Response to: Neighbors to Planned 708-Unit Apartment Complex Register Their Disapproval
Clarifying the Record
As a member of the large group who gathered to express their concerns about the proposed 708-unit apartment complex, I am writing to express my appreciation for and pride in our community. Our community is primarily made up of small, diverse, and unorganized neighborhoods. There has never been any organization or good communication method to address community concerns.
About five weeks ago a few of us learned about the very large apartment complex being planned on N. Hickory Valley Road. There were many questions and concerns but few answers.
In a matter of about three weeks, we organized to learn about the rezoning and quickly concluded that most community residents (who were aware of the plans) were opposed. Unfortunately, too many were and are still unaware. Plus, among those who had heard about it, there was confusion as the required zoning notice signs were removed and site work started on an adjoining parcel. Many thought that work on the apartments had begun, which was a major obstacle in our efforts to oppose the rezoning.
Illogically, the applicant’s representative (Mike Price) made a very strong insinuation during the commission meeting that “opponents often remove the signs”. Why would a group wanting to inform the community about the rezoning remove signs announcing the rezoning?
Despite the hurdles, we have been able to inform and educate many without a budget or formal structure. It’s simply people, many of whom did not know each other previously, working together.
We now have a website, www.58neighbors.com, with an on-line petition developed by local residents. Change.org was not used for the petition because we wanted to maintain a local focus.
Through word of mouth, distribution of flyers, working at the two local polling places on election day, and social media, we have over 800 local signatures on the petition with the number growing. Mr. Price’s careless statement about petitions on change.org with signatures from Sarasota, Fl. by people who always oppose something were incorrect and inappropriate.
At the commission meeting Mr. Price seemed to be caught off guard by the level of opposition. But there had been no communication with the community to learn what we were thinking, other than one meeting organized and hosted by Commissioner Highlander about a month ago. Even though many did not hear about Mr. Highlander’s meeting, about 150 people attended and expressed their opposition. To our knowledge, neither the developer nor his representatives made any attempt to follow up with the group during the next month.
The only significant commitment made during Commissioner Highlander’s meeting was that the applicant would obtain a traffic study, which had already been mandated by the Regional Planning Authority and the Regional Planning Commission. From the applicant’s presentation before the county commission, one would have thought that the traffic study had been completed and submitted to the county engineers. Fortunately, County Engineer Todd Leaman set the record straight by stating the study is in “draft form”. To use another word, incomplete.
Regardless of the status, traffic studies funded by developers are probably closer “to the bare minimum than to the gold standard” for roads and streets. Hopefully our county, city, and state engineers have standards higher than the “bare minimum”.
Our community has serious safety concerns related to the proposed development. In addition to the obvious traffic issues, there are issues with the major natural gas pipeline running through the property and its suitability in a densely populated area. There are also buildings within the complex with well over 200 units having only one access/exit point. Most likely the current site plan does not meet code, especially given the regulations when a major, high-pressure gas pipeline is present.
Mr. Price downplayed the pipeline and dismissively said, “We deal with gas easements all the time.” Further, he said that the gas pipeline company has not raised any objections to the development plan. Please note, Mr. Price did not state that he had notified or discussed the plans with the pipeline operator. And if they don’t know about the plans, it would be a great surprise if they had raised an objection.
In summary, here are a few points of clarification:
The applicant/developer is responsible for posting and keeping the zoning notice signs posted until the zoning determination is made by the county commission. He didn’t.
The applicant/developer is responsible for calling a community meeting to communicate his plans and listen to neighbor concerns. He didn’t.
The applicant/developer had a mandate to submit a completed traffic study. He hasn’t, but wants zoning approval anyway.
The applicant/developer has the responsibility to complete and submit a site plan that meets local, state, and federal safety regulations. In our opinion, he hasn’t.
The zoning request will be approved or denied at the Aug. 17 County Commission meeting. The community has spoken loudly and trusts the commissioners have heard.
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I agree with Mr. Padgett that approval of this project would be very premature. There has been practically no direct communication with the community and many are still unaware of the plans. Others think the project has already been approved and work commenced. Clearly much more community involvement and communication from the developer is required if he sincerely wants to be a good neighbor.
The Regional Planning Agency did review the application and issued a report. The RPA report is completely or largely silent on the most important questions raised by Mr. Padgett (Soil & topography, underground transmission lines, emergency evacuation - both within the very large complex and the surrounding communities), And the RPA report didn’t even address traffic beyond saying the apartment complex would generate over 5,000 daily trips (cars) and require a developer funded traffic study, which apparently is still incomplete.
The RPA did conclude that the project complies with the outdated Comprehensive Plan; but the conclusion is certainly debatable when the same report is silent on so many issues. The project engineer stated before the county commission that the proposed 708 unit apartment complex “checked all the boxes” for locating such a development.
The RPA report literally has five boxes to check in the “Discussion of Staff Recommendation”. The RPA report can be found on the 58neighbors website. My reading of the report shows only one box checked, and that checkmark is questionable. The other four boxes are not checked, but there are comments that attempt to describe the situation. My conclusion is that the RPA did not check all the boxes.
I respectfully request the county commissioners to deny this rezoning request. And if the developer chooses to apply for rezoning again, I believe the RPA should consider and answer the questions being raised by the community before issuing a recommendation.