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Controversial panhandle zoning defered

By Justin Boron

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners on Thursday night deferred a contentious rezoning for a residential developer said is well-planned and well-thought out, but that residents fear will destroy their mostly rural lifestyle in the county's southern panhandle area.

The delay came after a Superior Court judge sent the zoning proposal back to the commission for further review. Since the commission was under no mandate, Jack Hancock, the board's attorney, said another denial could result in a few scenarios.

At best, it could result in the courts upholding the board's decision. Or at worst, the court could rule it unconstitutional and allow the developer to pursue whatever purpose it wants for the property.

Blackhawk Development's request for a 332-lot subdivision on Sams and Woolsey roads, residents say, could be a turning point for one of the county's last largely undeveloped swaths of land.

It was originally denied by the county commission in November amid intense public pressure. A lawsuit was subsequently filed by the developer, who challenged the constitutionality of the zoning.

In February, the commission declined to settle the suit.

On Thursday, County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the board had been working diligently to resolve the matter, but new information that surfaced at the meeting caused him concern.

“Tonight, something different hit the table that I did not know about, and the attorneys did not know about. Tonight I hear 332 households.,” he said.

Commissioner Wolé Ralph motioned to table the measure.

Reacting to the motion, Commissioner Charley Griswell said, “It doesn't make any difference to me, we're just going to have to hear it again.”

During the meeting, almost the entire room raised their hands in opposition of the development. Many of them were members of the Panhandle Preservation Association, which comprises homeowners with lots from one to 15 acres in the southern tip of the county.

Hershel Trawick, the president of the association, said the change would facilitate a “degradation” of his neighborhood.

Speaking before the commission met, he said, “If this one goes through, you can forget the rest of the panhandle.”

He also told the commissioners that the zoning would lower property values, bring infrastructure problems to the area's roads and sewers, and strain the schools.

The following are some of the conditions that the developer provided as part of its 138 acre, 332-lot proposal:

é minimum 7,000-square-foot lots

é minimum house size of 2,300 square feet

é 15 percent of the homes would be 3,000 square feet

é 25 percent of the homes would have four-sided masonry

é 5 percent would have three-sided masonry

é 6.9 acre lake

é 44 acres of open space

é A clubhouse with a pool, tennis courts, and walking paths

é Acceleration and deceleration lanes to ease traffic