Proposed Subdivision Sparks Debate Over Urban Development, Misuse of Zoning Code Provisions

A proposed subdivision was a point of contnetion during Tuesday’s Statesboro City Council meeting on Tuesday.

L&S Acquisitions LLC requested a Zoning Map Amendment from the R10/R8
(Single-Family Residential) to the PUD (Planned Unit Development) zoning district, in
order to develop a single-family detached subdivision on 34.48 acres at 1263 S&S
Railroad Bed Road. The Planning Commission as well as staff had recommended approval, with a few conditions, including a second driveway for public access.

Property Owner Opposition to Planning Commission Conditions

Hayden Rollins of Hussey Gay Bell represented the property owner in the meeting and express that there was agreement on off of the city’s conditions with the exception of the second public access. The city had cited safety, particularly fire access, as the basis for the request for a second egress.

Rollins said he spoke with the fire prevention chief who told him that fire would be OK with paved, private access with a lockbox and that the ordinance does not otherwise require a second access point for 144-lot subdivisions. Rollins also stated that the condition, if imposed by the city, would impact a county road, which would cause jurisdictional issues. He then asked council to reconsider the condition recommended by Staff & Planning.

No one was present to speak against the application.

City Staff Justification for Conditions

During council discussion, Planning Director Kathy Field said the condition in question was discussed during the planning commission meeting.

“We felt that because of the density of this development – 144 units – that it really needed a second means of egress and regardless of the fire code, we felt that because it’s a PUD [Planned Urban Development], we are allowed to put conditions on this. And we felt that this second driveway would be important for the residents if they’re all leaving at the same time in the morning, to have only one means of egress, it would be very difficult for them. So, because of that, we agreed at the Planning Commission, and I would hope you would agree as well, that we should have a 60-foot right of way means of egress.”

Councilman Alleges Improper Use of Zoning Code

Before addressing the condition specifically, Councilman Boyum said he had serious questions about how Planned Urban Development is being used in the city. He asked about the size of the lots, to which Director Kathy Field replied, “4,000.”

Boyum then said:

“A PUD is supposed to be a creative method to take a property that has some unusual characteristic and put some combination of things like, maybe higher density residential single family homes, commercial, as well as some amenities. A Planned Urban Development, in this case, looks to me that we’re just trying to cram as many tiny little houses on as many tiny little lots as we can. There’s no creativity, there’s no mixed use development, there’s no sidewalks, there’s terrible egress, and it’s just not the kind of thing that a PUD is supposed to be used for. A PUD is not supposed to be used for to get around design standards. So, I’m concerned why this has even got out of Planning & Zoning cause this is not anything like what a PUD is supposed to look like.”

There was an extended silence without response from Field, who remained at the podium, to which Boyum then said, “Sorry to be firm and direct about this, but this is not what a PUD is supposed to be used for. Those are really small lots. And you’re going to cram ’em in with one road. I could go on for quite some time about how many problems there are, but my biggest problem is how did it even get this far without greater scrutiny cause I’m not sure why we don’t have sidewalks, we don’t have connectivity, I’m concerned.”

City Manager Charles Penny replied that he didn’t necessarily agree with Boyum on the use of PUDs.

“I believe PUD, since I’ve been here, PUD has been used quite a bit to make things fit in this community and you set the policy and if you say ‘this is not acceptable,’ I believe that’s the right thing to say. And if council is not comfortable with it, then I would simply say they can either go back to Planning Board and staff to look at, but PUDs have been used over the years in order to make things fit. But it’s been acceptable in the past and it didn’t just start in the last two years.”

“I know, but it’s getting progressively worse,” Boyum said.

“Yeah, it is. It is,” Penny replied. He then emphasized the important of keeping ordinances updated and occasionally making revisions to the zoning code.

“But doesn’t it say in our ordinances that the PUD is not to be used to get around our rules, to be creative and innovate, I mean, I just don’t see any creative or innovative in this particular…”

Tangent to Greenspace

Mayor McCollar stated the council was going to yield time to Councilwoman Barr, who was attending the meeting virtually.

“I share some of Councilmember Boyum’s concerns but I’d like to ask some questions of the engineer who is there to represent the owners.” As Hayden Rollins of HGB approached the podium, Barr continued.

We need more homes for the residents of Statesboro and Bulloch County…I don’t know all the history like Mr. Boyum does about what PUD should be used for but I know we need more houses in Statesboro. If we can reduce the, what you’re coming to us for is a variance because you’re trying to make it smaller lots for houses. Tell me a little bit about what’s planned with these houses, what size houses, what price range is proposed.”

