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Subdivision on greenway approved
Council members vote 3-1, express continued concern
Statesboro District 5 City Councilman Derek Duke

Statesboro City Council voted 3-1 approval Tuesday for a zoning map amendment allowing a 119-apartment, approximately 261-bed housing complex to be built beside the S&S Greenway, Bulloch County’s paved pedestrian and cycling trail.

But having heard previously from Greenway users concerned about development encroaching on the trail and additional traffic affecting safety, council members on both sides talked about future protections for the trail. Within the city limits, the Greenway is in Councilman Derek Duke’s district, District 5, and Duke serves on the Bulloch County Planning and Zoning Commission, which is separate from the city’s own Planning Commission.

“I want to make sure that the public understands that the Greenway, its preservation and protection and improvement, is something that we take very seriously,” Duke, a retired airline and military pilot, said Tuesday. “I am blessed to have traveled somewhat. I’ve seen cities in Europe with fabulous designs. Here in Statesboro with our trails, our parks and the Greenway, we’re doing a good job.”

But Duke presented City Council’s choice as being either to approve the change to Planned Unit Development, or PUD, zoning for the 19.2-acre Windward South project, with the conditions agreed to by the developers, or let the tract be developed under the existing zoning with no conditions. Until Tuesday’s approved change, the property to be developed by applicant David Pearce and others was zoned R-8 and R-10, for compact 8,000 and 10,000-square-foot residential lots. About 90 single-family homes could have been built there without a zoning change, city Planning and Development Director Frank Neal said previously.

“We’ll just have to move forward with mitigating the traffic impact on the Greenway as best we can, but we cannot condemn the land,” Duke said. “There is going to be development on that particular plat. I happen to prefer the planned development where we have a good buffer, with a berm that’s going to really almost make it disappear.”

He had Neal review requirements placed on the zoning change by the city planning staff and in negotiations between Pearce and the project’s critics. These include a new landscape plan to be approved by city staff, five feet of additional buffer for a total 35-foot buffer between the subdivision and the trail, construction of three planted berms, each 40 feet long and with a surface 1.5 feet high, and installation of two stop signs on the trail where the entrance drive crosses, at the developers’ expense. The city staff also specified that the site plan designate the units for fee-simple sale. However, this will not ensure owner-occupancy, as Pearce told the council Tuesday that the developers plan to maintain ownership of 51 percent to 100 percent of units in order to maintain control of the homeowners association.


The Greenway

Owned by Bulloch County and maintained by Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation, the S&S Greenway is currently a 2.5-mile paved path between two trailheads with parking lots and restrooms.

From the trailhead at Gentilly Road, the Greenway runs by itself, not beside a street, for the first mile, passing through a wooden area, behind the Statesboro Crossing shopping center and through a tunnel under Veterans Memorial Parkway.

After another short patch of woods it intersects Cawana Road, and new development is occurring in the fields beyond Cawana. There, for about 1.5 miles to the Pretoria-Rushing Road trailhead, the paved path runs parallel to S&S Railroad Bed Road, a divided two-lane street. In this stretch the Beacon Place housing complex is already built, and the council in May approved a zoning change allowing construction of a CrossFit commercial gym.

City staff members also required that CrossFit and Windward South share one entrance cut across the trail.        

At the previous meeting, Sept. 18, where the mayor and council held their second public hearing on the Windward South zoning request, Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation Director Mike Rollins told the council that no traffic study had been done for the Greenway when it was planned. Duke had then suggested that the city might approve the zoning change for this project but place a moratorium on further development until a study could be done and an alternate route planned to take vehicle traffic away from the trail.

However, the only action at the Sept. 18 meeting had been a motion from District 4 Councilman John Riggs to approve the zoning change. That motion failed for lack of a second, leaving the zoning request open for Tuesday’s new motion and vote. Riggs was absent, resulting in a four-member council.


Traffic study

“It has been made mention that there was not a traffic study,” Duke said Tuesday. “That is incorrect. There has been a traffic study.”

Public Works and Engineering Director Jason Boyles described a study the city commissioned from Wolverton and Associates in 2015. It did not focus on the Greenway but on the entire “capital cost recovery district” from Veterans Memorial Parkway out to Pretoria-Rushing Road and Burkhalter Road, he said.

If approximately 35 percent of parcels in the area are developed to capacity, “level of service” would begin to be affected on Cawana Road, on S&S Railroad Bed Road and at Brannen Street, Boyles summarized from the study.

“Then it would take some significant high-density development to start pushing S&S Railroad Bed Road over some thresholds that require additional improvements,” Boyles said.

After the council’s Aug. 21 and Sept. 18 hearings and the Zoning Commission’s 5-0 vote Aug. 7 recommending approval, no further hearing was slated Tuesday. But Mayor Jonathan McCollar offered to let one representative of the opposition speak briefly.

“The reality is the traffic out there is crazy already, and I would ask you all to go there and witness it for yourselves at the times when people are moving,” was one of the things trail user Robert Costomiris said.

We have a crossover at Cawana, we now have a crossover at CrossFit, and the way the Greenway is laid out we’ll end up with one, two, three more crossovers if all that property develops.
Statesboro City Councilman Phil Boyum

A 3-1 vote

Duke made the motion to approve, and District 2 Councilman Sam Lee Jones eventually seconded it. But District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum said he was concerned about the number of vehicle crossover points on the trail.

“We have a crossover at Cawana, we now have a crossover at CrossFit, and the way the Greenway is laid out we’ll end up with one, two, three more crossovers if all that property develops,” Boyum said.

Earlier in the meeting, Duke had said a “task force” on the Greenway started discussions Friday. In fact, the group included City Manager Randy Wetmore, County Manager Tom Couch, Rollins and other city and county staff members only. But Duke said that concerned citizens will be added.

He held a rolled-up plan for redesign of S&S Railroad Bed Road. He suggested turning the traffic lane nearest the trail into a bike lane and widening the other lane to create a two-lane street.

But Boyum noted that this would have drivers cross both the bike lane and the trail. He suggested a delay to work with the county on a plan to “create a Greenway that separates cars from pedestrians.”

“By doing that, we will create a park that has long-lasting value, and I think that will not only benefit the developers, it will benefit the city and it will benefit the county,” Boyum said. “So my suggestion is that we don’t rush into this vote because, I’ll be honest with you, at this point with the amount of crossovers I’ll be inclined to vote  against it.”

He did cast the one “no” vote.

After the meeting, Duke said he wants the task force to consider rerouting the trail to the opposite side of S&S Railroad Bed Road, where there are no developments with crossings.


Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458

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