Before a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 200, the Planning Commission voted 5-3 to recommend that County Commissioners deny Chatham Neighborhoods LLC’s request to rezone land in the Hickory Flat community, with members Garland Stewart, Betty Callahan and Bill Dewrell opposed to the denial.
The developer is asking the county to rezone 67.5 acres off Highway 140 and Batesville Road from Agricultural, Office and Institutional and R-40 Residential, which allows one home per acre, to R-15 Residential, which would allow the developer to build about three homes per acre.
The Alpharetta-based developer’s plan would pave the way for 115 homes on the land.
Many residents who own property adjacent to the proposed development spoke out against the plans at the meeting, including Barbara West, a senior resident who has 15 acres adjoining the land.
“We’ve been living in the Hickory Flat community for 27 years,” West said. “As other people have said, we’re not opposed to anyone doing whatever they want with their property — selling it, developing it — it’s just simply the number, the density, of the homes that are going to be there. To us, it just feels as though we’re being crowded out. Please don’t let this particular density go through.”
West reiterated what many of her neighbors said at the meeting, noting their concerns about traffic and school crowding.
“We cannot get out of our street safely in morning, or in the afternoons now — we have to sit at the end of our street and wait as long as 10 minutes often, to get out,” West said.
But Parks Huff, the attorney representing Chatham Neighborhoods, said every school in the area that would be impacted if the neighborhood was built “is under capacity.”
“I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s rare for me to be able to say schools are under capacity,” he said.
Not everyone in Hickory Flat was happy with the commission’s recommendation.
Part of the property up for rezoning is owned by Hickory Flat United Methodist Church, and many members attended the meeting to explain the church’s position.
Craig Sherer, HFUMC youth pastor and a local resident for more than two decades, said he has worked to maintain the grounds on both properties owned by the church and explained why the church bought the land off Highway 140 and Batesville Road;
“We had outgrown our facilities and we were looking for a place to expand. Soon after we purchased that property, an additional nine acres came available through a generous location — right next to our exiting location, therefore eliminating the need to relocate,” Sherer said. “The property went back up for sale soon after we purchased it. For many years now, we have been doing nothing but mowing grass and baling hay on property that, at one time, was valued at $68,000 an acre.”
Sherer said the debt associated with the property “has been a drain on resources,” and has impacted the church’s ability to minister in the community and beyond.
“Simply put, we need to sell,” he said.
Planning Commission member Thais Escondo said she didn’t think the rezoning request should be approved because it doesn’t fit with the county’s land use plan.
“I think the existing zoning, as presented, is a reasonable zoning,” Escondo said during discussion. “My inclination is to deny it.”
Scott Barnes agreed with his fellow planning commission member.
“I think the R-15 is too intense for the area, knowing the rest of the community,” Barnes said. “I know the church is trying to get that property sold quickly and efficiently. But, looking at the rest of the owners of property around the community, I’d hate to see it start going from different estate properties down to that intensity.”
Escondo made a motion to recommend denial of the rezoning request, and Barnes seconded the motion. Planning Commission member Richard Weatherby recused himself and did not vote, stating he had property nearby.
The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners will have the final say on whether or not the property will be rezoned.