Plum Creek’s request for a 7,800-unit development was approved at Tuesday’s Liberty County Commission meeting, but not without a few jabs from Riceboro residents.
Commissioners approved the zoning permit with restrictions. Commissioner Marion Stevens made the motion and it carried unanimously.
The board tabled the decision in June when the developer didn’t detail the expected impact of 10,000 acres of residential and commercial units in a planned unit development south of Riceboro.
The Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission approved Plum Creek’s massive development in May, after also tabling it.
Despite the county OK and promise of jobs, the giant landowner’s plan has yet to get approval from soon-to-be neighbors.
Former Riceboro City Councilman Modibo Kadalie said Plum Creek just wants to exploit the land.
“These people really are in the best tradition of land speculation,” Kadalie said. “What they want to do is make money. That’s what this is all about.”
He and other opponents said Plum Creek has not given enough detail about the project, which is expected to take up to 30 years to develop.
But the company has moved to protect hammocks in the marsh and exceeded the county’s requirement for unused space, according to local attorney Tom Ratcliffe.
“We think this has been a good, balanced and sustainable plan,” Ratcliffe said. “I can say honestly I think Plum Creek has reached out… This stage in the plan has been as specific as they can be.”
And the part of the development with the lowest density is planned for along the marsh and a neighboring development.
A planned unit development permit allows for more flexibility than other permits.
“If you let this go through unrestricted…you abnegate responsibility to control development in the area,” Kadalie said.
Ronald Leventhal, who manages Hampton Island south of the proposed site, echoed the concern that not enough details were being given.
“If you can’t answer the questions, it’s really a dangerous precedent,” Allan Pulaski said, representing Levanthal.
He was worried a seemingly limitless flexibility may allow Plum Creek to change plans to allow more houses on the site.
But the PUD is only the “first cut,” LCPC Director Sonny Timmerman told commissioners. “There’s no blank check here,” he said of approving a multi-step development plan. “Every action, assuming we get by this one tonight, from here forward will come back to you through the planning commission.”
Kadalie also questioned what may happen with tourism in the area and Jim Bacote of Geeche Kunda cultural center took up that theme.
“I’m very, very concerned that maybe the homework of Plum Creek has not been done…because it can very well end up in federal court,” he said.
“The decision you make today will alter what I thought we were planning to do with this area,” Kadalie said. “So I’m just begging you to be true to your obligation of the people.”
Commissioner Pat Bowen asked if Plum Creek could be required to fund improvements on Retreat Road.
Timmerman said there is no specific impact requirement.
“But you are within your legal right, in my opinion to ask for them to participate,” Timmerman said of the development.
He doesn’t think taxpayers should bear the burden of road damage or expansion.
“It shouldn’t be on the back of, at least my tax [bill],” Timmerman said.
The restrictions commissioners imposed include not allowing more than one and half units per acre and improvements to Retreat Road as the project develops. Commissioners also want an archeological study done and presented before the board.