After some debate, the Hamilton County Commission voted to deny a special exception permit for a planned apartment complex in Sale Creek.
The controversy surrounded being able to develop apartments on the property which may not have the septic capabilities to handle that. Commissioners Warren Mackey and David Sharpe were both proponents of the development, citing the need for housing as the Sale Creek area and Hamilton County as a whole continues to grow.
“You’ve been doing this quite a while?” Commissioner Mackey asked John Bridger, executive director of the Regional Planning Agency. “When you have a property owner who wants to develop their own property, and in your history those who are in opposition say the same thing. That development will crowd their schools. Are there any sort of general oppositions people bring to you?”
The commissioner was referencing complaints by residents who live near the property. They told the RPA that their street would become unbearably crowded and that the street does not have the infrastructure to handle the influx of people an apartment would bring.
“There is no precedent for this zone,” Mr. Bridger responded. “That’s why staff recommended to deny, because of the precedent it would set. Staff were looking at it based on it being an R3 zone.”
“If you have a property owner and they have invested in a piece of property and feel like they have held onto it until they feel they can maximize their opportunity, isn’t it the American way to let people be capitalistic and develop their property?” Commissioner Mackey asked.
Mr. Bridger told the commissioner that as currently zoned, the developer would be able to develop the property as an A1 zone. He said the zoning process is discretionary, but that developers still have property rights if they own the property.
“I think we’re growing, but I think the question is how do we do it in a smart way,” Mr. Bridger said. “When you’re planning it, you think of your transportation, construction, sewers, and more. You want to promote more development where you have schools and transportation.”
“If a road is already crowded and neighbors say they don’t want any more cars on the street, don’t they kind of prolong the congestion in the streets before further infrastructure coming in, in the form of homes and roads?” Commissioner Mackey asked before ending his Q&A.
Applicant Alan Jones said the main concerns surround the septic lines, but he said the property has five acres of land that can be dedicated to the septic lines. He also said there are no regulations against developing on a flood plain.
“When we do our grading plan, we’re going to balance the site where we are going to not be increasing the flood plain issues in the community,” Mr. Jones said, who also noted the location is close to schools. “Rock Creek is also quite a bit further to the south, and isn’t directly bordering our property. This site is only half a mile from Sale Creek Middle and High School.”
Commissioner David Sharpe was Commissioner Mackey’s ally on this issue, and was a supporter of allowing this development.
“We can’t put on the brakes and stop it,” Commissioner Sharpe said. “I think things are in motion for great things to happen in that area of the county. We can’t let a handful of citizens holding back the county in its ability to move forward. I’m going to have to be supportive of this.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Fairbanks spoke at length about the property that resides in his district. While he too supported the idea of development, he simply thought that this plan was “at the wrong place at the wrong time,” while still agreeing Sale Creek needed more affordable housing.
“I’ve met with the owner and walked the piece of property,” Commissioner Fairbanks said. “I as much as anyone else will look forward to development in Sale Creek. The bottom line is this project is great and very much needed, but it’s in the wrong place and wrong time. The main problem I have is the low-lying area and the septic tank issue that will be satisfied with some things Commissioner Sharpe mentioned.”
“I think it’s more suited for homes to be built, rather than apartments, but that’s just an opinion of mine. I hope the builder will look to other property in Sale Creek, because it will be needed in the future. We shouldn’t let just a few stagnate growth in moving forward.”
Commissioner Mackey made one final pitch to change his co-commissioner’s minds by stating that the commission has already discussed developing in those kinds of areas before.
“We are not a socialistic state, we are a free enterprise and we want growth,” Commissioner Mackey said. “A year and a half ago, we already have had the conversation about building on steep slopes and flood plains. Let the science determine if that is going to work.
“I’m not a resident there. I’m a capitalist and I believe in growth. If a person has property, they should be able to develop it and maximize the usage of it. I can’t think of a reason why we shouldn’t. We need growth and affordable housing is in short supply in Hamilton County.”
Commissioner Tim Boyd agreed with Commissioner Fairbanks on this issue. He too supported growth and development, but did not think that property was the best place for that kind of development.
“For the last eight to 10 years, I’ve been promoting infrastructure growth for the very reasons that Commissioner Fairbanks mentioned,” Commissioner Boyd said. “I don’t know how many people are familiar with Harris County in Texas, which has no zoning.”
“Because they have no zoning, they have been developed irresponsibly and we’ve seen that in the power failure this week. A lot of our constituents in the county are talking about responsible growth, and it’s the responsibility in the commission to talk about responsible growth.”
Commissioners Mackey and Sharpe both voted to approve this project, while the other seven commissioners voted to deny.