CONYERS -- The Conyers-Rockdale Planning Commission voted to defer a recommendation on rezoning for a large, mixed-use development in the city of Conyers after a number of residents spoke in opposition and said they didn't have enough information about the development.
Six residents spoke against the rezoning requested by Four A International LLC at the Thursday night meeting, though many more indicated their opposition from the packed room at the Rockdale Assembly Hall. The impact on schools, traffic congestion and other impacts on infrastructure were among their concerns. In addition, residents indicated they had little knowledge of the project and what it would entail.
The Conyers Department of Planning and Inspection Services recommended approval of the rezoning petition, but Planning Commission members said they hadn't had time to review a list of amended conditions presented by the planning department just prior to the meeting. Those amended conditions were worked out between the city and Four A International following a Community Development Committee meeting Wednesday. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to defer a decision on the matter for 60 days, until the July 11 meeting.
The issue will be brought before the Conyers City Council for a public hearing at its regular meeting Wednesday, May 15, 7 p.m. at City Hall.
The proposed development, located south of Interstate 20 and bounded by Flat Shoals Road, Johnson Road and Iris Drive, is part of a larger 490-acre tract owned by Four A International. The project, which was first announced in June 2012, is billed as a walkable community offering a mix of residential, commercial and recreational uses. A YMCA has been proposed as one component of the development.
David Roper, asset manager for Four A International, said the developer envisions the project as a "walkable, human-scale community" that serves people at all stages of their lives.
Four A has owned the property for more than 20 years and has already developed the Village at Almand Creek apartments and the Corner Market, a retail center, at the corner of Flat Shoals and Parker roads.
The property is currently zoned General Business District with conditions; Four A is asking to rezone the land to mixed-use development and is also asking to amend the city's Comprehensive Land Use Plan from General Commercial to Special Mixed-Use Activity Center.
City planner J.P. Alexander pointed out that the property was intended as the site of a regional shopping mall in the early 1980s. He said the property's current zoning would still allow for that use.
In discussion of the project, Alexander said that it would increase traffic significantly but that developers plan to work with the city to coordinate traffic improvements. He said that the developer will be responsible for constructing all internal streets and sidewalks. Outside the development, Alexander said significant improvements will be needed on Iris Drive and Johnson Road, including deceleration lanes, turning lanes curbing and drainage, all of which would be paid for by the developer. Alexander said widening Johnson Road to four lanes is already in the Rockdale County transportation plan.
The scope of the project is huge, with plans for more than 300,000 square feet of retail space, more than 200,000 square feet of office space and a total of 1,451 housing units -- 726 single-family detached; 290 townhomes; and 435 multi-family units. The project would be developed in five phases or districts, with District I along Iris Drive having the most retail and commercial space. District II would be primarily multi-family, with Districts III and IV primarily single-family residences. District V will be mostly greenspace. Developers have indicated that build-out could take as long as 20 years.
Because of the size if the project it was reviewed by the Atlanta Regional Commission as a Development of Regional Impact. ARC found that the project is in the best interest of the region, and therefore, of the state. According to information submitted in the DRI package, the estimated value of the project at build-out is $325 million, with estimated annual local tax revenues (property tax and sales tax) of $8.2 million.
At Thursday night's Planning Commission meeting, resident Ruby Henderson was the first to speak against the project.
"This sounds like a large project," she said. "I'm wondering how it affects our schools, being that we have an apartment complex coming in."
The build-out timeline was also a concern for Henderson.
"I live on Flat Shoals Road," she said. "I don't want anyone building for 20 years on my street."
Carol Henderson, who said she has lived in the area for 21 years, said she was opposed to the mixed-use zoning.
"Mixed-use opens the door for a lot of things ... we don't know where it is going to end," she said.
Other concerns were expressed about the future of the development if the current owner fails to complete the project and property value depreciation.
Planning Commission Vice Chairman Chuck Russell, who presided over the meeting in the absence of Chairman Allan Jones, said he felt more should be done to communicate with area residents.
"What have you done to get this information out to the residents?" Russell asked Four A representatives.
"Nothing!" members of the audience shouted in reply.
Four A announced Friday it is planning a couple of open houses at Corner Market to provide residents with more information about the proposed development. Details will be announced and posted on the NewChoicesForConyers.com website as dates and times are finalized.Russell also said he felt rushed by the fact that the commission received the amended conditions from the city Thursday night.
"I would rather have what you are proposing than a Stonecrest ... " he said. "I just need to be warm and fuzzy about it, and right now I'm not."
Marvin Flanigan, director of the city's planning department, suggested that the developer "be in touch with surrounding property owners ... to set a meeting time or some sort of information meeting to explain to the general public exactly what they are trying to do in this community."
At the city's Community Development Committee meeting Wednesday, City Councilman John Fountain had said it is important to be mindful of the impact of a development this size.
"The questions in advance of development will center around the multi-family issues that are there," he said. "We need to look and see that the revenue that the municipality is going to gain is going to cover the cost of services for those folks."
Fountain added that the development's impact will be relative to the size of the small Rockdale community.
"A development this size will have a huge impact here," he said. "Whereas in big cities we can afford to have mistakes made, we really can't afford to have mistakes made; we have to get it right the first time."
According to a company website, Four A International is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Al Batha Group. Headquartered in the United Arab Emirates, the Al Batha Group has some 4,500 employees working in 20 different companies specializing manufacturing, engineering, distribution, construction, training and printing.