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Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield admitted he made a mistake three weeks ago in his handling of the rezoning for the Gateway at Rossville. Monday, the community heard from the developer about how it plans to address their concerns.

Just weeks after Walker County, Georgia, residents marched down Main Street in LaFayette to the courthouse to call for the resignation of commission Chairman Shannon Whitfield, who they claimed illegally rezoned property related to the proposed Gateway at Rossville affordable workforce housing development, the county held a town hall meeting to address "inaccurate information" being spread about the project.

Josh Mandell, president and chief operating officer at the Gateway Cos., the developer, was present to answer questions and address traffic and safety concerns that some locals expressed at a meeting nearly three weeks ago.

According to Mandell, the project as proposed would build a 156-unit family apartment complex on Happy Valley Road across from Ridgeland High School. The complex would include multiple three-story buildings to include 18 one-bedroom units, 90 two-bedroom units and 48 three-bedroom units. There would also be a covered pavilion, playground, computer center, exercise room, swimming pool and a dog park on-site.

(READ MORE: Walker County residents call for resignation of Commissioner Shannon Whitfield)

Credit and criminal background checks would be performed on any and all tenants, Mandell said, and he said the complex would not include low-income housing units, a rumor he said he'd heard repeated around town in recent weeks after it was stated incorrectly at a previous meeting.

"The property is going to be for families in the workforce, and the rental rates are structured to be affordable for households in the $26,055 to $47,100 income range," Mandell said. "This will not be a low-income or Section 8 community."

Gateway Cos. expects rental rates for individual units would be $750-$760 for a one-bedroom, $900-$910 for a two-bedroom, and $1,050 for a three-bedroom unit, he said. The average residence size would be around 1,000 square feet.

In regard to traffic near the Ridgeland High intersection, Mandell said a traffic study has been completed and revealed "normal things that will have to be done, as with any kind of real estate development investment" but otherwise showed no reason for concern. Asked whether the study accounted for a decrease in traffic due to COVID-19 and the increase that could come once the pandemic ends, he said the traffic engineer hired by Gateway Cos. would have accounted for that in the assessment.

"The study came back very favorable about this project's impact. It very clearly reflects that we can make any needed enhancements ourselves," Mandell said. "We're not asking for dollars from local officials to handle any of it. We're going to address any issues ourselves, and we think those problems should be very manageable."

Mandell did not elaborate on what the potential issues might be, and he did not respond to calls for comment on Tuesday. The specifics of what would be done to mitigate any potential traffic problems in the area would be detailed in building permits later if the project moves forward, he said.

Some residents at the meeting said they did not believe it should be allowed to move forward at all, given the controversy around the rezoning of the 19-acre parcel the project would sit on. Mandell said he thought the rezoning was valid and that the Gateway Cos. wanted to see the development through.

"We believe this was a valid rezoning, and we think that it was done properly, but we also think that if we are going to play the long game here, we ought to do this in a way that is the most open and friendly and best-foot-forward way that we can because we want to be in this community for a long time. We take a lot of pride in our reputation. That's why we are here," he said.

Three weeks ago, Whitfield admitted he made a mistake when he approved the rezoning of the land for the project from agricultural and commercial to residential without properly holding the second of two required public meetings related to the request. It was, he said, an advertising mistake.

In order for the rezoning to be approved, two public hearings were required. The first was held Feb. 20 at the monthly planning commission hearing, and a second was scheduled for Feb. 27. The second meeting was tabled at the request of the developer. Last October, an informational meeting related to the project was held instead.

More than 40 people were present, Whitfield said, and discussed traffic concerns related to the rezoning for more than an hour. The meeting was not, however, advertised as a public meeting as required by local zoning ordinances. Whitfield later signed and approved the rezoning request as the sole commissioner on Nov. 12.

Because of that mistake, the project has started over again from the beginning of the rezoning process. The first reading for the rezoning is set for Thursday and a second reading will follow on Oct. 14.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.

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