Gateway Corridor guidelines create debate

  • Gateway Corridor guidelines create debate
    Gateway Corridor guidelines create debate

Last week’s Public Hearing on changes to the Gateway Corridor Regulations was sparsely attended. But there were several questions and issues people brought up, and commissioners met Tuesday (before The Nugget’s deadline) to "just go through it again,” said County Manager Stan Kelley.
One local resident with concerns was developer Jack Hartramp.
Hartramp owns property across from the Home Depot on Long Branch Road and on both sides of GA 400. The area has been master planned, graded and infrastructure already put in the ground—driveways, water and sewer. Additionally, the master plan is designed to have elements match up with adjoining properties to allow for interior traffic flow.  
“When I did the grading and put in infrastructure it was designated Neighborhood and Commercial Village with a five-foot vegetative buffer. The new regulations call for a 30-foot buffer, and that creates a hardship for me,” Hartramp said.
Additionally,  requiring store(s) to be up front and parking in the back and along the sides “doesn’t make sense for my property.”
One of the properties Hartramp is talking about is only nine acres, he said.
“If it’s a 50 acre or 100 acre parcel, a 30 foot buffer is no big deal. But a nine acre property can’t take up that much area with a buffer,” he said.
BOC Chairman Chris Dockery said he believed a compromise was possible.
“We don’t want to discourage development. Maybe grandfathering your property could work,” he said.
Hartramp stressed he “supports the vision” and was “not speaking badly about what the board is trying to do, but it just won’t work for what I’ve already done.”
Other issues brought up were light pollution; the listing of heavy industry as a preferred use on the corridor; parking to the rear and sides of buildings and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements having a possible conflict; large, rare and historic trees not ‘required’ to be saved; and preventing the 20 percent greenspace requirement ending up being interpreted as giant asphalt lot with tiny islands of single trees were issues brought to the board’s attention by citizens.
Planning Director Bruce Georgia answered Ken Taylor’s concern about light pollution.
“The requirements for lighting being used are ‘dark skies’ regulations,” Georgia said.
These are intended to minimize glare and include directional control, casting light downward. Fixtures used on the outside of buildings illuminate only an intended portion from a specific angle rather than bathing the entire building in bright light.
Marlena Pierce sent an email with her several concerns. She was unable to attend the meeting.  
Georgia responded to the email point by point. Intensive commercial use in the corridor refers not to heavy industrial such as factories and lumber mills, but to “hospitals, corporate offices, large scale retail establishments like shopping centers or malls and similar things,” Georgia wrote. “Any industrial use like a factory will have to be approved by the Planning Commission and will have to meet the Design Guide requirements, which will likely be very difficult. That means that would have to go through a very thorough review in the PUD [Planned Use Development] process to be approved.”
Pierce’s email, and Bret Pearce, who attended last week’s public hearing, both voiced concerns about side and rear parking requirements.
That, Georgia explained, only refers to the portion of a building facing the road. The entrance, or entrances, can be located on the side where parking in located, Georgia explained.
“We are looking at rewording this to be clearer,” he added. “The purpose of this requirement is to avoid parking lots between the road and the buildings.”
Minimizing the visual impact of parking areas was one of the issues residents attending the public hearing and voting online wanted for the corridor.
“Most of the access will be off of internal roads. Our concern is not having parking between GA 400 and the buildings,” said Larry Reiter, Division Director of Planning and Public Works.
Pierce also expressed concerns about violating the ADA requirements on parking.
“[That] will be addressed in the building and site design process, so it’s not an issue here,” Georgia said.
Pierce’s concern about large and historic trees and greenspace were also addressed by Georgia. The Planning Department will use an arborist to survey development sites prior to any clearing. It will also require a plan that would protect trees the arborist identifies.
What constitutes greenspace is already covered in the regulations, Georgia said.
“Landscape islands in a parking lot are considered part of the parking lot, and will not be considered greenspace. This process in not new for the county, as we have greenspace subdivisions that must meet the same requirements,” he said.
Pierce also wanted to know if the public would have an opportunity to hear PUD requests. The answer is yes. PUD requests will be heard as rezoning petitions, which include a public hearing before the BOC as required by state law.
Planned construction of the new Northeast Georgia Medical Center near the intersection of GA 400 and Highway 60 precipitated the changes to the Corridor regulations. Scott Pippin, member of the public service faculty in the Planning and Environmental Services unit, worked with the county to come up with the needed changes to match citizen concerns gathered during several stake holder and public meetings and an online survey. Pippin began work on the project in June with a scheduled completion date of December so the regulations could be adopted in December.
“At this time it’s still the plan to vote on it the 17th,” Kelly said.
Once passed, the BOC will lift the moratorium on development in the corridor area.
“We don’t want to delay this thing,” Dockery said. “There are people waiting to start development, and we don’t want to hold them up any longer than necessary.”