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City council annexes Franklin’s 41 Beasley Road acres over objections
Officials separate annexation from zoning request for more than 200 townhomes
Susan Riley speaks to Statesboro City Council during its Jan. 17 meeting, where she voiced objections raised by residents of the area around Bel-Air Estates Inc.’s undeveloped land on Beasley Road to its annexation into the city. But what the group most o
Susan Riley speaks to Statesboro City Council during its Jan. 17 meeting, where she voiced objections raised by residents of the area around Bel-Air Estates Inc.’s undeveloped land on Beasley Road to its annexation into the city. But what the group most objected to was the originally proposed rezoning of the 41-acre tract as R-2 for up to 212 townhome units.

Statesboro City Council by a 4-1 vote Tuesday evening, Jan. 17, annexed roughly 41 acres on Beasley Road into the city limits at the request of the landowner – a local corporation headed by new state Rep. H. Lehman Franklin III – but over objections from residents of the area.

The city’s own Planning Commission had recommended denial of the annexation request by a 4-2 vote after various citizens also voiced objections during a Jan. 3 meeting of that board. Those objections were directed especially at a concept that Bel-Air Estates Inc. – which owns the land and has Franklin as CEO – and developer Lamar Smith of Smith Family Homes submitted for a townhome subdivision with up to 212 units. This would require a zoning change to the R-2 classification the city created last year for townhomes.

Otherwise, all property newly annexed into the city comes in zoned R-40, Statesboro’s lowest-density residential classification, with a minimum lot size of 40,000 square feet, or almost one acre.

During last week’s council meeting, City Manager Charles W. Penny said that the practice of submitting annexation requests, along with requests for rezoning, to the planning board has been a practice but not a legal requirement of the city. He recommended that the mayor and council separate annexation from rezoning in the future, removing the planning board from the process.

“No action can actually be taken on this property until you decide whether you’re going to annex it, and if you decide that you’re going to annex it, then it would go to the planning board for them to then look at the zoning request,” Penny said.

In the future, he said, the city staff will review annexation requests and make recommendations directly to City Council. Having the appointed board involved has worked fine when annexation requests are not controversial, Penny observed.

“But when there’s controversy, it probably puts the planning board that typically deals with zoning matters in somewhat of an awkward position,” he said.

Mayor Jonathan McCollar agreed.

“The Planning Commission, that is not the space for it, and it does put them in a bad position, and we’re the ones responsible for that,” McCollar said, “and so I recognize that has been a practice in the past, but I believe the people have elected us to be responsible for annexation projects.”

They made these comments during City Council’s 5:30 p.m. regular meeting. During the mayor and council’s work session that preceded it, City Attorney Cain Smith had briefly explained the legal methods for cities to annex land in Georgia.

Smith noted that the only method Statesboro has used in recent years is “the 100% method,” in which owners of 100% of the property being annexed request or agree to have their land brought into the city. The 41-acre tract on Beasley Road is all Bel-Air Estates Inc. property, with Franklin making the request, so this was what Smith and Penny described as a 100%, or voluntary, annexation.

 

Annexation hearing

When the council opened the annexation hearing, McCollar asked first for anyone in favor to speak. Local engineer Joey Maxwell said he was there representing Lehman Franklin and noted that another of the property owners, Robbie Franklin, was present, as was developer Lamar Smith, who then spoke to the mayor and council.

“Statesboro is in a growing mode,” Smith said. “You need new places to grow homes. We need water and sewer to do the type of project we’re looking to do. We want to be a good member of this community. We want to build a project that we’d be proud of, that you’d be proud of.”

The first speaker against the annexation was Raybon Anderson, a lifelong Bulloch County resident whose 26 years of public service included tenures as a county commissioner and on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation boards. Anderson said he has been a Statesboro  taxpayer  for 62 years and that he, his wife and their family have lived 55 years in their current home, beside the area now annexed and originally proposed for a townhome subdivision.

“We do not oppose our friends asking for development of this property. It should have been developed long ago. …,” Anderson said. “But we do oppose what they are proposing.”

When he asked everyone who opposed to the proposal to stand up, they appeared to be a majority of the 90 or so people in council audience area. Some had already been standing for lack of seats, and others were out in the hallway.

Susan Riley, a nurse practitioner and former Board of Education member whose home is on Timberline Road, voiced the group’s core concerns.

"We also want to especially thank the city Planning Commission for rejecting this annexation and the subsequent zoning that it entailed. They got the advantage of hearing the entire presentation,” Riley told the mayor and council. “Unfortunately, yours has been truncated and you are only hearing about the annexation.”

 

Revenue to city

City Council’s information packet included a report, from Planning and Housing Administrator Justin Williams, which focused on cost to the developer and revenue to the city. It noted that costs for extension of water and sewer system extensions “would be incurred by the developer,” not the city. Water tap fees to be paid to the city were estimated as $258,640; sewer tap fees as $127,200; and an “aid to construction” fee based on impact to the wastewater treatment plant, as $84,800.

Property tax revenue to the city would be to just $501.62 on the currently raw land. But with full development at the initially annexed R-40 density, that would rise to $30,693, or with full development at the “hypothetical” R-2 townhome density, to $94,742, according to Williams’ report.

The Planning Commission had received a different report, with information about the proposed townhome development. But the planning board report was also available to City Council and online to the public.

City staff had recommended approval of the annexation before the planning board, after hearing from neighbors, recommended denial.

 

Six times denser

“What they proposed was a six-fold density increase in this property versus the R-40,” Riley noted in her remarks to the mayor and council. “Understanding, (if you) annex it today, it will not receive that zoning, but the zoning and planning board already heard it, and that’s why they said not to annex it.”

Riley said it “would be understandable” if the zoning matched that of the existing Bel-Air Estates, which she said is zoned R-20, allowing homes with a lot size of at least 20,000 square feet, or slightly less than half an acre.

But area residents particularly objected to the proposed R-2 zoning for development of more than 200 rental townhome units when rental properties have shown “historic failure” to be maintained properly when sold  to other owners, Riley said. Beasley Road is “a busy road and getting busier” with no sidewalks and will become more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, she asserted.

 

Council decision

Reiterating that annexation was now being handled separately from rezoning, Penny made a direct recommendation for annexation.

“In order for cities to survive and to thrive, they do have to grow, and the only way we can grow is through annexation,” he said.

Councilman John Riggs said he didn’t understand why the council wasn’t presented a site plan and a  rezoning  request  along with the annexation, and said he  would  vote against the  annexation if voted on that  night.

“Something can be built here. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t want to prevent anyone from being able to make money off this, but I also look out for the neighbors,” Riggs said.

But Councilwoman Venus Mack said that after the property was annexed the developers could work with the city and neighbors on a more acceptable plan.

“If I had to give my recommendation, it would be to annex and then work with the developers, with their neighbors, to get something to come together that everybody would be happy with, because this could be a good thing for the city with all of the new developments,” Mack said.

Her motion to annex was seconded by Councilwoman Paulette Chavers and passed 4-1, with Riggs voting “no.”

“It’s annexed.,” Lamar Smith, the developer, said after the meeting. “The property owners brought it into the city. The property owner approached us about buying his land, and in order for us to buy it, it had to be annexed into the city. The next step would be to sit down and work with the city about a development plan that  would be acceptable to the city and is in the city’s vision.”

 

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