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City and county end annexation dispute
With no fault admitted by either side, city promises to fund any upgrades to Beasley Road
Photo Courtesy City of Statesboro This sketch map shows the developer’s revised proposal to place 126 single-family homes on the 36.55-acre tract on Beasley Road pending annexation into the Statesboro city limits.

Bulloch County and Statesboro officials have signed an agreement ending their dispute over the city’s annexation of a roughly 37-acre tract on Beasley Road, with the city promising to take responsibility for maintaining and improving the road – which some city officials say it was already doing.

Neither the annexation, first requested at the beginning of 2023 by private Bel Air Estates Inc., which owns all of the land to be annexed, nor the first objections to it – raised by neighborhood residents – began as an initiative of either local government. But city officials, seeking to increase the amount of housing in Statesboro, seized the opportunity to annex a proposed new residential subdivision, whose developer originally proposed 212 townhome units, now rescaled to 126 single-family detached houses. The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners then filed a formal objection after hearing from residents and citing an expected increase in traffic.

However, the county’s April 4 resolution also asserted that the annexation would impose “infrastructure demands” on the county, including a need for “intersection improvements, road repairs and resurfacing” resulting from that traffic. But city staff members noted that Beasley Road beside the area to be annexed was already maintained by the city.

The intergovernmental agreement approved by a 3-1 vote of Statesboro City Council on Tuesday morning, June 6, and by the Bulloch County commissioners by a 6-0 vote that night, does not clarify who maintained the street in the past, but instead has the city promise to maintain it and make any necessary improvements in the future.

The first numbered provision of the agreement states that “the city agrees to assume responsibility for all maintenance, repair and improvement of Beasley Road from its intersection with U.S. Highway 80 to its intersection with State Route 24, including but not limited to any necessary maintenance, repairs or improvements to the intersection of Beasley Road with Jones Mill Road.”

The second item, labeled a “condition” is that the city has to complete the annexation for its obligation for the road repair and maintenance to be in effect.

In the third provision, a “covenant not to sue,” the county “covenants not to initiate litigation against the city to have the annexation abandoned,” in return for the city taking responsibility for the road.

But a fourth provision states that neither side is admitting “to the correctness of the other party’s legal positions” or waiving any rights not named in the agreement.

As acknowledged in the agreement’s preamble, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs declined to appoint an arbitration panel to settle the dispute after the city did not submit strikes of DCA-proposed panel members before a deadline.

So the agreement states that it reflects the county’s and city’s desire “to address the county’s infrastructure concerns and avoid litigation concerning whether or not the annexation must be abandoned.”


Who’s responsible?

If the city does not follow through with the annexation, the city and county would “continue to share responsibility for … Beasley Road” in accordance with a specific Georgia law, the agreement states. That law makes a city responsible for maintaining a road when the city has annexed property on both sides of it, while the county remains responsible for a road if the city has annexed only on one side of it.

The land across Beasley Road from the tract to be annexed is already in the city, so the law apparently would have required the city to maintain the road there after annexation, anyway. But the tract does not reach all the way up to the Jones Mill Road intersection.

The county previously was responsible for about nine-tenths of a mile of Beasley Road, including the intersection, but the city and county had cooperated to some extent in maintenance and improvements, said County Engineer Brad Deal.

“Essentially what (the agreement) says is we would maintain Beasley Road between East Main/24 and U.S. 80/Northside (Drive),” City Attorney Cain Smith said Thursday. “It’s our understanding that we already maintained it, so we will maintain the entirety of Beasley Road if the annexation is approved on June 20.”

That is when the current version of the annexation is slated to go to City Council for a vote.

Asked if the city had already been responsible for the entire road before the agreement, County Attorney Jeff Akins said, “No, they were responsible for a portion of it where they had annexed on both sides of the road, but the agreement requires them to be responsible for the entire road’s maintenance, repairs and improvements once annexation is completed.”

When Statesboro City Council voted on the agreement Tuesday morning, after returning to open session from a half-hour closed session, District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum cast the one “no” vote. In a phone interview, he called it a “completely unnecessary” agreement.

“The bottom line is, that agreement is nothing more than window dressing,” Boyum said. “We already manage Beasley Road, we already maintain Beasley Road and otherwise have all responsibility for Beasley Road. Why the county thinks they even maintain that road is beyond me.”

But he added that he doesn’t want anyone to think that he opposes the annexation.

“I am absolutely thrilled that we are seeing a subdivision being built in the city with some higher-end homes that will be attractive to folks that we are currently losing to Richmond Hill and Pooler,” Boyum said.  “We need those types of employment and people who have those types of jobs in our community.”


Rezoning request

While the county commissioners were holding  a lengthy regular meeting Tuesday  that  included their brief,  unanimous vote on the agreement, the city’s  Statesboro Planning Commission was also  meeting. One of the items on its agenda was the request from Bel Air Estates Inc. for rezoning of the Beasley Road tract from R-40, which is Statesboro’s default zoning for newly annexed property, to higher-density R-6.

After a hearing, the board voted 5-0 to recommend approval of the zoning request to City Council.

R-6 has a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet or about one-seventh of an acre, but city Planning and Development Director Kathy Field noted that internal streets, setback requirements and other considerations actually limit the density to about 3.5 homes per acre.

The current proposal sketched by engineering firm Maxwell-Reddick and Associates and presented by Lamar Smith of Smith Family Homes is for a maximum of 126 lots. Their original request at the beginning of the year, for rezoning to R-2 to  allow for up to 212 townhome units, drew neighborhood opposition,  including  a court filing over procedural errors that resulted in city officials voiding the council’s Jan. 17 annexation vote in a consent agreement.

Some of the same neighbors, including Raybon Anderson and Susan Riley, again expressed concerns and stated a preference for medium-density R-20 zoning, like that of  the existing Bel Air Estates.

Phoned Thursday, Riley said that, as a realist, she now sees the annexation and R-6 zoning as foregone conclusions. So she indicated that the neighborhood residents’ focus will shift to holding developer Smith and the city to their commitments. As Riley noted before, Beasley Road lacks sidewalks and has little shoulder space for pedestrians and cyclists to escape traffic.

“We are in hopes that they will do what they presented and if it the city is going to control Beasley Road that they will actually do something about preventing future traffic accidents, and motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents by putting in sidewalks,” Riley said. “They desperately need those sidewalks. …

“It is a dangerous situation, and I don’t ever want to see any crosses on that road,” she said. “That’s always been our contention, those of us that travel it day in and out know that, and as the population grows you add more risk. So now that they’re in control, I hope they put this in their budget for the very near future to address public safety on that road.”

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