Developers who have been sitting on plans to begin work in the Gateway Corridor can now get their shovels ready. Lumpkin County Commissioners voted unanimously last week on new Corridor regulations, which automatically lifts the construction moratorium in that area enacted in June.
And not a moment too soon, according to Planning Director Bruce Georgia.
“I have developers who have set their construction timelines and are waiting to submit plans,” he said. “The hospital wants to break ground in the spring. We need to lift the moratorium.”
The new, stricter regulations however, will apply to a smaller area than once envisioned—at least temporarily.
After much debate, commissioners approved a specially regulated “Overlay District” running from the intersection of Highway 60 South and Highway 400, going south on 400 to the county line, leaving out previously included Highway 60 both east and west, Longbranch Road and Highway 52/115 going toward Cleveland.
The Board expects to include Highway 60 from 400 to Dahlonega early next year, and perhaps other areas currently left out as well.
Tweaking the regulations will be a task for the new year.
RETHINKING A DONE-DEAL
Planning staff, commissioners and County Manager Stan Kelley all thought a Public Hearing held Dec. 10 was pretty much a formality.
The process of revamping the Gateway Corridor regulations in light of Northeast Georgia Health System’s plans to build a new hospital on Highway 400 in the near future had been open to the public from its beginning in June.
Stakeholder meetings; an online poll; and a community-wide meeting that included a presentation, Q&A and opportunity for input preceded the hearing.
However, comments and problems arose during the most recent required Public Hearing, prompting commissioners to take a last look at Carl Vinson Institute’s revised regulations.
That “last look” turned into two lengthy called work sessions involving the BOC, staff, a representative from Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Development Authority and others, including developer Jack Hartrampf.
One of the concerns presented at the hearing dealt with two sites owned by Hartrampf. The property had already been master planned, and preliminary work done conforming to old Corridor regulations.
“If the infrastructure there now follows the old regulations, we should honor that,” Board Chair Chris Dockery said at the first called work session.
He suggested allowing a set period of time for other developers with the same problem to get in touch with the county and be recognized, but no concrete solution came about. It was left at that for the first work session.
Carl Vinson’s Scott Pippin, who put the new regulations together, then began going through the design guidelines point by point.
‘REGULATIONS COST DEVELOPERS’
That method of tackling the review, however, never got past a discussion on building materials.
At that point, Dockery brought up concerns about the area encompassing the Corridor.
It was the beginning of a four hour debate that would eventually lead to the development of the Overlay District.
“I’m not sure it’s smart to extend the regulations all the way up Longbranch,” he told fellow commissioners. “Originally, we considered differing regulations for Longbranch Road, with stricter regulations closer to the 400/60 intersection and lesser further out. And it makes no sense for the Smiths’ farm on Highway 115, or around Emory Stephens Road, to have the same regulations as Highway 400 or 60. The land along 115 [where Johnny and Sandra Smith own a large working farm] is the best land we have for industrial development. If we include this area in the Corridor we’ve killed any possibility of that.”
Some of the stricter regulations Dockery referred to include design guidelines, such as prohibiting corrugated and other types of metal buildings; building height; large parking lot location; underground utilities; outdoor lighting; signage and more.
Another argument Dockery put forth was the cost of some of these regulations.
“Development regulations cost developers,” he said “I think we’re going to have to temper [the regulations] some. For developers, it’s all about the per square foot cost. We don’t want to price ourselves out of the market.”
Larry Reiter, Division Director of Planning and Public Works, disagreed.
“We don’t want to be a rose in the middle of the turnip patch,” he said. “I believe regulations bring development.”
Commissioner Bobby Mayfield agreed, asking Dockery to name the specific requirements that would price the county out of the market.
“Semi-impervious parking lots, for one,” said Dockery, who is a contractor. “Do you know how much brick pavers cost? I just finished a turnaround around in front of a garage on a house and it cost $35,000. And that’s just one example; street scape materials, lighting …. There has to be some consideration of the cost of development.”
Georgia also felt not including those roads omitted from the Overlay District could be a mistake.
“Ask Hall County about roads they didn’t envision development on,” he warned.
“Forsyth did a horrible job predicting where development would come,” he said.
Kelly reminded the group that not looking like Dawsonville was something the public requested over and over.
A NEED FOR SPEED
Georgia pointed out the need to decide on something by Jan. 1 so the moratorium could be lifted.
As group members had previous commitments, Dockery called for a second work session in two day’s time. He tasked staff with coming up with an overlay district. Staff came back with suggestions for the new District.
After about two hours of discussion on the second day, commissioners reached an agreement.
The areas left out of the Overlay District include Hartrampf’s two sites, located on Highway 60 and Longbranch Road. Areas not included in the Overlay District must comply with existing Gateway Corridor regulations. These have been on the books for over 20 years.
It was also determined staff would work on some revisions to the regulations and re-incorporating—at a minimum—Highway 60 from 400 into town into the Overlay District.
Hartrampf said he “commends the board on their hard work and considering all the facts. It was a good collaboration. I plan to work with them when it comes to incorporating 60 West, bearing in mind the infrastructure I already have in the ground. I recognize the value of excellence, and appreciate what they are trying to do.”