McDONOUGH – Following opposition from nearby residents, a potential shopping center at the intersection of Kelleytown Road and Ga. Highway 155 was denied by the Henry County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.
More specifically, the BOC voted down a potential comprehensive plan adjustment that would have allowed the rezoning to happen, and a proposed rezoning from Residential-Agricultural to Mixed Use was tabled afterwards, without a set date for the item to be taken up again.
The BOC voted 3-1 against the adjustment. Dee Clemmons, June Wood and Johnny Wilson voted against, while Vivian Thomas voted in favor. Bruce Holmes abstained from voting, and Gary Barham was absent due to a family emergency.
The proposal consisted of 22.31 acres of land that would have been used for the construction of a shopping center anchored by a 48,387-square-foot grocery store and featuring two separate store buildings on either side of it for the first phase.
Warren Tillery, the attorney representing JWA Ventures, who requested the rezoning, said a shopping center, which was set to include a grocery store, would have fit with the existing character of the surrounding area and would have been helped by the recent upgrade of the Kelleytown/Ga. 155 intersection.
“In 2014, the Georgia Department of Transportation revamped the intersection,” Tillery said. “It’s bigger, wider, has more lanes, and the infrastructure is in place to what we’re doing.”
Tillery also estimated that such a facility, if built, would generate around $900,000 in sales tax if it did $30 million in sales.
The proposed shopping center did have its supporters on hand at Tuesday’s meeting. One supporter, Melissa Mervos, a teacher in the area, said a facility would generate jobs for teenagers and would be beneficial for teachers like her.
Another supporter, Thomas Kunz, said the grocery store would be more convenient for him.
“My wife goes through the Kelleytown/Ga. 155 intersection 10 times a week,” he said. “We do most of our shopping at the Kroger in Newton County. With her going through that intersection 10 times a week, she would prefer to be able to stop there on her way home rather than do a special trip.”
Opponents of the proposed rezoning, however, had issues with a variety of matters and lined up to speak during the public hearing.
Such issues included traffic and the possible use of eminent domain for the Henry County Water Authority to run a sewer line through people’s properties, as well as the possible shift in the character of the area.
A number of residents speaking asked that the mostly-rural area remain rural.
“You cannot mix commercial and residential,” said resident Denise Bryant. “They don’t go together. If you vote for this project, you’re putting our children at risk. Let us stay rural; it will not work.”
“We shouldn’t be taking anything from the rural areas we already have,” said resident Jeremy Hackler. “There’s plenty of commercial areas that can be developed.”
Other people speaking, meanwhile, expressed concern over parts of their property being taken for the purpose of the sewer line.
“Please don’t take my property for a want, not a need in the area,” said resident Mark Thackston.
“The owner of the property is trying to run an easement through my parents’ front yard,” Hackler said. “I would ask that you think about that. That’s one of our major concerns. We don’t want our properties to be ruined.”
Hackler said that if a shopping center had to be built, a stipulation needed to be included stating a sewer line wouldn’t be put through people’s properties.
Commissioners uneasy with uncertain sewer situation
It is possible that an uncertain answer concerning sewer lines in the area helped sink the rezoning. Most questions from commissioners, following the public hearing, concerned sewer lines that would need to be run through people’s properties in order for the project to be built.
Wilson asked multiple times, both to the county’s chief planner Stacey Jordan-Rudesal and to Tillery following the public hearing, how many property owners had been involved in the talks to put sewer lines in the area.
Jordan-Rudesal said the Planning and Zoning Department does not get involved in that process, but said the infrastructure would be made available at the owner’s expense. Tillery also said he was not involved with that either.
Wood asked if the sewer lines would impact property owners. In response, Tillery said easements had been solicited, but his client “isn’t involved in that process.”
Evan Conder, the development director for JWA Ventures, said the property owners contacted each individual about the sewer line that was proposed to run through the area.
“Financial considerations are being put in place,” Conder said. “We’re not kicking anyone out, we’re just obtaining 20 foot easements along the flood plain to be put on their property. My understanding is that the Henry County Water Authority’s position is the line would help the entire basin.”
Such a move would be the domain of the HCWA, it was stated at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The owner of the property has not done their proper due diligence,” said Dee Clemmons, who represents the southwestern District 2 in the BOC. “You can’t plan something with no sewer or water.”
“If the owner can work it out to get the sewer to the property, they can bring it back,” Wilson said.
The sole vote in favor of the project was from Vivian Thomas, the commissioner who represents the area. Thomas stated that property owners in the area had already made arrangements with the Henry County Water Authority for the sewer lines.
Thomas also said that since the HCWA and the applicant were paying for the sewer line, it would increase the value of the properties in the way of the sewer line as those individual property owners would not have to pay to tap into the line.
Tillery declined to comment following the move by the BOC.