Jun. 13—VALDOSTA — Residents near James Road face uncharted territory following Valdosta City Council approving a contentious rezone along the west side of the road, both north and south of its intersection with Riverside Road.
T.W. Paine Properties and River Hill requested to rezone 8.14 acres from Planned Mixed-Use District to Neighborhood Commercial, as well as 58.73 acres from Planned Mixed-Use District to Single-Family Residential for the development of a 55-plus subdivision.
Matt Martin, city planning and zoning administrator, said the requested area has been dormant for the last 15 years due to the property being part of the northern James Road corridor in the city limits which is still dominated by mostly vacant land tied up in the Market Street's PMD zoning.
The original vision for the area, which included 1.3 million square feet of commercial development consisting of retail shopping centers with anchor tenants, hotels and restaurants, never came to fruition. The comparatively "unimaginative" base layout for the planned subdivision made the planning committee reluctant to approve, city officials said.
"Given the existing PMD master plan drawing that is still in place — albeit only conceptual, it is very unfortunate that the applicants are proposing a replacement for 1/3 of it that is so lacking — to the point that staff's initial recommendation was for denial of this request," Martin said in his report.
"However, based solely on the numbers in comparing this portion of the PMD with the applicant's proposal, and given the notion that this PMD master plan will never be developed as depicted, it is with great reluctance that staff is instead recommending approval. The only consolation is that this request is not an approval of a layout design. It is simply to reset the defunct PMD zoning on this property to a combination of R-6 and C-N instead."
The planning committee wasn't the only group hesitant about the new development. William Morgan, a resident of the interlocking Smith Street, voiced concerns regarding traffic, the character of the area and general safety.
"We're not opposed to the rezoning of this area. We're opposed to any portion of Riverside Road closing down. Think of the negative impact on Riverside and Hunter McCormick (Road). Children walk and play on that road; they consider it their yard. Modifications would be troublesome considering how narrow the infrastructure is," he said.
"We have a whole chamber full of James Road residents who don't want that. We'd consider it insensitive, even an act of bullying if you don't take this into consideration. These are livelihoods."
Morgan finalized his plea by requesting that storage units and vape shops stay out of the area; Martin reassured him that this particular rezone excludes such businesses.
Resident Jo Ann Statum echoed similar sentiments, asking council to keep fellow Hunter McCormick homeowners in mind.
"I don't have a problem with them building no homes or nothing like that. It's closing Riverside Road. Look how close the houses in the area are. We don't want all that traffic in our community. Please don't close the road off," she said.
Council member Sandra Tooley questioned Martin about whether the development would require Riverside's closure, which Martin said would be "a separate process" and what's being presented is only a concept and not final.
Paine pleaded his own case, stating the subdivision is a special place for seniors who want to downsize and enjoy their retirement, adding the city had already invested millions to support the development of James Road.
"I hear the concerns, but there are issues that are not important to the council at this time. This has nothing to do with the closing of Riverside Road. It's been 15 years already, nothing's happened, and honestly, nothing is ever going to happen with that (PMD)," he said.
Resident Steve Miller spoke in favor of the request, saying he's not going to debate about the roads but focus on what will come from the development.
"I'm here to talk about the housing shortage. This project alleviates said demand. These people that the subdivision is for don't want space or maintenance; they just want a small home," he said.
Council member Andy Gibbs questioned the petitioner about the inclusiveness of the development, mentioning that "there's a lack" of subdivision development in the city limits. Paine responded that the 55-plus age bracket would have some exceptions such as grandchildren being allowed residency but the company plans on sticking to the age requirement.
Gibbs made a motion to approve the request which was followed by unanimous approval from council. Plans for additional layout refinement as well as any final road closures will be announced at a future date.