Asked by developers to annex 14 more acres along S&S Railroad Bed Road near Cawana Road and the S&S Greenway trail, Statesboro City Council hit the pause button with questions about housing density and drainage.
The application, presented to the council Tuesday night with recommendations from the Planning Commission and city planning staff, came from W&L Developers, a limited-liability corporation represented at the council meeting by one of the owners, John White. This area, south of U.S. Highway 80 East beyond the bypass, has been the main growth spot for the city's boundaries the past two years.
"That's the primary area for annexation recently," city Planning & Development Director Mandi Cody confirmed in an interview. "There has been a number of parcels in that particular area that were annexed through 2013."
In August 2013, the council approved annexing 57.5 acres on Cawana Road at the request of George Terrell Beasley and 60.97 acres at the request of Walter Ray Beasley.
Last month, the council amended the zoning map for portions of those tracts, including 60 acres now being developed by L&S Acquisitions LLC, and CFN Properties LLC, as well as 38.79 acres at the request of H. Jackson Wallace. At the developers' request, these areas were changed from previous general residential zoning designations R-8, R-10 and R-3 to Planned Unit Development, allowing custom-designed neighborhoods with further city approval during the planning process.
The latest annexation request, from W&L, would bring two tracts, one measuring 13.05 acres and the other 1 acre, into the city while zoning them R-10, a designation that allows lots as small as 10,000 square feet, or less than a quarter acre. Their current Bulloch County zoning is R-25, with a minimum lot size of more than a half acre.
W&L's concept plan for the subdivision, as shown to City Council, showed 34 lots. A shaded area indicated a swath of wetland crossing about seven of the lots.
When Councilman Will Britt took note of this, White said wetlands do not block development. Interim City Manager Robert Cheshire said this is true, if the disturbance affects only a limited amount of wetlands.
"But we haven't had a lot of that in the city," Britt said. "Normally in the city ... where those wetlands were, it would show houses around it, but not necessarily on it. ... Lot 30 has got a wet front yard, which is going to wind up being our fault in six years."
White noted that developers can purchase credits from a wetlands bank to offset encroachment on local wetlands. But that doesn't eliminate drainage problems, Mayor Jan Moore commented.
Just recently, city officials have been talking to residents of the Foxlake area, across town, about drainage problems some say were aggravated by the addition of nearby Myrtle Crossing.
Council members also noted that R-10 zoning allows for relatively dense development.
"We've got another situation where we're trying to cram as many lots as we can in on this Railroad Bed Road that is not designed for the amount of traffic that's going to be on it," said Councilman Phil Boyum.
If brought into the city with no zoning change, the property's default zoning would be R-40, Cody told the council. That requires a minimum lot size of 40,000 square feet, nearly an acre.
The owners' purpose in requesting annexation is to be able to develop more lots, and they would not want the area annexed with R-40 zoning, White said.
When an initial motion by Councilman John Riggs to approve the annexation was not seconded, he withdrew it in favor of a motion from Britt, seconded by Councilman Gary Lewis, to delay a decision awaiting further information.
Senior Assistant City Engineer Jason Boyles, who currently heads the engineering department, and Cheshire, previously the head city engineer, are to talk to the developers and inform the council about how drainage issues can be addressed.
Cheshire said he is confident that the city engineers and the developer's planners can satisfy any permitting concerns, but he thinks the density question is more subjective. It may come down to what the council is willing to accept and what the developer is willing to do.
"He's got a certain financial investment in it that he's got to be able to get to make it work," Cheshire said, " but council has concerns that they want to make sure the growth is controlled properly, so I hope we can come to a resolution and get it annexed and rezoned to everybody's satisfaction."
Both Cheshire and Cody noted that issues such as drainage are usually handled further along in the planning process. Even the number of lots, Cody observed, can be reduced by requirements for green space, parking and roads, and wouldn't necessarily be the maximum allowed for the zoning density.
"But they have some legitimate questions and I'm glad that they asked," Cheshire said. "It doesn't hurt to find out some of that stuff up front."
Meanwhile, the city has planning underway for a water and sewer system expansion that could serve these developments. When engineering work for that project was discussed this summer, Moore said she wanted to clarify expectations with the county over how the water and sewer additions are being handled under a Capital Cost Recovery District agreement made by the city and county governments in 2007.
City and county officials have held one recent meeting over this issue and had further phone conversations, Cheshire said Wednesday.
"I'd like the document to be revisited and revised a little bit and then taken back in front of both boards to make sure that everybody is in agreement with what we're doing," he said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.