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A new Colonial Marsh on its way?
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A newly revised version of the Colonial Marsh subdivision, currently an undeveloped 187-acre tract that borders Sterling Creek, will soon be unveiled to the public.

Developers have scheduled a town hall meeting on Oct. 15 to answer any questions the public may have about the revamped project.

The new version, under new ownership, is proposed to include a city aquatic center and 500 residential units. It is also slated to include a 17-acre park with ball fields, fishing lakes and docks. There is also talk of placing a YMCA center on the tract.

After two and a half years of negotiations with the city, which came close to litigation for inability to get his tract zoned, previous tract owner Ellis Skinner finally got the Colonial Marsh tract zoned for a subdivision in November. However, there were tons of conditions on the proposed subdivision, including a change from 475 residential units to 250. Other conditions included a 40-acre park be placed between Colonial Marsh and Sterling Creek and a traffic light be added at the entranceway.

Much of the controversy surrounding the previous plans surrounded contention from neighboring Sterling Creek residents and some council members that Skinner’s density projections were too high and the increased traffic would cause safety concerns at the proposed entranceway.

Even though council finally gave the rezoning nod, the project has started from scratch. In the time since the approval, Skinner sold the tract, and his entire company – Coastal Landworx LLC, to Richard Best and Jill Abla with Genesis Homes, according to Genesis’ hired consultant Walt Blush.

Blush said the increase in density is a necessity if a profit is to be made from the project. He pointed out that, in addition to the land, Genesis plans to give the city $1.5 million toward the creation of the aquatic center. In addition, they plan to drop $1.2 million on redesigning the intersections near the high school and railroad tracks in an attempt to solve the safety issue. He said, those things considered, only selling 250 units would not make Colonial Marsh a profitable venture.

In regard to the safety issue, Blush said Genesis plans to erect two traffic lights and cross walks on both sides of the railroad tracks in front of the high school. He said negotiations are ongoing with the railroad company in order to get the necessary clearance needed to make this happen.

Blush said Genesis is interested in Colonial Marsh because the company is going to run out of Richmond Hill product in 18 months, which is when they expect all their units in Live Oaks to be sold.

"They needed somewhere else to build," Blush said. "They believe Richmond Hill is a good market and this will enable them to stay in this area."

Blush said it should thrive from all the military that is projected to arrive to this area and will offer affordable housing, which is hard to find in Richmond Hill.

250 units are etched out for an apartment complex. The remainder of the density is scheduled to be 80 single-family homes, 120 town house units and an undetermined amount of senior living units.

The question lingers on whether or not the city and the community will give this project the nod after going tooth and nail with the old Colonial Marsh plans. Will the aquatic center and other amenities be enough to overlook doubling the last density figures? Reaction from city officials was mixed.

Mayor Richard Davis said he has no problem with the projected project. He said, even though the density went up, "people have got to get over expecting big houses on big lots. The ones we have now are not selling. The only kind that is selling now is the average size unit on minimum lots. Genesis has a good reputation and track record. If they can make arrangements with the railroad to get the necessary footage, I can see this becoming a positive project for this community."

Before she was a council person, Marilyn Hodges, who lives in Sterling Creek, was an advocate against the old Colonial Marsh project.

"I’m not going to say this project is a bad thing or a good thing," Hodges said. "That’s up to residents to decide. I will say that this new project does not solve the main issues and stipulations imposed in November, but we’ll have to see how it plays out. For example, the 40-acres that were supposed to be deeded for a city park are now 17 acres."

Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Floyd Hilliard is skeptical that the project will be approved, seeing how this new version does not meet the previous stipulations. He said the aquatic center is a good move but may not be enough.

"I appreciate the aquatic center," Hilliard said. "It’s a good offer to the city, but it doesn’t solve anything. The amenities package sounds real good, but we worked really hard to get density down to see it jump to double. And there is still a safety issue at the entranceway. They say they can get 15 feet from the railroad to correct it, but how can they get it when the Skinners couldn’t? If I’m sitting there five years from now in traffic, and there’s a school bus accident, I’m not going to say ‘well, at least we have an aquatic center.’"

Blush said the plans could change and Genesis is looking forward to the town hall meeting on Oct. 15 in order to get some input from the community.

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