to Ziifle. There's no benefit to anyone except the developers.
"They're not going to suffer the loss of quality of life. Your constituents are," Ziifle said.
Applying the law – or the collective will
The commissioners have a difficult task, Rosenzweig said. "Your role isn't to enforce the collective will of the public, it's to apply the law to the facts." The Georgia constitution gives property owners the right to use their property as they want "unless there is a good reason not to or the government writes them a check," he said.
The county recently added the new PDP zoning district and "we check all the boxes," he said. "We've met all the staff conditions, we accept them all."
The applicants have provided infrastructure, including free right-of-way for a sewer line. The property has "no viable economic use as zoned," Rosenzweig said. "No one here tonight or anybody else has ever come forward with an offer to buy the property as Rural Conservation."
People talked about traffic, but most of the complaints are about the traffic that already exists, Rosenzweig said. And exiting traffic is not a legitimate basis for denying a rezoning, he said. "Everything that was said was speculative and contrary to the data," he said.
"You've been asked tonight to use your integrity and do the right thing," Rosenzweig said. "And I'd ask you to do the same thing."
Reidelbach said he hears everybody's concerns. But the state constitution gives property owners a lot of rights. "If we don't figure out how to do this as commissioners, the cities will annex that land, and then you have no say so, none whatsoever. Because you are not part of the city," he said.
It's something the commissioners have to deal with a lot. "It's something we have to keep in perspective … if it's not done this way … you never know, the city could annex it, and you have four units per acre out there."
Chairman Bob Blackburn, who represents the area, made a motion to deny the rezoning, citing the impact on integrity of the local neighborhoods in the area, traffic issues surrounding the roundabout and the adverse impact on the use and enjoyment of adjacent properties.
The vote was 4-1 with Reidelbach opposed to the denial.