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Big Riceboro development hits snag
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After Hampton Island Preserve manager Ron Leventhal vowed a lawsuit, Plum Creek was left sitting on the bank Tuesday night when Liberty County commissioners tabled a request to rezone land for the massive development.
“We believe it’s a taking. It undermines our values,” Leventhal said of his $200 million development that neighbors the proposed 10,000-acre, mixed-use community south Riceboro’s Retreat Road.
Leventhal fears granting a planned unit development permit over such a massive development gives Plum Creek free reign, while shirking government oversight for future variances.
And it leaves the county and surrounding property owners to deal with the effects of 7,800 residential units and a mix of industrial and commercial areas over some 5,000 usable acres.
Tom Ratcliffe, representing Plum Creek, said the landowner has not picked developers, set building locations, buffers and other details.
“But we know, generally, what the pattern is and we know where its uses are and we know what the constraints are,” Ratcliffe said.
“If we only had one bite of this apple, we’d be concerned. But it’s our first bite. It’s not our last bite,” the attorney said, mentioning a specific development plan in the future.
Incomplete plans for a 30-year project, that many won’t live to see completed, should be a red flag, Leventhal said.
He said a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange should be able to plan and provide advanced commitment that it will mitigate development effects on surrounding infrastructure, particularly traffic on Retreat Road.
“Why can’t it be figured out now?” Leventhal said. “They’re a powerful, multi-billion dollar company, for God’s sakes.”
The permit would allow one dwelling unit per acre, according to Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission Director Sonny Timmerman.
Leventhal wants the board to have details on the property before “densifying the daylights out of it.”
Charles Ezelle of Plum Creek said the company would make improvements to the intersection of Retreat Road and Highway 17 during the building of the first 2,500 units.
“After that point, the traffic generated by the development would require significant upgrades to the roadway,” Ezelle said, mentioning widening, additional lanes and even another overpass on I-95.
“I think once this PUD is approved, up to 2,499 units, the developers are going to say ‘tough luck’,” Leventhal said. “They’re going to have an edge, legally.”
Commission Chairman John McIver was also skeptical of road use.
“There will never be…allowing for that kind of development to reach that point on Retreat Road, knowing that road can’t accept that kind of traffic.” he said.
Leventhal thinks Plum Creek should be arranging water and sewer now, before getting the permit.
But that would be premature, according to commissioner Pat Bowen.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me to spend that type of money if you can’t get it rezoned,” Bowen said.
Commissioner Eddie Walden did not want to see Plum Creek soley responsible for road improvements, considering other property owners in the area.
“Let’s hold the rezoning to the rezoning until we get the road fixed,” Walden said.
“All I can say is we need the tax dollars,” District 1 Commissioner Marion Stevens said.
McIver and Walden voted against tabling the decision.
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