Amid concerns raised by commissioners during Tuesday night’s meeting that the latest set of plans for the Etowah River Tract community development might have issues, the Board of Commissioners voted to schedule another public hearing Aug. 6 to get public opinion before approving the plans.
The Etowah River Tract community development dates back to 1990 when it was approved by Cherokee County under a zoning classification “planned unit development,” which is a classification no longer in use by the county and which allows a mix of residential and commercial development on the same property.
Since that time, residents near the potential development, which is on the banks of the Etowah River between Ball Ground and the Free Home community, have raised concerns that the dense community would have adverse effects on the mostly rural area of the county. As a result of the residents’ worries and shifts in the economy, the plans have been changed for the development.
Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said during the meeting Tuesday that the developer for the community has previously made concessions to those neighbors.
Ahrens said the developers have reduced the number of homes to be built there from 2,800 to 1,800. They have also increased the amount of land that will be designated as green space.
Several commissioners, though, still have concerns.
Commissioner Harry Johnston said if he had the choice, he wouldn’t approve the rezoning, which allows the Etowah River Tract to be constructed. But given that it has already been approved, he said he hopes to tame the development as much as possible and keep it in “character” for this “distinctly rural” area of Cherokee County.
“My concern is just to try to keep the impact and the inappropriateness of the development as low as it can be,” he said.
Johnston said his chief concern with the plans presented for the development is what type of homes can be constructed and how dense the plots would be.
Since the last version of plans were submitted to the county, Johnston said, the developer has increased the number of homes within the 1,800 cap, which could be considered “high-density” housing.
“The proposed standards still cap the total at 1,800 residential units, but would shift a significant number — some 350 more — from the estate lot category to a high-density category,” he said. “And I am opposed to that shift.”
Johnston said this change increases the impact of the development and makes it “more out of character” for the area.
Commissioner Raymond Gunnin also had issues with the density of the development.
“I don’t want it to get too dense of a development in that area,” Gunnin said.
He also said the measurements of the roads, which would be constructed in the community could be an issue, especially when it comes to fire protection. Before being elected to the Board of Commissioners, Gunnin was chief of Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services.
“When you narrow the roads down as much as these are, as tight as they are, it looks good (with) the trees and all on the side,” he said. “But you try to get (through with a fire truck) and you’re driving through the trees.”
Another problem Gunnin cited was the fact that some town homes in the plans are to be four stories, which he said is too high for firefighters to reach through their normal methods.
“We don’t have ground ladders that will reach the fourth floor if you have somebody trapped,” he said. “We’d have to have a ladder truck to reach that fourth floor. When you get into that, you get into a totally different tactic, a totally different amount of equipment.”
Johnston, who represents Post 1 where the Etowah River Tract is located, said he’s spoken to many residents nearby.
“The folks in the area that I’m hearing from wish this development wouldn’t happen, and I know that feeling,” he said.
But given that the development has already been approved, it can’t be stopped.
“That’s not something we can help them with,” Johnston said. “On the other hand, if it’s going to happen, we want it to happen with the least impact and the greatest compatibility.”
Johnston said he has heard from very few residents who would approve of making any changes to the plans for the development, which would make it more impactful, “except maybe some other property owners who hope they’ll get to do the same thing once this is in place,” he said. “Anybody I’ve spoken to who is in favor of it is in favor of it for that very reason.”