Two and a half years after it was first proposed, developer Ellis Skinner finally received the official thumbs up from the Richmond Hill City Council for his Colonial Marsh subdivision to be zoned for planned development. Council unanimously voted in his favor during the Nov. 7 city council meeting.
"With this ruling, we can now do what we’ve tried to do since the beginning which is to start some engineering work and return with an engineering plat," Skinner said. "Engineering takes a while and there are a few kinks we need to iron out with everybody, so there will probably be another workshop."
Before the ruling was made, city attorney Ray Smith, at the request of the mayor and council, advised the panel.
Smith said Skinner has supplied much more information about this project than the usual zoning request. He said this includes the opportunity to actually see Skinner’s long-term goal, generated from "careful negotiations" with city officials, for his 187-acre tract, so the city knows what to expect for the most part. Smith said this is rare and should bypass some potential pitfalls. Smith also said this is just zoning and that a master plan must later be approved by council before any construction begins.
Several conditions were attached to the ruling which includes a density of 250 single-family units, nearly half of what was originally proposed in February 2005, a 40-acre park between Colonial Marsh and Sterling Creek, and a traffic light to be added at the entranceway.
Councilman Billy Albritton said the Colonial Marsh issue "will set a precedent that will let developers know that we’re serious about development and want what’s best for our city."
Albritton also said he is going to request that the entranceway to Richmond Hill High School’s Wildcat Drive be incorporated into the traffic signal in order to decrease school traffic, making this a "win-win situation."
As the door closed on one zoning dilemma, the night saw the door open on another.
The rezoning request of Mike and Melissa Crane to convert four lots on Camellia Street from single-family to multi-family, in order to create duplexes, was shot down 3-1 by council. Councilman Floyd Hilliard was the lone supporter of the rezoning.
"I’ve looked at the property and I have a hard time seeing how this wouldn’t improve the area," said Hilliard. Also, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved to endorse the rezoning after a recent meeting.
Several neighboring residents appeared to oppose the project, with Andrew Martin serving as the spokesman for the group. Martin carried a signed petition with him to the podium and gave numerous reasons for the group’s opposition.
They included incompatibility with the single-family homes in the area; potential traffic congestion on the two small streets that currently lead to the Cranes’ land; it would sandwich one resident directly between the proposed townhomes and a proposed apartment complex; it would adversely effect property values; it could cause a drop in water pressure which he said is already is a problem in the area; and it could create water run-off to other downhill properties.
"I was really shocked that this was voted down," Mike Crane said. "This project could really enhance this area."
Crane said the outer appearance of the duplexes would be "just like single-family homes. They’re only 1,500 square feet and you’d have to be told they were duplexes to tell the difference."
Crane said he has workable solutions on tap for all of the concerns he was confronted with at the meeting, and he plans on presenting this project again – only this time armed with more information for the council members as a way to address the aforementioned issues.
He said he didn’t do that this time because he thought that information would only be relevant at a later step of development.
In other business:
- Kirby Glaze, a hired consultant for the proposed Richmond Hill Conference Center, was granted approval to move forward with the project. This entails moving into the design phase which Glaze said should be done by January. He said the next step will be coming back with a bid price to construct the center.
In response to an inquiry from Albritton, Glaze said 400-500 people could attend a meeting at the 26,000-foot facility if seated "theater style" and that the earlier stated 200 capacity was with space allotted for dinner tables.
- Councilman Jimmy Hires made a motion, which was unanimously approved, to authorize the city attorney and the city manager to look into having something done about improving the dilapidated Miner’s service station which sits at the corner of Hwy. 17 and Hwy. 144. Discussion followed regarding updating the city’s abatement ordinance which would help them deal with this and other run-down or abandoned properties in the city.
- The Christmas Parade Committee, which consists of Nancy Frye, Roberta Bennett and Tori Bullwinkle, was granted $10,000 to organize the city’s 12th Annual Hometown Christmas Celebration.
The trio also made two announcements: this year’s theme is "A Magical Christmas" and the Grand Marshall will be Margaret Fennell Judy.
- RHPD Chief Billy Reynolds was granted approval for one officer to join forces with Savannah’s Counter Narcotics Team.
He said it will gain RHPD access to more help and training and should serve to be a valuable resource.
- The mayor and council formally requested of Melton to draft a resolution in opposition the HR900, or "the GREAT plan." Councilmember JoAnn Bickley said they need to get the word out on the true facts of this governmental bill because "it looks pretty on the outside but stinks on the inside."