Several residents from the Daniel Siding neighborhood met with the Bryan County Commission to voice concerns about the planned Richmond Reserve development and the impact and repercussions it will likely have in store for them.
Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed, County Administrator Phil Jones and Commissioners Toby Roberts and Rick Gardner were joined by a number of residents at the Nov. 15 called meeting.
"Part of what we have been looking at has been listening to the developer. After annexation, that stopped," Burnsed said. "Richmond Hill has control over what’s going in there, but the county is responsible for the roads. We’ve bounced around every option you’ve raised, and even a few you haven’t thought of. We’ve weighed those issues against taxpayer dollars, availability and cooperation."
Right now, Jones said Bryan County has 9,000 homes. The planned development for the Daniel Siding tract, recently annexed into the city of Richmond Hill, will one day be "a city in itself," Jones said.
The tract has a proposed density of 1,940 to as many as 2,200 homes, according to developer Lamar Smith. This is estimated to bring 19,000 extra car trips per day to the area.
To prepare for that – and other – influxes of traffic, the commission hired an engineering firm to help master plan new road upgrades and expansions throughout the county. Jones also pointed out the Coastal Comprehensive Plan and Bryan County’s comp plan as measures being taken for better planning methods.
"There’s a lot going on in Coastal Georgia. And I just can’t see it slowing down," Jones said. "I realize this development is going to impact you. The traffic is going to be a problem and we’re trying to address it as best we can. The question is, do you spend money now to enhance the road (to two lanes), knowing that in five to 10 years from now, it’s going to have to be four lanes?"
Mark Henderson of Clarktown Road was one local resident at the meeting.
"I appreciate them meeting with us, but I don’t really see them doing anything different than what has been talked about at previous meetings," he said. "They say they haven’t heard any new suggestions but it feels like we’ve given them a lot. I think some of the commissioners listen and some of them don’t. I hope they will listen to our suggestions and work to benefit our community, rather than diminishing it."
Forethought is important, said Jones. With the builder already willing to pay for a two-lane upgrade, the county wants to four-lane it now.
"The road would need to go through full scale reclamation of curb and gutter, and a two-lane upgrade is what the developer has offered to do," Jones explained. "For a little more money, you’ve got a lot more and less to do in the future."
But Henderson said the two lane upgrade won’t cost them anything now and will buy the neighborhood several more years to consider other options and long term planning later.
Jones said a four lane expansion will require taking residents’ land. The builder would have to negotiate the value of the land on each person’s property and offer fair market value for anything they need to expand the road. If residents were to refuse handing over their land, the commission said they do not want to condemn the land and take it. Roberts and Gardner said if it came down to it, they would vote against condemning the land from residents.
"We’re trying to work something out but there’s a finite limit of solutions. I haven’t seen any good ones yet," Burnsed said. "You’re all taxpayers of Bryan County. We want to find a solution that works for everybody."
Residents threw out a number of ideas; some old, some new. The general consensus was to expand the road to two lanes now, which won’t present any drastic changes.
"That’s really the lesser of all evils," said Smith. "It’s a tough situation there, in order to get the maximum amount out of that 40 foot right-of-way. The proposal that’s before them now is probably the best solution."
Smith said his plan for the two lane upgrade is a good "interim solution" and Daniel Siding Road will likely be the main traffic carrying route. He also pointed out that his development will not be the last this neighborhood sees, and eventually a four lane Daniel Siding Road will probably end up being necessary, he said.
"We’ve been working on this with the county for going on two years now. It’s not an easy problem to tackle," he said.
Henderson said Cartertown Road should be considered as the best solution, and he said other residents agree that more options need to be looked into.
"Right now, it’s is the only viable alternative. If you look at long term planning, it’s the only road that will handle a large volume of traffic. The current plan of upgrading and not making it four lanes could buy time until another developer comes in. Then the commission could look at making a true, high traffic loop road to facilitate traffic," he said.
Jones told residents he hoped the meeting had been informative. The next commission meeting in December will hopefully produce concrete decisions, he said.
"We hope to get some feedback from them over the next week or two and hopefully we can come to a decision next month," said Jones.
Henderson said the community plans to do more research before the upcoming commission meeting.
"I’m not against the commission or the developers, we all want people to be able to use our property," Henderson said. "But you have to take into consideration the people that already live there,"