The Richmond Hill City Council unanimously approved developer Lamar Smith’s zoning request for the 1,100-acre tract Richmond Reserve development project at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The ruling changes the zoning of the large parcel of land near Daniel Siding Road from agricultural to planned development. The parcel stretches from Hwy. 17 to the railroad tracks.
Nearly every seat was filled in city hall, most by residents who live near the proposed development and are in opposition to it. An earlier planning and zoning hearing on the project showed some neighboring residents have concerns about issues such as traffic and drainage.
Planning and Zoning Director Steve Scholar reminded those in attendance Tuesday the meeting was only about zoning.
Scholar said the master plan will have to come before council at a later date which will determine issues such as traffic and drainage. And before city council voted, Mayor Richard Davis announced the meeting was not a public hearing.
He said the public hearing was held last week prior to the planning and zoning meeting, public comment was heard at that time and would not be welcomed at the council meeting.
He did, however, allow one person to speak as a spokesman for the group. Smith also spoke at the meeting in order to explain his project and address questions from council members.
Davis invited city manager Mike Melton to give a complete timeline on the Richmond Reserve project from the city’s perspective. In his timeline, Melton described the following:
- The project was introduced by Smith and his team May of ’06
- A number of meetings were conducted with Smith’s team and city and county officials
- A regional impact study was approved in March of this year, conducted by the governmental Department of Community Affairs.
- Requested annexation was approved by Richmond Hill City Council – during this phase it was acknowledged that the county, by law, was allowed 15 days in which to contest or approve the annexation, but an official county response had not been rendered after four months.
- County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed sent a letter to Mayor Davis saying the only reason for delay was the road upgrade project – Davis noted that Smith has addressed and presented plans for this issue.
- Last week’s events were detailed which included a workshop, public hearing and approval from the planning and zoning staff and commission regarding the project.
Smith then took the podium and said that he has followed every step to the letter of the law and that his plan is "unchanged from the original plan. He emphasized that 42 percent of the project is reserved for greenspace and that he and his team have conducted "an exhaustive effort" in finding an additional traffic route for the project.
Smith also emphasized the fact that the previous landowners, Lucy Little and Maria Sparkman, were ready to sell their land and he views this planned community project as a much more viable alternative to them cutting up the tracts and having an inconsistent style among the various developments that would pop up.
Next up was State Representative Al Williams who was chosen as a spokesman for those in opposition. Williams stressed the need for a collaborative meeting between the developer and the residents that would be affected.
Williams brought up the military and Liberty County’s responses to the project, which are noted in the Development of Regional Impact study.
In a letter, Fort Stewart Public Works Director Michael Biering opposed the project due to noise from the fort’s training areas while Liberty County expressed concerns over the potential impact of traffic on not only Hwy. 17, but also Hwys. 196 and 84 in Liberty County.
Smith said he had conducted a meeting which garnered a strong turnout from those that would be affected. Smith complimented Williams’ sentiment and further stated that he would conduct yet another similar meeting in which to garner more public opinion. Smith consulted with Daniel Siding Church Pastor Alfred Banks, whose church resides on Daniel Siding Road, before the meeting. Banks said he and Smith discussed holding a public forum at the church. Banks said he is excited about the project, which should enhance the community surrounding his church. Banks further said that he sympathizes with those who have voiced their concern and is all for a meeting in which to work out any and all concerns regarding Richmond Reserve.
In other business:
• Approval was granted for site plans and building elevations for a second branch of Bryan Bank and Trust, to be constructed at the intersection of highway 17 and Harris Trail Road.
• The final subdivision plat was approved for a 124-lot phase of developer Ellis Skinner’s White Oak Village.
• Approval was granted for a 108-unit multi family site known as Village at Main Street, located at Golden Grove Road in Main Street. The stipulation was added that any future development would have to find another ingress/regress path. Also, plans to raise Golden Grove Road were discussed in order to avoid flooding issues.
• The final reading of the alcohol ordinance was approved. The new ordinance will break away from the state’s way of measuring the distance between businesses selling alcohol and other businesses, such as a daycare. If the revised ordinance is approved, the city will measure by travel distance as opposed to straight-line distance.
• The mayor and council recommended Southeast Bank Manager Derrick Smith for nomination to the Development Authority.
• A liquor license was approved for Molly McPherson’s Scottish Pub & Grill in Park South.
• A closed session was held to discuss litigation involving Ellis Skinner’s proposed Colonial Marsh subdivision.