Rollins told Barr and council that he could only address lot sizes as the other questions were more builder-oriented.

“Really what we’re doing with the property is trying to make it to where we can market and build homes on it. To get the density that we need to make the property worth developing, there’s quite a bit of infrastructure costs. They’re kind of special in the case of this property because it’s at the outer limits of what Gravity Sewer can serve so there’s a good chance that a lift station will be needed on this property, which is something that the developers considered so in order to make numbers work, that’s what the required density was,” Rollins said.

Barr asked again about the size of the homes, to which Rollins replied, “around 2,000 square feet.”

“On 5,000 square foot lots?” Councilman Riggs asked.

“They’re about 4,500 square feet,” Rollins said. “What these are meant to be are more patio style lots. They’re not meant to be mansions. They are very common around our region. They’re not as common in the City of Statesboro, of course. But as you all know, the market is very difficult right now when it comes to building and in order to make homes affordable…they have to create these patio lots, which are very appealing to a lot of folks.”

Barr said she understood the need to compromise but she wanted to ensure the people who live in this development have a quality of life, including amenities, sidewalks, greenspace, and safety. “We’re talking about a minimum of 5% of the total development for those amenities that make it a good place to live.”

Rollins clarified that sidewalks were planned for both side of the development, which will also connect to the trail with direct access. He then returned the conversation to the issue at hand with the public access condition.

“Typically, in traffic and engineering scenarios, as far as peak trips – once in the morning and once in the afternoon – you can kind of put a one-per-unit to that number which would pretty much be two cars per minute. And I believe that that’s a pretty acceptable scenario for one entrance and one exit,” Rollins told council.

Boyum challenged Rollins on the ‘one car per unit’ statistic, to which Rollins said was statistic for ‘peak hours’ from traffic engineers who conduct relevant studies.

Fire Chief Tim Gram then addressed council about the fire code and the requirements the city is attempting to put forth. He told council that the private, paved access proposed by the developer would help meet the International Fire Code standards, he still had concerns about reaching the residences. Gram also said that in event of a mass evacuation, 144 cars would be exiting out of one exit.

“I understand his [Rollins] concerns as well, but the intent of the code is to allow us to mitigate whatever emergency’s occurring and allows us the flexibility of getting our apparatus, resources, and staff in there to do that,” Grams said. “So as it sits for the fire code, it meets, but the spirit, the number, there are some concerns.”

Council Vote

McCollar asked for further discussion by council, for which there was none. He then asked for a motion.

Councilman John Riggs made a motion to approve the application with the staff & Planning Commission recommendations, “which would include” the second public access point. Councilwoman Barr asked if greenspace was addressed in the motion and it was clarified that greenspace was not included in the motion. With no second, the motion failed.

McCollar asked for a follow-up motion. Barr said she would consider a motion that included the recommendations from staff and a 5% stipulation for amenities, including greenspace.

“I would suggest that that rather vague motion is going to be difficult…is maybe not appropriate for a development type. I mean, you say 5%. What 5% is that? Does that include water, the wetlands space that’s back there, I don’t know. I gotta see a drawing before I’m gonna…would feel comfortable voting for something like that,” Boyum said.

McCollar said the concerns were about a lack of specificity. “Would you like to withdraw that motion and offer a motion to allow the engineer to go back to staff in regards to this matter?” He then said council could treat this as a no-vote.

City Planning Director Kathy Field then interjected. “Cain (city attorney) is not here, but I believe that if you do a no-vote, then you have to wait six months before the applicant can come back. However, if you defer without prejudice, it allows the applicant to come back at any time.”

“I think they meant ‘no action,” Boyum said.

“Oh, no action, okay,” Field replied.

Additional Discussion

“I would like to know,” Councilwoman Venus Mack asked Rollins, “Are you willing to go back to the drawing board and figure something out?”

“Sure, we can definitely do that,” Rollins replied.

Before the matter was settled, Penny asked Boyum: “The concern you raised about the use of PUD. You want us to go back and sit down and have some conversations and I don’t know that the zoning re-write will clear that up, but we can sit down to talk through that process.”

Boyum then went back through the ‘purpose of a PUD’ for the third time. “We need to go back and re-define what a PUD is so our developers quit using them in this fashion.”

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast.'

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