Johnny Murphy of Bryan Land and Timber received unanimous approval Thursday, Dec. 6, from the Planning and Zoning Commission to proceed with his 393-acre Planned Unit Development project off Hwy 144.
"I’m just excited," Murphy said after the project passed. "This is the proper way to develop. We’re looking forward to getting it started. We don’t see it going until 2008 – I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it wasn’t started until mid-2008."
The project first went before the board in October and received a 3-2 vote denying approval, which had 68 acres of commercial property allotted at that time. On Thursday, Murphy and representative Jason Edenfield discussed the new plat, which has slightly less than 48 acres of commercial property, all of which are located on the outskirts of the project.
"I live on this road," Murphy said. "Honestly I think it was a mistake for some of the commercial to have shown up in this area in the first place."
Murphy’s plan includes roughly 230 acres of land set aside for residential development, estimated to be quarter to half-acre lots.
"In a Planned Unit Development, ‘plan’ is the key word," Murphy said, pointing out that laying out a large tract of land is a better than piecing it together little by little.
The commercial property proposed on Spur 144 is located near the entrance of the road, slated to house a Humane Society and boat storage facility. The recreational park is on county-owned land, taking up 109 acres in the center of the project; the 20-acre school site will be for kindergarten through 5th grade and there is almost 30 acres set aside for a cemetery and Lutheran church.
Lutheran Pastor Gary Soop spoke on behalf of the developer because it will be his new ministry going into the site.
"It’s a rapidly growing community. We see a lot of banks going up but we don’t see as many churches going up. I think it’s important to look at how we can provide spiritual assets to our community and improve that part of living in Bryan County," he said.
On the other hand, Paul Helmley had concerns regarding the Presbyterian Burnt Church Cemetery. Helmley said traffic from the development is running straight into the center of the cemetery, and recently caused an accident that damaged gravestones.
Murphy said the plan is to keep the area buffered from traffic and cutting off the road by the cemetery can be done.
Sheila Galbreath raised the topic of archeological value in the area, among other issues. She said traffic problems will cost taxpayers more money and the extra housing will only add to an already-existing surplus.
"When you’re dealing with a PUD like this, and someone wants to make changes in the PUD, it doesn’t come back before you," she said. "Once you do a blanket PUD zoning, then the developer can all of a sudden change the proposed lot for a school to a Walmart. That doesn’t go before you and it’s not subject to public hearings, but would go before county commission."
County Administrator Phil Jones said deviations from the proposed plan would have to go back before the commission, but the public would not have to be notified of the presentation.
"But if he keeps within the conditions of what is approvable within a PUD, he would not have to go back to the board of commissioners," Jones said. "There’s nothing in here that says if he requests a change, there has to be a public hearing."
Richmond Hill resident Jim Estes lives across from the project on Spur 144. In October, he protested the commercial property proposed to go across the street from his home. On Thursday, the new proposal had those 12 acres labeled as ‘residential/public use.’ Murphy said he wanted to make the Estes’ happy with whatever went in. The project was approved on the condition that those 12 acres be left as residential unless the YMCA chooses to utilize it.
Before the public hearing closed, Estes had one final comment.
"I’m in favor of putting residential across from us," he said. "I think it’s a good use of the land and I appreciate the development and I think it should be approved."
Board member Noble Boykin, Jr. made the motion to approve the new project, taking into consideration the issues raised by residents, including that any potential historical sites be used as green space for preservation.
The project will go before the county commission at their next meeting, Jan. 8, to decide whether to give the project final approval.