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May 28, 2014

Controversial planned development rezone denied

Nelson Road neighborhood bands together

MILLEDGEVILLE — Nelson Road property near the Oconee River owned by Dan Tomlin won’t be sold for a planned development.

Milledgeville City Council voted 3-2 denying the Planning & Zoning Commission’s request that 54 acres at 700 Nelson Road be rezoned from a special use for townhomes to the Arcadia planned development to include 124-units with 500 bedrooms.

Councilwomen Dr. Collinda J. Lee, District 1, Jeanette Walden, District 2, and Denese R. Shinholster, District 3, voted to deny the request, while Councilmen Boo Mullins, District 5, and Steve Chambers, District 6, voted to approve.

Councilman Walter Reynolds, District 4, abstained from the vote due to a perceived conflict from his involvement in the Oconee River Greenway Foundation.

Prospective developer Chad Howie, CEO of Atlanta-based Sanctuary Companies Inc., explained the $20 million student housing investment plan.

“We have a specific type of housing that we do. It’s more of a single-family, residential-style community,” Howie said. “It’s not apartments that you’ve seen here in town. This community that we are proposing is a mixture of cottages and manor houses. It’s essentially one bedroom through three and four bedroom houses.”

Howie said the 54-acre Nelson Road site was ideal for a gated community like Sanctuary built in Auburn, Ala. and Kennesaw, Ga.

None of the unit construction was proposed in the flood plain. One parking lot would be, according to Sanctuary consulting engineer Scott Johnson.

Arcadia would have provided Oconee River Greenway connectivity through donated acreage and joint financing of a Fishing Creek bridge as well, according to Howie.

“We have a verbal understanding that they do want to connect across the creek, and we’d like to connect across the creek to the Greenway so the students that do want to bike to class can use the Greenway to get to town, which is much safer than Underwood Road,” the developer told Council.

Walden, District 2 council seat holder, grilled Howie about neighborhood concerns in her district. Roadway flooding was a main sticking point.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it or not, but we’ve got pictures to show you just how bad it is,” Walden said Tuesday. “Are you as a developer going to fix that?”

Council members Lee and Shinholster expressed safety concerns based on additional student travel.

A community shuttle and speed bumps were Sanctuary’s answers.

The developer said a market study showed Milledgeville has a need for this type of development.

“Right now, our market studies show that we would not saturate the market, but we are meeting the market demand,” Howie said.

Property Manager at The Bellamy Melissa Hinton said the Milledgeville student housing market has around 6,000 beds. Many housing communities aren’t at capacity.

“I’d like to request [Council] to vote no on this proposal because it will over saturate the market,” Hinton said. “The further you get away from campus the harder it’s going to be to fill those rooms. Location is everything when it comes to student housing.”

Local accountant David Pettigrew supported the planned development’s economic affect.

“This development would bring opportunity to the town during construction, and it would also create jobs. I think it’d be an economic boost in this area,” he said. “It’s hard for me to understand how this community and our officials could turn down $100,000 a year in tax revenue.”

Sanctuary Company planned to put $700,000 into the development annually, and Howie estimated the yearly city tax revenue of $172,000.

Collective opposition from area homeowners was summed up with a collective ‘not in my backyard belief.’

Bob Irvin, a 44-year Nelson Road resident, said the developers and supporters don’t “know our neighborhood.”

“The Greenway isn’t an issue. The issue is the project itself,” Irvin said. “The plains of Auburn are not the flood plains of Milledgeville.”

Irvin said he believed the May 5 Planning & Zoning Commission vote, which passed 3-2 in favor of the rezone, included two “conflict of interest” votes.

“This whole thing stinks like a bucket of dirty diapers,” he said. “The people that live in this community don’t deserve this. It seems like the whole thing hasn’t been adequately thought through.”

Howie said any accusations of impropriety with the zoning commission or City Council was “wholly unfounded.”

Georgia College professor and 800 Nelson Road resident Dr. Janet Clark said Howie didn’t provide significant need for more student housing.

“We have more than enough student housing that’s going unsold. In a way it feels like, we are robbing the in town Peter to pay the out of town Paul when we add this to the mix,” Clark said.

Though Clark enjoys the college crowd, she said 600 college students make terrible neighbors.

Clark saw the development destroying endangered species and general wildlife habitat “we aren’t going to get back.”  

Iva Griffin, who lives on Underwood Road, which would serve as an ingress and egress path, worried about noise.

Howie said a 10-acre buffer “greater than a football field” would exist between the nearest residential home with a six-foot wooden fence around the entire property.

Griffin said she built a wooden buffer wall for her daycare.

“Five hundred college students make more noise than my kids,” she said. “I’m the mother of a college student. They party Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”

Underwood Road homeowner Randy New owns 25 properties in the immediate area.

“I’ve got a bunch of dogs in this fight,” New said. “Think of how this is going to affect our neighborhood.”

New is chairman of the GMC Board of Trustees. He said the school would have 80 to 100 students in the coming years to be placed in GMC funded housing.

“We have no need for any outside housing in the future,” he said.

Griffin presented petitions signed by all Underwood and Nelson Road residents against the development idea Tuesday.

 

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