Theme-park ride ends with subdivisions

By Diane Wagner

Hampton resident Wayne Davidson remembers when a Gone With the Wind theme park to dwarf Six Flags over Georgia was slated for 600 acres at Ga. Highway 155 and Walker Drive.

"I thought ?No sir.' We had no business having a theme park on this side of town," he said. "It was not the right location."

A decade later, Summerlake subdivision sits in the place of the proposed 300-room hotel. And 230 new houses are planned for the sites marked out for condominiums and a recreational vehicle campground.

"The theme park was busted up and sections have been sold," developer Mark Griswell said. "This is just about the last part left of it."

Griswell and Doug Bonner will present plans to the Henry County Municipal Planning Commission on Thursday that would put two new subdivisions on the long-vacant farmland.

The Manor at Parkside would feature 87 lots on a 28.46-acre tract next to Summerlake. The Villages at Parkside, across the street, would offer 143 lots on 35.59 acres next to the Luella school complex under construction now.

"People always have the impression that the developer is the bad guy, but we're lowering the density that is allowed," Griswell said. "It's zoned for a mobile home park and townhouses, and I own a couple large mobile parks already. But we don't think that would be in the best interests of the community."

After a public hearing, set for 7:30 p.m., the planning commission will send its recommendations to the Henry County Board of Commissioners for final action.

Tom Moore's family has owned the tract, which once numbered over 3,000 acres, since 1831.

Moore used to fish and hunt in the woods, and his initials are carved into more than one stately old oak. He and his wife Carol bought the property in 1991, after the death of his grandfather, J.D. Walker.

"We're excited about (Bonner and Griswell) taking it over," Tom Moore said. "It's a nice layout, and they've worked with the county and school board to make sure it's something that belongs here."

Bonner said the historical Moore House would be retained for use as a clubhouse for the subdivisions, and the ancient trees would be preserved.

"These trees are beautiful, and we're going to save every one we can," he said. "There's a big magnolia that I would give anything to have for myself."

Internal and external sidewalks are a key component of the proposal. Griswell said the sidewalks would tie into existing walks at Summerlake and run down to the school complex, so students could walk to school.

The walkability factor, and the preservation of the old Moore home, were important considerations for Carol Moore.

"One of the reasons we liked this developer was because he was willing to do things many others weren't," she said. "Gone With the Wind would have been beautiful, because it would have kept things natural. When that fell through, the next best thing was to find someone who would preserve some of the history of the land."

The county planning staff is recommending approval of the change, noting that the net density is lower than what was approved during the May 4, 1993 rezoning.

About 7 acres is zoned for commercial development, the staff report notes, and a subdivision is more suitable to the area than stores or a mobile home park.