CANTON — A planned community of almost 1,400 acres in northeastern Cherokee County saw the latest in two decades of delays Friday when the developer withdrew a recent request to amend the zoning conditions of the property.
Barker Street, the developer for the Etowah River Tract community, withdrew its request asking Cherokee County to approve the latest set of guidelines for the project, which was originally approved by the county in 1990 and is planned to be built on the Etowah River near Ball Ground.
The withdrawal came four days before the latest hearing for the public to weigh in on the 1,800-home development was to take place during the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night, and Commissioner Harry Johnston said Friday the hearing will likely be canceled as a result.
“That still can’t be done officially without a vote of the (Board of Commissioners), and we don’t meet again before Tuesday,” said Johnston, who has been vocal in his opinion that the development is out-of-character for its location near Ball Ground. “We don’t necessarily have to accept the withdrawal. We could choose to proceed with the hearing and act on the request. But we’ve hardly ever done that, if ever, so I think it’s very likely the hearing will be canceled.”
Community activist Linda Flory said Friday she planned to call off the dozens of residents she had rallied to come to the hearing Tuesday in opposition of the development, which she lives near and considers far too dense for the largely rural area.
Flory said Thursday she expected more than 50 people to attend the hearing and stand against Barker Street’s request. But after she was quoted on that number in Friday’s Cherokee Tribune, Flory said even more came forward to join the fight.
“(Today) started off with a ton of people that I have helped on other issues contacting me to let me know that they were going to help me fight this because I helped them protect their neighborhoods,” said Flory, who has a history of activism in Cherokee County.
“We also heard from a lot of people from this area that just found out about this, so our group to oppose this really grew overnight.”
Johnston, who represents Post 1, the future home of the proposed development, said he did not know the reason for Barker Street asking to take back its request.
Barker Street’s attorney Parks F. Huff also gave no reasoning in the withdrawal letter, according to a copy obtained by the Tribune. Huff could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Commissioner Raymond Gunnin also said he didn’t know the reason for the withdrawal of the request, which has sparked debate between commissioners and the developer in recent weeks.
“It surprised me,” Gunnin said. “Maybe they thought it wasn’t going that well. I don’t know.”
Most of the recent debate has been caused by differing opinions on what the Board of Commissioners has or hasn’t approved for the development previously.
Patrick Clark, Barker Street owner, contends that in a Dec. 16, 2006, meeting, commissioners approved increasing the number of homes that could be considered “high-density” from 350 to 710.
But Johnston, the only sitting commissioner who was on the board during that meeting, said the board thought Clark was only seeking approval of the “layout” of the development, not asking to increase the number of high-density homes.
Flory agrees with Johnston.
“I’ve watched the tape from the December meeting,” she said Thursday.
Gunnin said he’s also reviewed the tape and read transcripts of the meeting, and said it appears Johnston might be correct.
Assuming Johnston is right and only 350 high-density homes have been approved, Gunnin said the developer’s assertions otherwise were a problem for him.
“My feeling was I was not going to increase the density, because I didn’t feel like it was the right place for it,” Gunnin said.
Although no new date for a public hearing has been set, and it is unknown when or if Barker Street will bring another request before Cherokee County, Johnston said he expects this isn’t “the end of this development.”
“I’d like to think that when the market was ready they’d go forward under the current zoning,” Johnston said, though it’s “entirely possible” that the argument over exactly what the “current zoning” includes could come up again.
Flory said Friday she believes it will.
“This developer will be back and we know it,” she said. “I am sure they hope that we are not paying attention when they bring this back, but they would be wrong about that.”