Source: NorthFulton.com

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Bell Road mixed use deferred: Council asks builder, residents to work out agreement
Residents worry density to worsen traffic

by Hatcher Hurd

November 20, 2013

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. The City Council was in a quandary at its Nov. 18 meeting over the proposed mixed-use development at Bell Road and McGinnis Ferry Road. So they have asked the community and the developer to negotiate a settlement and come back Dec. 2.

The residents argue that there are far too many houses and townhouses on the 52-acre tract. The City Council would have liked to oblige them, but using the density as calculated under the zoning formula, it is not out of line with regulations.

To make matters worse, the property owners are already in litigation with the city over the attempt to rezone the property in 2012. That case was put in abeyance pending a successful rezoning with a new builder, the Providence Group, owned by Warren Jolly.

As part of the McGinnis Ferry Character Area, the McGinnis side calls for mixed use of office, commercial and retail with a residential component. Jolly is proposing 85,000 square feet of office, 124 townhouse units and 116 single-family homes.

The property was initially zoned for 299,000 square feet of office, retail and residential when the Comprehensive Land Use Plan envisioned the area as the eastern gateway to the city. But the east side of McGinnis Ferry has never become the retail-office hotbed that was envisioned.

In 2012, a plan was brought forward and approved by staff and the Planning Commission, but the plan was changed to be all residential when it came before the council. The City Council refused to approve all residential, saying it must conform to the mixed use required by the Land Use Plan.

This plan does that, only everything is doubled. Where the previous plan was 40,000 square feet of office, this contains 85,000 square feet. It also has twice the residential, and this has Bell Road residents alarmed.

At the Nov. 18 meeting, they turned out to ask that the plan be rejected.

Bell Road resident David Meskell said the community does not oppose the development, but finds the residential density to be too much. It dwarfs the density on the other Bell Road subdivisions, he said.

"This project was denied with less density than has been proposed," Meskell said. "This plan has densities two to three times that of our properties."

But it is all in the math. Meskell is correct when the density is computed using the acreage that homes are built on. But the developer is correct also. Since the homes are part of a mixed-use zoning, he is entitled to compute the density of the housing units based on the entire 52-acre tract.

Compared to the original 299,000 square feet the site was zoned for, this project is a down-sizing.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Justin Kirouac said both calculations are equally justified. But the property is zoned for mixed use and the property is already under litigation after the city denied a change from mixed use.

Residents point out the higher density of homes will not only add to near-capacity schools but choke already clogged roads in the city.

Resident Denise Harold said Bell Road is a rural road and was never built to carry the demand it has now, much less when more cars from 116 homes on Bell Road try to enter during rush hour.

"Before you add any more cars to our roads, you must take care of the roads first," Harold said.

Other residents pointed out while the property that fronts McGinnis Ferry is in the McGinnis Character Area, most of the residential is on Bell Road, which is a much less dense character area.

But the City Council may have backed themselves into a hole by insisting the parcel retain its mixed use classification.

If the city goes back before a judge having denied this plan, it may be in a difficult position having denied what they insisted on originally. That may be why they want to see a negotiated settlement among the homeowner associations and the developer and property owner.

If all sides can come up with a formula they can live with, it may be the best solution all the way around. But the clock is ticking.