Colonial Marsh subdivision developer Ellis Skinner finally received a ray of hope for continuing with his project on Oct. 30, when the Richmond Hill Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved to recommend to city council the zoning of Skinner’s land from undeveloped to planned development.
Tuesday’s ruling was a just a recommendation, with the real deal to come up at the Nov. 7 Richmond Hill City Council meeting.
If council approves Skinner’s latest configuration of Colonial Marsh, he will be able to begin the architectural planning of his subdivision. Once a master plan is conceived by Skinner and his associates, it too will have to gain approval from council.
"It’s a positive sign," said Skinner’s attorney Harold Yellin, who appeared with Skinner at the meeting. "It’s been a long time. Today is just a recommending body, so city council is another day."
Richmond Hill officials and Skinner, through their attorneys, have been going back and forth since February trying to come up with a workable formula for Colonial Marsh after Skinner threatened to sue the city if his land was not rezoned.
By law, the city is obligated to grant some type of zoning ordinance when a request is submitted.
Skinner’s proposed subdivision neighbors Sterling Creek subdivision on Harris Trail Road. Members of city council, along with several Sterling residents who have voiced concern, have said Skinner’s previous density projections were too high and the increased traffic would cause safety concerns at the proposed entranceway, in addition to drainage problems.
"We have been coming to meetings for two and a half years," Sterling Creek resident Constance Riggins said at the latest meeting. "The residents feel like this entire project is plagued by poor judgment."
She said the annexation of this property and the placement of a subdivision there is a mistake, and prefers the land is left undeveloped.
The issue began July, 2005, when the tract was annexed into the city. Shortly afterward, Skinner proposed his plans to create Colonial Marsh with 475 units. Opposition stalled Skinner from gaining approval for the first step of development, which is getting the land zoned for planned development.
The latest plan consists of 250 single-family units, almost half the original density.
"At 250 units, that puts us at 1.33 lots per acre which compares very favorably to other subdivisions, including Sterling Creek which is 2.80 lots per acre," Yellin said.
In addition, the 100-foot buffer between Colonial Marsh and Sterling Creek will include a 40-acre passive park that will be donated to the city. Skinner said the distance between Sterling Creek and his development is 250 feet.
Skinner said a red light will be placed at the intersection of the entranceway with crosswalks and a turn lane. He said the road that connects the two subdivisions will be barricaded and used only in an emergency.
During an earlier public hearing, eight Sterling Creek residents voiced their concerns about the development with the most dominant issue raised being that of potential increased traffic. Two of them, Thomas Putnam and Mark Wolfe, said Skinner should move the entranceway north, away from the railroad tracks and schools. Mayor Richard Davis, who was in attendance, informed that the Corps of Engineers would not permit crossing the existing wetlands.
Before voting, P&Z Vice-Chairman Les Fussell spoke of a phone call he received days before from Sterling resident and city council candidate Marilyn Hodges. Hodges told him she had communicated with railroad officials and they had not been notified by Skinner.
Fussell said he conferred with P&Z Director Steve Scholar who said the railroad does not need to be contacted at this early stage. Skinner said the only thing he needs their permission for is for an easement for a storm pipe and he does not anticipate any problems regarding dealings with the railroad.
Commissioner Brian Baraniak brought up the point that this would not be the first subdivision to have a railroad run along side of it.
The issue will next come up at the Richmond Hill City Council meeting this coming Wednesday, Nov. 7.