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More opposition to proposed subdivision
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Residents of Topi Trail, Meloney Drive and nearby attend a Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission Tuesday to hear about a proposed development of a subdivision, which will have close to 200 homes. Many residents spoke in opposition to the proposal citing safety reasons and declining home values. - photo by Tiffany King

Controversy over a proposed subdivision near Topi Trail and Meloney Drive in Hinesville continued at the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission Tuesday, where residents and one planning commissioner expressed opposition to the plan.

In February, Dryden Enterprises, Inc., requested the rezoning of 158 acres for a 195 lot subdivision which would feature a pool, playground and community area. The subdivision would be accessed by both Meloney Drive and Topi Trail.

The request was tabled after residents along Meloney Drive and Topi Trail were concerned about road safety and talk about a restrictive covenant.

When the proposal came before planning commissioners again Tuesday, the revised conceptual design included three more lots, for a total 198 lots, a traffic circle, islands at the entrance of the subdivision and a community area at the Cherokee Rose Country Club instead.

There was also a request for a variance on a distance requirement between buildings. Hinesville city ordinance requires 20 feet between homes and the proposal requested for homes to be 15 feet apart.

At the February meeting, Tom Ratcliffe, who lives on Topi Trail, presented to commissioners a restrictive covenant that limited the number of lots at the end of a section of Topi Trail to 60 lots.

Tuesday, an excerpt from Hinesville city council minutes dated March 17, 2005, showed when the property was annexed into Hinesville, one tract of land was limited to the 60 lots required by the covenant and the other part limited to a maximum of 140 lots, allowing for up to 200 lots.

The covenant was sent to Samuel Oliver, an attorney in Darien, for interpretation. It was not done by Hinesville city attorney Linnie Darden III because of a potential conflict of interest. Claude Dryden purchased the property from Joel Osteen and Darden is employed with Jones, Osteen & Jones.

In his letter to LCPC, Oliver said the covenant only applies if a certain parcel is developed as a road. It will not in the conceptual design, making the covenant void.

Jeff Ricketson, executive director of LCPC, said there was a traffic count done for Meloney Drive and Topi Trail, not a formal traffic study as was said at the previous meeting. The traffic count was done when the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market was being developed.

Traffic count results were 663 daily trips on Meloney Drive and 293 daily trips on Topi Trail for a total of 956 vehicles on both roads per day.

Ricketson said it averages to about seven trips per day per house for the 137 homes that use both roads.

The national average is 10 trips per day for a single-family house, he said, and with almost 200 new homes in the subdivision, it will be an additional 2,000 trips plus the current 956 trips per day distributed between both roads. The worst case scenario, he said, is there will be about 1,700 trips on Topi Trail and 2,100 on Meloney Drive, which are within the capacity of the two roads.

Marcus Sack, of P.C. Simonton and Associates, said the subdivision was approved for 200 lots in 2005 and the issue was whether or not to rezone it to PUD.

Sack said there are three options for development: having a regular subdivision of 200 lots with no traffic circle or community area, a PUD with amenities on-site or a PUD with amenities at the country club.

Ratcliffe thinks the new design helps address some of the traffic concerns and it is good idea to connect the subdivision to the country club, calling it a “win-win” situation for everyone.

Elaine Boggs moved to Topi Trail years ago because it was neighborhood.

“In my perspective as a realtor and regular consumer there’s a big difference in being a subdivision and being a real neighborhood,” Boggs said. “What bothers me most about this development is bringing change to an area that we have grown to love.”

She said it would be better if the project had fewer houses and larger lots.

Jim Arnold was concerned with safety for children and the effect on home values.

“I’ve watched the value of my home in the last six months, go down by 25 percent. If we increase the number of homes in the neighborhood, much smaller homes than the one I got, I’m going to see my home value come down even further.”

Other neighbors in opposition spoke about semi-tractor trailers damaging roads and making noise, drivers littering, drivers speeding around curves, potential flooding from wetlands causing homes to foreclose and too many empty houses already being on the market.

Marcia Anderson, who lives on Kuwi Trail, said a similar situation happened to her when her family lived in another area of the county.

Two years after purchasing their first home 1989 a housing development was put behind her neighborhood. The road came through her subdivision and her children, who were 5 and 6 at the time, , not play in their driveway or yard because of speeders going past their home, she said.

“On top of that the subdivision was built in a way that it would flood. There were about five or six houses in that area that flooded,” Anderson said. “We chose the county club because it is a stable, safe, quiet area to raise children.”

Anderson said Topi Trail is not wide enough for an increase in traffic.

“The biggest issue is safety and road condition,” Anderson said. “Topi is not big enough to accommodate the construction traffic, school traffic, bus traffic and all that traffic that’s there now.”

LCPC Assistant Vice Chairwoman Lynn Pace said part of her problem was “philosophical.”

“So philosophically you put your high density (homes) close to main roads. You put your lowest density back so you don’t have all the traffic going from larger lots to smaller lots because it’s opposite of what you want the traffic to do. So philosophically this is poor planning,” Pace said.

Meloney Drive has no sidewalks, making residents walk, ride their bicycles and park on the street. The development would take that away from people who “made do with what they have,” she said.

Pace questioned why Liberty County does not have enough high-end homes to attract CEOs and business people to the area, instead of them living in Richmond Hill. She thought if high-end houses were put in the subdivision, near the country club it will make the area more appealing.

 “It makes no sense the way we’re allowing the planning to go, Pace said. “Does any of this (what she said) make sense?”

People in the audience answered, “Yes” and started clapping.

Sack disagreed with Pace about high-end homes only in Richmond Hill.

Sack said he moved from Richmond Hill to Liberty five years ago.

“I still ride to Richmond Hill all the time and I look at the subdivisions and in fact there’s a really nice one going in right now at their golf course,” Sack said. “And that subdivision consist of town homes in the same style of houses we are proposing right here. So to me our problem…isn’t that we’re doing anything different in Liberty County or Hinesville, it’s the perception that you (Pace) just helped convey to everybody and I think that’s unfortunate.”

Planning Commissioner Marshall Kennemer said he agreed with Pace “philosophically” but believed having a home owner’s association under PUD will help maintain home values, while giving residents access to amenities.

Planning Commissioner Andrew Williams understood resident’s concerns.

“A person’s home value, that has to matter. Safety for your kids, that has to matter, but we have to approve what’s before us. We can’t stop him from building. I think the people have more say and a power with a PUD and HOA than to approve the other way. At least if they’re going to build, let us have a say,” Williams said.

Arnold spoke again, this time addressing Dryden.

“To the landowner Mr. Dryden, I ask you to limit the number of units you build which affects our home values, which will affect the number of vehicles going down the street. Build a nicer home that Ms. Pace talk about. Give people an interest in having high-end house in a neighborhood that’s already well-established and nice. The opportunity is not yours (pointing to commissioners) it’s yours (to Dryden) sir. We ask for your support and you live in this community as well.”

The planning commissioners, Williams, Alonzo Bryant, Kennemer, Tim Byler and Durand Standard recommended approval of the rezoning and variance request. Pace opposed.

LCPC Chairman Jack Shuman recused himself from hearing the proposal because he is on the board of directors for the country club.

Planning Commissioners Phil Odom and Sarah Baker were not at the meeting.

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