The Richmond Hill City Council approved the initial master plan for Richmond Reserve, developer Lamar Smith’s 1,100-acre planned community off Daniel Siding Road, at Tuesday night’s meeting.
A stipulation was added that only 750 homes can be built initially, with the remainder of the 2,200-home project to be completed only if Daniel Siding Road is widened to four lanes.
The decision was split. Billy Albritton and Jimmy Hires voted to approve the project while Floyd Hilliard and JoAnn Bickley voted against it. Mayor Richard Davis broke the tie by voting for the plan.
The master plan is just a first step in the process and gives engineers the go ahead to start design work on the first phase. Plans for each phase have to go before city council for approval before actual construction work can begin.
Terry Coleman, the engineer on this project who represented Smith at the meeting, proposed 750 because it reflects the number that the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center declared would be the maximum number of new homes a two-lane road would support. This came out in a recent Development of Regional Impact report that is state-required for large developments.
Hilliard said he had reservations about the project because he is not pleased with the density increase, believes Daniel Siding Road should be four-laned from the get go and wants to see what the county is going to do about the road situation. Although this project is on city property, the roads leading in and out of the tract are county-owned.
Coleman said Smith is more than willing to pay himself for a two-lane road to be constructed or to share the costs for a four-lane road, but it is up to the county. Coleman also said he hopes the project will not be held up because of a conflict between the city and county regarding roads.
"I’m very disappointed," Smith said. "Council put more restrictions on the project than the county commission who were willing to allow 1,940 homes. This may have chilled the whole deal. We can’t start this project and stop a third of the way through only to have the county refuse to four-lane at that point."
Smith said if the county, which have not made a final ruling on whether to allow two or four lanes to be constructed on Daniel Siding Road, does decide to go with four, Richmond Reserve would be back on track. County Administrator Phil Jones said this issue may be decided at the December County Commission meeting.
If the road ends up being merely two lanes at the onset, Smith said he will likely propose a different project other than the one that is currently being proposed. He said he is frustrated at the situation as the current plan includes him offering to pay $1 million toward widening Daniel Siding Road as well as donating a site for a YMCA, public safety building and a church. Smith said he has a meeting with Richmond Hill officials scheduled for Nov. 30 to further discuss the matter.
Widening to a four lanes on Daniel Siding would entail acquiring some land from current residents – some of whom stated they do not want to sell. County Commissioner Toby Roberts, who previously said he, along with Commissioner Rick Gardener, would not vote to condemn land, also said the road needs to be four-laned before construction begins.
"This board does not like to condemn," Roberts said. "But we’re hoping things are able to be worked out. There’s no doubt that, before the first spade is put in the dirt on this project, Daniel Siding needs to be four-laned. It’s natural to have resistance to change, but residents need to think hard about it."
Roberts said this project would cost more to do later and the issue needs to be resolved now because everyone agrees it will have to happen sooner or later and "years from now, we’ll probably have different commissioners and council members."
Roberts said he is going to propose that Smith, the county and the city share the costs of the potential four-lane project, since the city will reap a number of benefits from having Richmond Reserve in the city limits. He also said the developer, residents, and city and county officials should all sit down to attempt to settle this matter.
"It needs to be a cooperative effort," he said. "It’s only way that everyone is going to win. We need to work together and negotiate our differences. There will be a little bit of give and take from each party, but we need to find the best solution for everyone involved."
"I think that’s an excellent idea and I’m all for it," said Albritton. "Right now, the ball is in the county’s court here. They need to let us know what they’re going to do with the road because, without that, it’s like being in a battle when we don’t even know what the rules are."
In other business:
- Council approved a motion to enter into an architectural contract with Dawson-Wissmach to begin the design work on the Richmond Hill Conference Center.
- Council did not approve the request by Georgia Outdoor Advertising’s Greg Phillips to erect three billboards in the city, deciding instead to stick to the ordinance which outlaws this. "It is our intent with this ordinance to keep Richmond Hill from looking like Southside Savannah," Albritton said.
- Council approved a request from Molly McPherson’s restaurant for a live music permit.
- The first reading of the approved streets for the motorized carts ordinance took place. The details are still being hashed out, but among the streets discussed outlawing golf carts, four-wheelers and similar vehicles are: Hwy. 144, Harris Trail Road, Timber Trail Road, Brisbon Road, Edsel Drive, Ivy Street and Frances Meeks Way.
- Teal Lake resident Louie Burchett appeared before council to express concerns he has about the area near the lake including dumping and drug activity. He asked the city to recommend to the Stafford family, who own the land, to build a fence around the area.
- It was announced that the request from Margaret Fennell Judy to have a commercial office at her residence was postponed until the next council meeting, as Judy was under the weather.