CANTON — Residents in northeast Cherokee County are gearing up for the latest round in their years-long fight against a planned 1,400-acre development on the Etowah River near Ball Ground, which they worry will be out of character for the largely rural area.
Community activist Linda Flory, who lives near the development site, said Thursday she expects more than 50 residents to turn out to the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday for the next public hearing on the Etowah River Tract community development, which was originally approved by the county in 1990 under a now outdated zoning class.
For years, Flory has opposed the community near the intersection of Georgia Highways 372 and 369 and is now rallying other residents against the development, which she said is “totally inappropriate” for the area.
“It’s going to kill this area,” she said. “It’s absolutely going to destroy everything these people value. They’re going to leave a scar on the land (and have) lights shining on the sky. We’ll never see the stars again the way we do now.”
Flory said her chief complaint is the proposed density of the development, which is planned to have 1,800 homes, could have a population rivaling that of the cities of Ball Ground, Nelson and Waleska combined, if each house had two residents.
Others, like Commissioner Harry Johnston, who represents Post 1 where the community will be located, have also expressed concern that the development will be “out of character” for the “distinctly rural” area.
Johnston said Thursday this topic and the number of proposed “high density” homes developer Barker Street wants to construct on the property will be key points for discussion in the public hearing Tuesday, which is on the developer’s latest set of development standards for the community.
Barker Street was originally planned to submit the final documents laying these standards out to Cherokee County so that they could be made available for public viewing last Friday. But Cherokee Director of Planning and Zoning Jeff Watkins said Thursday the documents were not submitted last Friday and, as of early Thursday afternoon, still hadn’t been.
Watkins said he could not speak to why the plans hadn’t been received, but he hoped they would come in today.
“It’s in the hands of the applicant; It’s their document,” he said. “I’m trying right now to ascertain what they’re going to do.”
Flory said the failure to turn in its final application last Friday was “more shenanigans by this developer,” which she said has previously disregarded public opinion on the community.
Johnston said because the documents could possibly not be received and available for public viewing before the hearing Tuesday, and although the Board of Commissioners could move to postpone it for a later date, he doesn’t think that will happen.
“We can’t call it off until (during) the actual meeting, and that would seem inappropriate,” Johnston said. He has received about 50 letters and emails in recent weeks on the development and expects a sizable turnout for the public hearing.
Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens agreed Thursday that the public hearing, which has been rescheduled previously, should move forward as planned, though a vote won’t likely be taken because Commissioner Raymond Gunnin will be absent.
“We kind of think it’s our obligation to have the public hearing,” Ahrens said.
Ahrens added that he had also heard from many residents offering their opinions on the development and that he anticipated a good turnout Tuesday.
Johnston said it wouldn’t be ideal to not have Barker Street’s most recent application on hand for the hearing, but because the developer and commissioners have been discussing the plans for some time, enough information should be available to proceed.
“It’s very disappointing that we don’t have a final application,” he said. “I think though we know — and the people who are closely following this issue know — what the key issues are.”
Those issues, Johnston said, include the sizes of lots within the development, the height of the homes and, most importantly, the type of homes which can be built there.
The number of high-density units in the development have been a particular point of disagreement during recent talks between Barker Street and the Board of Commissioners.
Barker Street owner Patrick Clark, who could not be reached for comment before press time Thursday, said last week that the Board of Commissioner in a meeting Dec. 19, 2006, approved a change to the plans for the development to shift the number of homes, which could be considered high-density from 350 to 710.
But Johnston, the only sitting commissioner who was in office during that December 2006 meeting, remembers the night differently. Instead of increasing the number of high-density units, Johnston said last week that the board thought Clark was only seeking approval of the “layout” of the development in that meeting.
Flory agrees with Johnston’s memory of the 2006 meeting.
“I’ve watched the tape from the December meeting,” she said. “They’re trying to put words in the commissioners’ mouths. They’re trying to debate something that didn’t happen.”