Griffin BoC to consider compromise in Camellia Hill rezoning request

Developers are seeking rezoning of the property located at 670 S. Hill St., known locally as Camelia Hill. If the city staff recommendation is approved, 12 homes would be constructed on the 4.296-acre lot. Photo credit: Sheila Mathews


SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

Griffin officials and at least one resident have proposed compromises with developers seeking a rezoning request that would permit the construction of 15 houses on an approximately four-acre lot on South Hill Street.

If approved, the request would see the property at 670 S. Hill St. – known locally as Camellia Hill – rezoned from low density residential (LDR) to medium density residential (MDR).

Under the current zoning, the developers, Lance Toland Sr. and his son, Lance Toland Jr., would be permitted to build eight homes on half-acre lots on the 4.296 property. Under their proposal, they would construct 15 residences on quarter-acre lots with a cul-de-sac for ingress and egress.

Griffin Development Services Department Director Chad Jacobs at the Aug. 17 meeting of the city’s Planning and Zoning Board presented the city staff recommendation that would grant conditional rezoning approval.

Rather than the proposed 15 homes, the developers would be permitted to construct 12 residences – four each at 1,800, 2,050 and 2,200-square-feet.

The additional conditions applicable to the rezoning approval would include certain property development and construction design requirements, stormwater retention and landscaping requirements that must meet city staff approval.

Planning and Zoning Board members voted unanimously to deny the rezoning request, and it will on Tuesday, Aug. 25 be presented to the Griffin Board of Commissioners.

According to City Manager Kenny Smith, despite the Planning and Zoning Board denial, city staff will still recommend commissioners approve the rezoning.

“The Planning and Zoning Board can and does make a recommendation to the commission, but that doesn’t change the staff recommendation,” Smith said.

When asked if he supports the proposed Camellia Hill development, Smith said, “Well, I’m not necessarily supporting the project. I’m looking out for what’s best for the city. It’s not about whether or not I support the development.”

Smith went on to say that what is best for the city of Griffin includes “balancing a property owner’s rights to develop his own property and what’s in the best interest of the city and the neighborhood in which the rezoning is to take place.”

The city of Griffin cannot “unduly deprive” a property owner from developing his property unless it can be shown the development would not be in the “best interest of the city.”

Asked if he views as a compromise the staff recommendation of conditional approval to build 12 homes, Smith said, “Under the circumstances, I do. Yes.”

He described as a “telling factor” the fact that under MDR zoning, the minimum lot size is one-quarter acre.

“A large, large number of the current lot sizes over there are one-fourth to one-third acre, so this development of one-fourth acre is not unusual for that neighborhood at all,” he said. “In fact, there is a cul-de-sac development just adjacent to this property that has dwellings in that cul-de-sac that are on one-fourth to one-third of an acre. So, what we’re trying to balance is allowing a property owner to develop in line with what’s already there. That’s just an example of the things that we have to look at to build our case about what’s reasonable and what’s not reasonable.”

The quality of the homes and other factors such as the cul-de-sac are other factors city officials cite in the effort to compromise with the Tolands.

“Current zoning would allow eight houses with eight separate driveways. The idea of one cul-de-sac street is certainly more attractive than eight separate driveways off that street,” he said. “Again, keep in mind that staff recommendations come with conditions.”

Existing zoning would permit the construction of eight 1,800-square-foot homes without the conditions the city is proposing regarding the type of structure, layout and building materials.

“Another condition was the vegetation buffer – that type of stuff where currently, someone could just go in there and clear cut it,” Smith said.  So, we always try to put conditions in there if the developer is willing to work with us. That’s part of the balancing act.”

Smith contends that if permitted to build only eight homes, the property owners would have to construct “a lesser-quality home” to make a profit.

“That’s what the city is trying to avoid. The city doesn’t want lesser quality. The city wants higher quality. The city would rather have 12 higher quality homes rather than eight builder’s grade with eight driveways and clear cut,” Smith said. “We feel like that’s a proper balance. We couldn’t go with 15, but again, we’re trying to balance. What we feel is best is 12 higher quality homes on a cul-de-sac rather than eight individual driveway homes, but that’s just our opinion.”

However, based on public statements made by Lance Toland Jr. and Griffin resident Kenneth Moore, it is uncertain if a compromise is likely.

In addressing the Planning and Zoning Board, Toland Jr. said the planned development would be comprised of homes that would be priced from the mid-$300s to low-$400s.

“The style is a craftsman bungalow which is consistent with the neighborhood and consistent with the square footage of the houses in the neighborhood,” he said, later adding, “It will be maintained by an HOA (home owner’s association).”

Planning and Zoning Board member Joanne Todd asked why the proposal called for 15 homes.

“The project is feasible at that number,” said Toland Jr. “I looked at putting, say, 30 units on there, but I chose to go with a medium density project, and 15 is the sweet spot where everyone lands. We believe it will be an improvement for the neighborhood and spur new quality development for Griffin.”

Board member Rebekah Betsill-Twilley later asked, “If you can’t build 15 houses and you can’t build 12, do you still intend to build eight?”
Toland Jr. replied, “Probably not. Those numbers don’t work at eight.”

Kenneth Moore, a lifelong Griffin resident and architect who has served on the Griffin Historic Preservation Commission and as a past board member of the Griffin-Spalding Historical Society, later addressed the board to express his opposition to the rezoning request.

“As much as I love Camellia Hill and would love to see that preserved, he has a right to his property. He purchased it and if he wants to tear it down, as much as I’d hate that, he has a right to do it,” Moore said before addressing several points of contention involving the Unified Development Code.

Moore contended, “The intent of the medium density residential is to serve as a transition between low density residential and high density residential. There’s no high density anywhere in the area, so this would be spot zoning.”
He also contended that reaching a compromise with developers did not appear a viable option.

“The developer has intentionally chosen not to mitigate any of the numerous negative impacts to the surrounding properties or neighborhood. I personally contacted Mr. Toland Sr., not Junior, yesterday to discuss this proposal and offered up a solution. As being an architect, I like to solve problems. I saw the great divide between the two; I was looking for a solution that everybody could be in agreement with,” Moore said. “I actually came up with a solution – I’m willing to share it if y’all are ever interested – I came up with a solution which I believe has the support of city staff and key persons of the neighborhood. Upon meeting with Mr. Toland this morning, I was told that any option to provide less than 15 houses on the four-acre lot was not an economically viable solution to him. I was told on multiple occasions that he is in this just for the money, even referring to the Milner development as horse expletive. It is obvious that he has no interest in mitigating any negative aspects that his project creates. He’s only in it for the money and what he can get out of it with no attention for how the community feels.”

The GRIP sought comment from Toland Jr., but he initially declined stating, “We want to keep it under wraps for now.”
A third party later contacted Publisher Sheila Mathews, stating Toland Jr. was willing to be interviewed.

When Mathews reached out to Toland Jr., he first said, “Sure. I’m willing to be totally transparent with these myopic people in Griffin.”

Ultimately, however, Toland Jr. opted not to grant an interview.

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