Plans for a more than 400-acre mixed-use subdivision south of Cohutta, Georgia, took another step forward with the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners' approval of a zoning change for the property.
At Monday's meeting, multiple Whitfield County residents spoke against the rezoning - citing concerns about the strain on resources and how the development will destroy the rural character of the area. The zoning change was approved 3-0. Commissioner Barry Robbins was absent, and Commission Chairman Jevin Jensen only votes in case of a tie.
The development, named Camden Farms, is planned to have more than 1,100 homes, including 900 single-family homes and 300 triplexes and fourplexes, Dave Canter, one of the owners of Three Point Development, said in a phone interview in January. The subdivision will also feature playgrounds, greenspace, a clubhouse and pool for residents, he said.
Canter said there is a home shortage in Whitfield County - a sentiment often stated by Jensen. Commissioner John Thomas mentioned the same thing at Monday's meeting. Commissioner Robby Staten supported the plan because it will increase the county's tax base.
The subdivision will be built in phases over eight to 10 years, Canter said, with the first batch of houses ready for new residents in mid-to-late 2023. Canter could not be reached for an interview Friday.
Matt Coker, reading from a statement at the commission meeting, said the homes being built are priced around $300,000, while the average home price in Georgia is about $250,000, according to online real estate listing company Zillow.
"The board would have the residents believe Camden Development is for all the young folks looking to become first-time homebuyers," Coker said. "If this were true, the starting cost of homes would not be $300,000-plus. These developments are not being developed for locals, but rather the influx of people fleeing blue cities who have sold overpriced properties and are able to purchase rural property at an inflated rate."
Also in his testimony at the meeting, Coker quoted from a Forbes article that listed the top states people are fleeing: California, New York and Illinois. The top states where those people are relocating are Texas, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Nevada, Maine, Delaware and Idaho, he said.
Zoning for the property at 4616 Cleveland Highway was changed from low density single family residential to planned unit development. A planned unit development is a zoning tool that allows the reduction of individual lot sizes below the minimum allowed if the development is "substantially in accord with the goals and objectives of the comprehensive plan," according to Georgia planning codes.
In January, the commission approved spending $900,000 for a 3-mile-long sewer to the subdivision's property, with an additional $20.3 million for the project coming from the federal American Rescue Plan as benchmarks are reached in the development.
(READ MORE: Sewer line extension approved for 1,100-home Whitfield County development)
If the rezoning is not approved, Coker said, the developers would not be able to "build the type of high-density housing that we do not want." Big developments come with big infrastructure costs that he said typically fall on taxpayers, he said, noting that local land taxes have recently been increased.
Mary Smith lives in Cohutta, directly across from the proposed development, she said. The new development will put a strain on schools, postal service and the county's water supply. Increased traffic and congestion is also a concern for her, Smith said.
(READ MORE: Dalton, Georgia, Hispanic business incubator seeking applicants and more business news)
Carol Matthews said she and her husband chose to live in Cohutta because of its rural setting. As a resident for two years, she said she thinks the new development will be too much of a strain on local infrastructure.
During a drought in 2005, Whitfield County had water rationing, and other Northwest Georgia counties were forced to buy water from Chattanooga.
"If we bring in all this influx of people, suddenly, in these small, little compound areas," she said, "what happens the next time we have a bad drought?"
Contact Andrew Wilkins at email@example.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.