Forty one Gumbranch residents near Groover Road signed a petition to block the rezoning of more than 41 acres for the development of a subdivision.
Liberty Consolidated Planning Commissioners heard the request from David MacDonald, Dec. 20, to rezone 41.59 acres from AR-1, agricultural residential district, to R-1, single-family residential district at the intersection of Groover Road and Highway 196.
McDonald plans to build a 37-lot residential subdivision on the property.
Those who oppose the development said there has been already been work on the property. They say the land has been damaged.
Neighbor Greg Higgins said the development is destroying wetlands and is having a negative impact on the environment.
“He’s not only drained some of the wetlands, he’s pumped silt into other wetlands. He’s dug a ditch across properties.
As far as I know there’s been no permits drawn," Higgins said. "There’s been significant damage to the property and adjoining wetlands. My concern is that you’re going to go ahead and approve this and I think you need to talk to the Corps of Engineers and state EPD. I think we need to have mitigation practices put in place even prior to consideration."
Planning Commissioner Phil Odom said he has seen the property. There is a "rimmed ditch" dug around the property to channel the water being pumped out, he said. But, Odom said he considered the activity on the property to be land clearing, not development.
Resident Brandon Long agreed with Higgins.
South of the property is Ray Road, where Long said a creek was excavated by MacDonald to allow running water from an adjoining property to move faster. Long also mentioned water pumped from a pond and said there is a trench from the pond going toward a ditch along Highway 196.
"I didn’t know you can do stuff like that," Long said. "I don’t have a lot confidence on what can be developed there. If there’s nothing we can do to stop the development from happening, we would at least like to have a say in the specifications, whether it’s lot size, buffer or traffic."
Jack Shuman, LCPC chairman, said that would happen when the developer submits a site plan and plat for approval.
Marcus Sack, of P.C. Simonton and Associates, who is working with the developer, said the property along Ray Road, which MacDonald owns, is not up for rezoning. Sack said to his knowledge there has not been any destruction of wetlands on the 41.59 acres.
"I know that wetland was timbered some years ago by the previous owner," Sack said. "My plans call for a silt fence for erosion and all the measures required by the state. That hasn’t been approved by the state and that portion of development hasn’t started yet. Hopefully everything that has been done to this point has been done from an agricultural standpoint and not from a development standpoint."
Sack said the subdivision site will stop short of the wetlands and plans call for water to flow into a nearby property before being released into the wetlands.
Long reiterated there is a trench from the pond to the highway and he’s seen water being pumped out.
"I don’t know what the rules are for pumping water out of a wetland," Sack said. "I’ve been there a few times. I’ve never seen that wetland dry but you are not allowed to disturb wetlands without a permit."
MacDonald said the only thing he has done is dig the ditch around the edge of the property.
Planning Commissioner Andrew Williams told MacDonald that if the property is rezoned he will need to get permits for the current and any future activity on his property.
The request was recommended for approval and will go before the Liberty County Commission on Jan. 3.