Lake growth soars

Published 10:56 am Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Tammy Dunn, Montgomery Herald

A new subdivision planned for Lake Tillery has received preliminary approval from the Montgomery County Planning Board.

Located between Emerald Shores and Livingston Point, the subdivision’s plans call for 272 single family homes located on 157 acres, with common open space areas and room for future development. Lots vary in size, with each lot required to have 50 percent open space.

In 2005 this same property was once proposed for development as a golf development with 1,138 total housing units that included single-family homes, large estate lots, coach homes and eight 12-story condominium units with roof top penthouses, as well as an 18-hole golf course.

There was fierce opposition to the project at that time and developers eventually withdrew, leaving the property to sit idle until the property was purchased by Tillery Lands LLC in 2018.

Montgomery County commissioners passed an amended subdivision ordinance in 2015, which includes guidelines for Cluster/Innovative Development projects. This will allow the developers to build in areas where the terrain is steep or difficult for building upon.

Guidelines for cluster developments include a minimum lot size of 4,490 square feet, and reductions in setbacks of front yards from 30 feet to 20 feet, side yards from 10 feet to five feet, and rear-yard setbacks will remain the same.

In the motion to conditionally approve the development, planning board members Roland Connelly, Navonne Moore and Velvet Montsinger asked that only 50 percent of the lots utilize the 20 feet front-yard setback and the others use the normal 30-foot setback, which the developer, represented by Michael Sandy, agreed to. The developer has five years to submit final plat approval.

Montsinger asked if there would be a homeowner’s association. Sandy said they had to have one, at least until they have enough density, noting that the state Department of Transportation will not take over the roads, even though they will be built to state standards, until the density is there. Until that time upkeep of the roads will be the responsibility of either the developer or the homeowner’s association.

As far as a timeline goes, Sandy said they are looking to do the development in phases, noting “you can’t go in and flood the market with that number of lots at one time and expect it to take off.”

Gahagan said later he does not expect to see any final plats for review until next spring or summer at the earliest. Receiving this preliminary approval allows the developers to proceed with obtaining state permits for water/sewer installation and contacting the NCDOT for traffic impact analysis. Once the infrastructure is in place, the developer will come back to the planning board for final approval. At that point building can proceed.

Access to the subdivision is proposed to be via Emerald Shores Road, a state maintained road, and Livingston Point Road, which is a privately maintained road. Sandy did say work is being done to the Livingston Point Road to try and bring it to state standards. Water will be provided by the county and sewer by the town of Mt. Gilead.

Board member Roland Connelly asked Sandy why this development should be given special consideration in regard to setbacks.

“There are other people I know that have asked for a change in setbacks from 30 feet to 20 feet for their house or garage and it always gets denied,” Connelly said. “I don’t understand why there should be a change when other individual homeowners don’t have the same option.”

Planning director Andrew Gahagan responded, “That is simply the nature of how a variance works. We are under specific obligation to follow state laws for variances, where a lot for an individual must be a unique circumstance. This is a different administrative approval in that regard. Outside of a cluster development, approval would really be a text amendment to the entire zoning district.”

He went on to note variances are defined in that “lots have to have a truly unique hardship. Hardships that are common to the neighborhood, which is typically the reason for a denial on a front yard variance, are legally not allowed to be included.”

Connelly responded, “I heard every word you said and it makes absolutely no sense to me. And the reason I say that is because the definition of a hardship is usually just a judgment on the county’s part. That is the only thing I have heard about this whole project that troubles me tremendously is the fact of the unfairness of allowing a subdivision so that they can build houses, which I think we need…if we set a precedent like that I don’t see how if people in Emerald Shores or someplace like that, all of a sudden, four houses there, and all their setbacks are 30 feet and somebody needs a carport and they can’t build because there is a rule in place that other people don’t have to abide by. I don’t understand ‘this is an administrative issue’ and ‘this is a variance issue’; to me these are unfair statements.”

Connelly also asked about the parking situation, noting these type homes usually allow space for only two vehicles and since this is lake property people would likely need boat storage and if there were plans to include this on the property. Sandy said he expects people will use the existing businesses that already provide boat storage and may possibly be able to grow their businesses to meet the need.

Montsinger asked about parking in the event people were entertaining.

Gahagan said that would be up to the homeowner’s association until the time the roads were turned over to DOT. At that time they would be required to follow existing laws.

The board heard from a handful of local residents during the meeting. Those residents, while not happy about the potential increase in traffic on the roadways and the water, were not nearly as opposed to this project as they were to the earlier project.

One of the most vocal opponents to the prior development, Fairway Shores resident Jack Carroll, addressed the board.

“In totaling up the new developments, the one at Tillery Tradition and this one, Thistle Park, it represents a total of 900 units in 20 years,” Carroll said. “This development departs from what was previously practiced in this lake area. It is different in character, scope and scale. In comparison, it is essentially three times the number contained in Fairway Shore, Emerald Shores and Swift Island.”

Carroll went on to address the county’s land use plan and the special planning areas in that plan, asking if this development and commercial development that is sure to follow, would be guided by the plan.

Carroll specifically pointed out that he was not opposed to development, but that there should be regulations attached so landscaping and architectural features were appropriate for the area.

Carroll asked, “How are we going to support this new growth and are we going to pay attention to existing residents?”

He said there are existing demands on the sewer system and needs with the county water system. He noted the impact to Emerald Shores Road and the impact additional use will have on that road. He asked if there had been any negotiations with the developer about assisting with fire protection in the area.

Tom Garner from the Emerald Shores area said he had concerns about damage to the road and wanted assurance that the developers would repair any damage to the road. He also addressed the need for additional fire hydrants in the area and said he was surprised not to see a boat ramp designated for one of the cove areas.

“I don’t know that we can stop the development, but I don’t really feel bad for you that you have lots that are close to being unbuildable,” Mark Corey of Emerald Shores said. “You purchased the land that was your deal. I was one of the homeowners denied a variance many, many years ago. If they can’t build a house because they can’t get a variance that should not be any of our problems. He bought the property, so if you have an unbuildable lot you should have an unbuildable lot. That is the way development rolls in a lot of places. I don’t know why there is a special rule for that. That seems oddly unfair and I don’t think that is what the letter of the law would want it to mean, that they get to because they can and I can’t because I couldn’t, because I wasn’t putting in some 200 lots. I think that is completely wrong.”

He also went on to also address the lack of fire hydrants in the area and the impact that construction trucks will have on the roads, noting the damage loggers did to the road when they were clearing the property for development.

In response to the concerns about the need for additional fire hydrants, Sandy said the company would buy the materials to install three additional fire hydrants if the county would do the installation. Sandy said there would be a fire hydrant at the end of Emerald Shores Road.

There is additional land for future development in the same area.

Tammy Dunn is editor of the Montgomery Herald.