Rental properties a concern at Bluegrass Place development in North Augusta

·4 min read

Jun. 17—Several development tracts in North Augusta were discussed at the city's monthly planning commission meeting June 15.

The meeting is one of the first since the city of North Augusta passed its comprehensive plan on future development. The plan focuses on growth and purposeful development inside of city limits on properties like Bluegrass Place, Highland Springs and River North.

Bluegrass Place, formerly known as the Mealing Tract, is a 53-acre property that was introduced to North Augusta Planning Commission in August 2021 for mixed use development including apartments, senior living, retail and single-family homes.

Developers requested a change to the status of two tracts of land within the development from privately-owned lots of single-family detached and attached homes to rentals, and the planning commission approved it.

The commissioners were largely divided during discussion on a management company owning rental homes in the development. Commission chair Dr. Christine Crawford, the lone person to vote against the recommendation, felt that it further contributed to the current affordable housing crisis experienced across the country.

"This project looked very different when we looked at it as apartments and being truly mixed use as what it felt like, it now feels like a very large rental complex, which could also be sold off into large portions," Crawford said. "I know the demand for housing has changed... it was an argument that was true when this came before us a couple of months ago as well. Trends were in place, interest rates were not, but overall trends were not that different."

Commissioners Tim Key and Bob Bigger agreed, swaying their initial feelings toward the development project.

"I would agree. I had a vision in my head of what this was going to be and this is not it," Key said. "... I am not here to tell somebody how to use their property and for the other point, I think the market is changing. What we have experienced in the last six months, interest hikes, I don't know if there is an affordable home in these United States based on interest going up."

"I am a little discouraged, but just trying to figure out how I feel about the change from the single family lots being available for purchase by single families to being corporate owned," Bigger said. "Part of the problem we are seeing with housing being unaffordable and the rising housing prices are all the corporate and hedge fund ownership of single family residences these days and what we got here is all being controlled by a single entity, which has its benefits. I will certainly agree that having someone to do all the common area maintenance has its advantages, but when you lose the market flexibility, the owner has 52 empty houses, he will lower the price to the market."

Commission Vice Chair JoAnn McKie said she felt that a management company overseeing rentals could increase the cohesiveness of the neighborhood.

"I don't think it's against the rules to have rentals so if that's what they want to do and it fails them, they are going to figure out how to get out of the sinking pond themselves," McKie said. "...To me, when he threw out that somebody was going to maintain all of the yards on those houses, I thought well there you go. They are going to be kept up and that is better than some of the owners in town."

The commissioners also discussed a new road entrance into Bluegrass Place off East Martintown Road allowing access to commercial businesses. The final vote toward a city council recommendation was 6-1 with a condition that a privacy fence is added to the back side of the apartment complex planned for the property placed near North Augusta Elementary School.

Highland Springs

Additionally, the Highland Springs development, located off the Palmetto Parkway, also saw significant changes to its originally presented plan with reduced housing within the 1,300-acre property.

The original general development plan passed in March 2001, and the concept plan was brought to the commission over two decades later. It had an initial maximum of 7,900 units. Under the new plan, a 37% reduction of mixed housing will be built at a maximum of 5,000 units.

The sprawling property will also feature eight new entrances, primarily located off Sudlow Lake Road, U.S. Highway 25 connectors and Belvedere-Clearwater Road.

The plan would include light industrial, commercial, multi-family and single family housing on seven tracts of land developed and rolled out in 25 phases.

The Highland Springs development passed its unanimous recommendation to city council on the approval changes.

River North

Lastly, River North, one of the subdivisions located along the Savannah River, also presented an updated subdivision plan for 57 single-family detached homes based on a road approval for Phase Four.

Developers of Phase Four plan to connect the subdivision through Rivernorth Drive. The site resides in a floodplain along the river requiring the US Corps of Engineers wetlands delineation.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend the revisions from the 2021 plan of River North.

Samantha Winn covers the city of North Augusta, with a focus on government and community oriented business. Follow her on Twitter: @samanthamwinn and on Facebook and Instagram: @swinnnews.