Old Ala. zoning gets OK – sort of

Dean Gardens property redesigned from dais

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – After two hours of deliberation, the Johns Creek City Council passed in a 3-2 vote to rezone the 57.6-acre Old Alabama property known as Dean Gardens on Old Alabama Road just west of Thornhill subdivision for 70 detached homes. But the plan had been so amended by the council that the developers said they would have do some homework to see if the project was still viable.

Going in, Lennar Georgia Inc., the developer, had reason to be optimistic that this time a plan for the “Problem Child of Old Alabama” would at last be solved.

The Lennar project had received approval from the Johns Creek Planning Commission and the planning staff with conditions that the company agreed to. It would build 70 single-family homes in a gated community with about 30 acres left as green space on the property.

The homes would have a minimum of 2,800 square feet to maximum of 3,000 square feet of heated space. It would have only one egress onto Old Alabama Road. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan calls for one unit per acre. This plan came in at 1.2 units per acre, but the city planning staff recognized it was a “transitional property” that “would not adversely affect the use or usability of nearby properties.”

Zoning Administrator Justin Kirouac noted the property’s transitional nature was due to topographical hardships with the property It was in recognition of those hardship that staff and the Planning Commission thought the somewhat higher density was justified, he said.

Lennar attorney Don Rolader said the 30-acre green space is half the property.

“No other development in Johns Creek puts half its development into common area,” he said.

River Farms and Thornhill homeowner associations agreed to support the rezoning. Irene Sanders, president of Thornhill HOA, said Lennar had spent “a lot of time” in negotiations with the homeowners.

“I am proud of how the three adjacent [communities] worked with Lennar representatives. We would prefer 1-acre lots, but we can live with their plan,” Sanders said.

But others opposed the rezoning. Betsy Kramer opposed the plan on traffic issues. She said another 70 houses would “add fuel to the fire,” and that the city should “step back” until traffic issues can be resolved.

Steve Newell is a Thornhill resident whose lot abuts the Lennar property. Newell said the project does have a lot of green space, but that is because it is not developable. He said the project is too dense for the developable area.

“Dean Gardens is the last big tract in the city and should be held to a high standard,” he said.

Mark Browning of Cameron Crest Farms said he thought the project had been “really fast-tracked.”

“This is a serious issue. A lot of people oppose this, and primarily, it crept up on them,” he said.

Browning said the Planning Commission took a “non-aggressive stance” on the project.

“They approved it because it was the least bad project, and that’s not good,” Browning said.

But if many people opposed the rezoning, they were not present at the meeting. Only about a dozen or more people appeared to be there in opposition.

At any rate, councilmembers took their concerns to heart in deliberations and thoroughly picked apart the project, questioning the density, its ability to contain runoff and even the rear and side-setbacks.

And when it came time to make a decision, no councilmember seemed to be prepared to make any motions. It was the first big rezoning case for the new council, and members appeared hesitant to make any motions.

Only after prodding by Mayor Mike Bodker did they begin to try to come to some consensus.

Kirouac repeatedly took them through most of the citizen objections, telling how staff and the Planning Commission had come to its conclusions.

For instance, traffic is a concern, but any development will add a measure of burden. The property did not create “excessive” burden, as it added relatively the same amount of traffic for its density as its similarly developed neighbors.

“Rather, it adds a commensurate burden, but not an excessive burden to traffic,” Kirouac said.

Likewise, other issues were explained, but apparently not to council’s satisfaction. Councilwoman Kelly Stewart moved to reduce the density to one unit per acre, but only found Raffensperger amenable to that.

Raffensperger did get a condition to change the number of the 2,800-square-foot homes from 35 to 15.

Raffensperger would say later he wanted to give the project a “more uniform look.”

The council also voted unanimously to reduce the side and rear setbacks from 5 feet to 10 feet. No one could say what the effect of that would do to the overall plan.

Even then, the project passed by a 3-2 margin, with Raffensperger and Stewart opposed.

After the meeting, Lennar officials declined to comment. One official said they had to see what effect the changes would have before he could say the project was still viable.

JC 04-24-14