The Bryan County Board of Commissioners rezoned a 295-site development off Belfast River Road Tuesday night after a lengthy discussion about construction quality and impact on neighboring properties.
Developers of Magnolia Hill Plantation asked for a rezoning from R-1 to a Planned Unit Development. Planning Director Eric Greenway said the change would allow the minimum lot sizes in the development to drop from 14,000 square feet to 6,000. Greenway said the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the change with the stipulation that houses not have vinyl siding and plans for townhouses and commercial development be removed.
Greenway added that questions surrounding how the houses will be built — whether or not they would be on elevated slabs — and drainage issues in the area were “still up for discussion.”
Terry Coleman, an engineer working with the developers, said the project was originally presented to the county about 10 years ago, then put on hold when the housing market plunged.
Commissioner Steve Myers was the first to raise concerns.
“I’m a big lot person,” he said. “We need balance between the quality of a home and the square footage. A first-time buyer wants the most square footage they can get and may not particularly care about the aesthetics.”
Myers added that “as this project sits today, it doesn’t have my support.”
Beth Williams-Holley, president of Ernest Signature Custom Homes, addressed Myers’s concerns.
“We’ve been building homes here for 30 years,” she said. “You don’t last that long without doing quality work. When we do a development, we do it right.
“We work hard to keep our reputation, but we have to be affordable to be competitive,” she added. “We’re competing against out-of-state builders who don’t hire local trade folk and don’t pay local taxes.”
Williams-Holley pointed to Tranqiulla Hall, the first development her company did in South Bryan County some 30 years ago, as evidence of their workmanship.
“When the county went into the sewer and water business, it meant we can’t build the larger one-acre lots,” she said. “Don’t penalize us for that. If I’m involved in something, it’s going to be done right.”
Smaller lots mean that assessments for water and sewer lines can be spread out over more parcels and help keep lot prices more affordable.
Several nearby property owners were in attendance to raise concerns.
Deb Cowart, who lives on Griffin Road, said her yard and others regularly flood and she is afraid the project could make it worse.
“I’m not even talking about the hurricane, just a good rain,” she said. “I’m not against this subdivision, I’m against the water problems.”
Scott Hudspeth, another local resident, said he was concerned with more traffic and the smaller lot sizes.
“The people living around there didn’t buy bigger lots to have a subdivision built around them,” he said. “This is not Tranquilla Hall. That’s not comparing apples to apples. I don’t think it’s the right fit for the area.”
After further discussion, Coleman said the developers would be amenable to further requirements, including adding a second swimming pool and some sort of trail connecting the two sides of the development. Coleman also said drainage would be designed as to ensure that water remains on the property and does not impact residents on Griffin Road. The developers also agreed that street lighting throughout would be LED and houses would be built on elevated slabs, also known as “skim walls.”
“We are willing to meet halfway,” Williams-Holley said, noting that it would probably raise prices $3,000 to $5,000 per home.
Myers said he liked that none of the lots were in nearby flood plains, and he felt that the builders had “stepped up to the plate” in making a motion to approve the rezoning. Commissioners Noah Covington and Wade Price voted in favor, while Commissioner Dallas Daniel voted no. Commissioner Rick Gardner was absent.
“I understand our ordinances have to be updated, but I’m looking at these homes beyond the first owner,” Daniel said. “That they hold value for the second and third owners.”