A public hearing turned into a heated debate Tuesday in an evening meeting of the Statesboro City Council.
For more than an hour, supporters and opponents of a proposed housing development on the city’s north side exchanged arguments in a fight to determine the project’s fate.
Developers made their cases but were faced with more than two dozen members of a community who filled council chambers to rail against the proposed plan.
Residents living in an area that includes the Myrtle Crossing subdivision, Mattie Lively Elementary, Jef Road and Carter and Debbie drives showed in full force to voice their opposition to the construction of what builders call a “pocket neighborhood” — a residential development that would feature 17 single-family homes and a community garden on a small, 2.84 tract of land — on Zetterower Road.
DNA Properties, who appeared before council to request zoning changes that would make the project possible, argued that the new mini-neighborhood would supplement the well-being and value of the surrounding community. Project leaders said the private development, which packs homes tightly together, facing a common area for a “cozy, social and secure feel,” is the newest national trend in housing and could attract high demand from Statesboro buyers.
Prospective neighbors see the development in a different light.
“The proposed houses, which are modest in size, are packed in a density that is not consistent with the rest of the neighborhood. Many of us wonder what the impact of these houses will have on the average selling price of existing constructions out there,” area resident Robert Curry said.
“The value of our houses will be decreased,” said James Stephens, a former president of the Myrtle Crossing Homeowners Association.
In addition to home values, owners worry about the particular type and amount of people potentially living in the development.
“To have this density of housing on this tract just doesn’t make sense for this neighborhood,” Curry said. “I wonder where visitors will be parking their cars. I suspect that when you have the inevitable parties or gatherings, people will be parked in, and blocking, the streets.”
“We can’t know what is going to happen,” Myrtle Crossing resident Cynthia Thompson said. “They cannot guarantee who will be moving into there. They may buy it as an investment, turn around and rent it to Georgia Southern students, and then you’ve got party city.”
Project promoters stepped in to rebut the issues.
“I think there is some misunderstanding about what we’re trying to do here. This concept is something that can really improve the neighborhood and would be a real asset to the city,” said Andy Aldridge, a partner in the development. “There are concerns about property values. I’m not an appraiser but I am in the real estate business, and I respectfully disagree about the negative impact this would have on property values in the neighborhood.
“I think property values could be improved,” he said.
Tim Durden, whose construction company hopes to develop the property, made a passionate call to those speaking out against his project.
“I am invested in this community every single day, in every way. You cannot find anything I have done to be a detriment to this community in any shape, form or fashion; not in my building practices or my building ethics,” he said. “I am worried about your house just like you are worried about your house; believe it or not. You cannot tell me that this brings your property value down. If there is anything that makes me feel better it is helping you with the value of your property.
“We need something to help create a better tomorrow, a better today. But instead you want to fight it, keep things the exact same way. Well, I disagree with you,” he said. “I ask you to be mindful of change. That is all I ask. Is it different? Yes, sir; yes, ma’am, it’s different. But I promise you, there is not a bone in Tim Durden’s body that wants to take one dime out of your pocket.”
The string of speeches stretched long enough into the night for Mayor Joe Brannen to call an abrupt end to the hearing and ask for a motion from council.
Councilman Will Britt proposed that the body delay any action for 30 days to give the parties a chance to further discuss the development’s potential impact.
“A few of the neighbors don’t completely understand some aspects of the project, and I think this discussion needs to continue, but not at this function,” Britt said. “Let’s educate and make sure everyone is aware of the issues. The opportunity needs to be there for each party to explain themselves further.”
To facilitate the exchange, city staff will set a date and time, as well as host the meeting. Officials say residents in the area will be notified of the meeting date.
The issue will then be decided, most likely, during council’s second meeting next month.
Council ended Tuesday’s discussion with a pair of notes.
“When we bring this back up, we have to forget about making a decision based on college students possibly living there. We can’t do that,” Councilman Gary Lewis said. “They have a right to live where they want to live. Let’s be fair about that.”
Councilman John Riggs said: “I would like to say that I like this idea. Pocket neighborhoods are something that have never been tried here before. You have to give something a shot before you know whether it is going to work.
“However, I understand the concerns,” he added. “I would like residents to hear more about this project and have some issues addressed.”
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.