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City takes next step on annexation
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The Richmond Hill Planning Commission Tuesday night approved the rezoning of some 5,000 acres owned by Rayonier that is in the process of being annexed into the city.

Raydient Places + Properties, the real estate arm of Rayonier, filed for the annexation in October. City officials say the process should be completed by the end of the year.

About 50 people attended the public hearing on the rezoning before the planning commission voted. About a dozen people spoke, most of them voicing concerns about traffic and infrastructure. Several people asked to see specific plans for the property, but those have not yet been developed.

“This just sets the ground rules,” Planning Commission Chairman Billy Albritton said. “This doesn’t give them carte blanche to build whatever they want. Everything still has to go through the planning and permitting stages.”

The property abuts the city's current boundaries along Belfast Keller Road east of I-95 near the Belfast Commerce Centre and also off of Harris Trail near Port Royal Road. The property extends along Harris Trail to Belfast River Road and down to Belfast Keller Road. About 2,100 acres of the 5,000 has been identified as wetlands and will not be built on.

The land was approved for development by Bryan County about 10 years ago. Shifting it into the city does not change the pace of development, Assistant City Manager Scott Allison said, but it does change the scope due to the city’s recently updated ordinances.

Allison said if the property had remained in the county, some 9,600 houses could have been built at a density of five per acre. Under the city’s guidelines, that will drop to about three per acre.

The city’s Uniform Development Ordinance, for example, will only allow for vinyl to be used on soffits and fascia.

“We are glad to submit to the higher design standards,” said Bill Cunningham of Raydient Places. “We pursued this annexation because of expediency due to the new interchange.”

Allison said the land is split into three categories, with one being strictly for residential construction, one for mixed use and one for retail and multi-family housing. The last category will be closest to the new interchange at I-95 and Belfast Keller Road. Allison added that it could include things similar to the corner of Highway 144 and Timber Trail, with a gas station/convenience store located next to small shops.

“This really is textbook planning,” he said. “You put the higher density and commercial area closest to the interchange and then move to residential as you spread out.”

Several logging roads currently on the property will be converted to streets, chief among them a connector from Harris Trail to Belfast Keller.

Cunningham said that road is key to the development because Raydient Places will soon give Bryan County Schools 200 acres in the vicinity of Richmond Hill Middle School. About 170 of those acres will be for a new high school, with the rest being used for a new elementary school.

The rezoning now goes to the Richmond Hill City Council for a first reading on Dec. 5 and a final vote on Dec. 19.

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