Fayette rezones on Ebenezer but not as developers asked

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Rousseau votes for higher density; Ognio, Barlow and Oddo go for lower density

A group of local developers saw their property rezoned by the Fayette County Board of Commissioners last week, but not in the way they hoped.

The board voted at its May 12 regular meeting to grant an R-70 rezoning to a 26.9-acre tract fronting on Ebenezer Road.

The applicant planned to develop 20 residential lots on the property and sought the R-50 zoning category, which would have allowed one-acre lots, while R-70 requires two-acre lot minimums.

The R-70 zoning was recommended previously by the Fayette County Planning Commission by a 3-2 vote. The commissioners’ vote was 3-1 with Commissioner Charles Rousseau voting against and Commissioner Steve Brown absent from the meeting.

Proponents of the plan argued that the land-use plan allows for the requested zoning and properties in the immediate area already meet that standard as well. They said the two-acre lot standard is out of touch with the current market and not financially viable for this project.

“We don’t represent consumers; we represent citizens,” responded Commissioner Randy Ognio, who made the motion for the R-70 zoning. He added that he had gotten a lot of email from citizens against the plan and the road structure is not set up for the kind of traffic it would produce.

Ognio acknowledged that the site backs up to another tract zoned R-40 but said, “Once you approve one, here they come.”

Rousseau [pictured at left] took issue with the fact that the land-use plan approves the proposal and said that if the county wants to keep low density in that area some changes will need to be made “so we don’t go through this every time.”

“Everyone is right,” he said. “The land use plan says it’s OK and the infrastructure is there.”

Commissioner David Barlow noted that the home builders designated for the subdivision, Trademark Quality Homes, has an excellent reputation and would likely put together a good product, but he would not vote against the recommendation of the Planning Commission.

Chairman Charles Oddo called it “a situation where neither way is wrong.” He said that approval of the plan would likely set a precedent, while the area seems to be suited for lower density.

“We have to conform to the area,” said Oddo, adding that the county has traditionally kept higher density in the cities and lower density in the unincorporated county. A statement from Brown advocating for continued low density in the area was read into the record.

A representative of Moore Bass Consulting told the board that the plan was to have 20 lots with new streets and one new driveway access to Ebenezer Road. He pointed out that one adjacent site is already zoned R-40.

One developer, who was not listed on the petition but said he was a 50-percent partner, recounted a number of communities he had helped develop in his three decades in Fayette County and said this proposed subdivision would “be asset to the county.”

He said that in talking to adjoining landowners he learned their biggest concern was home values and not lot size, and that many who purchased homes in recent years have seen their property values increase because of the land-use plan. The homes in the subdivision were expected to be in the 400s to 600s price range.

The developer produced signed petitions in favor of the development and asked for a show of hands from those in the audience who supported it.

Another representative spent several minutes advocating for the zoning change and producing data to support his argument. He said the existing infrastructure, such as an 18-inch water main and planned highway improvements in the area that would support higher density, are “more than capable of supporting this.” He added that Fayette County High School has capacity and the local fire department is nearby.

Noting that R-40 zoning is 1,600 feet down the street and the developments actually touch each other, he said surrounding rezoning decisions have already set a precedent.

“The two-acre concept is just out of favor with the market today,” he said. “A lot of the mentality in this area is, ‘I’m here; close the door after I get here.’”

A mile away sits a development of one-acre lots that he said claims to be the best-selling neighborhood in the county two years in a row. “I like to think this is common sense,” he said. “People want one-acre lots.”

Not everyone in the area agrees with that assessment.

The first to speak in opposition to the proposal said that just because it is technically permissible doesn’t mean it should be approved. “Here in Fayette County we never accept the minimum,” he said. “As soon as we allow the first developer to come in there, every other lot on that road will be at the one-acre minimum. I don’t think that is the intent of the land-use plan. Let’s hold the developer to a higher standard.”

Another opponent said a rezoning that allows one-acre lots would “open up the Wild West” and that if the county wanted that kind of density there it would have installed sewer.

Local resident Dennis Chase raised environmental concerns, particularly the potential for stormwater runoff issues stemming from the increased impervious surface that 20 lots would bring. He noted that the county just paid a lot of money to correct those issues in the Brittany Way subdivision, and he thinks anything above 12 lots here would make the impervious surface amount too extreme.

One representative of the developers suggested a compromise at R-55, with one-acre lot minimums but higher square footage and setback requirements. The board elected to stick with the Planning Commission’s recommendation. There was no comment from the developers as to how they would proceed under R-70 zoning.