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Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield places his hand over his heart as the flag is raised during the grand opening of Food City's location on Mission Ridge Road on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Rossville, Ga. / Staff file photo

The Walker County Planning Commission has voted unanimously to recommend denial of a rezoning request for the Gateway at Rossville affordable workforce housing development.

The vote Thursday was the second time the commission has recommended denial of the project for land on Happy Valley Road across from Ridgeland High School.

A required second hearing was never held on the project before it was approved by Shannon Whitfield, then the county's sole commissioner.

Whitfield, now chair of the Board of Commissioners, later acknowledged his approval was a mistake, leading community members to call for his resignation last month.

The development would include a 156-unit family apartment complex featuring 18 one-bedroom units, 90 two-bedroom units and 48 three-bedroom units, as well as a covered pavilion, playground, computer center, exercise room, swimming pool and dog park.

The units would rent for $750 per month for one bedroom, $900 for two bedrooms and $1,150 for three bedrooms.

Rental rates would be structured to be affordable for households in the $26,055 to $47,100 income range, according to Josh Mandell, president and chief operating officer at the Gateway Cos., the project's developer.

Mandell also said credit and criminal background checks would be conducted on any and all prospective tenants.

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

Even so, residents of the nearby Mission Glen subdivision are concerned about the safety of their families and personal belongings, as well as the safety of children and families trying to get to and from school in the mornings should traffic increase in the area.

One resident said he had been robbed twice since moving to Mission Glen, while another said he heard gunshots every night after a multi-family development was put in behind his home.

At a meeting about the project earlier in the month, neighbor Kisha Parker said she was very worried about an "already dangerous intersection" becoming even more so.

"We've brought up several concerns that we have with that area. Nothing has been done about any of them," Parker said. "It gets ignored repeatedly, but then you pile on more housing and more traffic to that already dangerous intersection at the school. We're worried about our community and about the kids, and we're very sad that you're not doing anything about it."

A petition detailing these and similar concerns was signed by 200 Walker County residents and presented Thursday evening.

Traffic engineer Steve Meyer said a traffic study for the area showed traffic on Happy Valley Road would increase by 2.7% in the mornings and 4% in the afternoons if the complex were constructed. Mandell said that amount of increase was to be expected with a project like that one but was no cause for concern.

"The study came back very favorable about this project's impact," he said. "It very clearly reflects that we can make any needed enhancements ourselves."

(READ MORE: Town hall meeting held in Walker County for controversial Gateway at Rossville development)

Planning Commissioner Jack Mullinax cited traffic concerns as one of his reasons for recommending that the rezoning be denied and noted it was also one of the reasons he voted against the development in February when it was originally brought before the commission.

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 holding the second of two required public meetings related to the request.

He said an additional "informational meeting" had been held and attended by more than 40 community residents in October but because it was not advertised as a public meeting as required by local zoning ordinances, it did not count as the second required meeting.

When the rezoning request was brought before him in November, he believed the meeting had been advertised, and he approved it.

"I did not think about going back and looking to see if we had advertised that, so it did not get advertised. When it came on the agenda, I approved that zoning. That was a mistake," Whitfield said. "I messed up. I publicly messed up and made that mistake."

Because of that mistake, the project has started over again from the beginning of the rezoning process.

The final decision on whether to approve or deny the rezoning request will be made by the five-member Walker County Commission after a second public hearing Oct. 14.

Whitfield has previously said on the record that the county has "no financial liability at all" for the bonds it helped facilitate through the Walker County Development Authority for the Gateway project.

(READ MORE: Catoosa County Public Schools moves to new 3-week COVID schedule)

"Neither the county, the development authority nor our citizens or anyone locally has any financial liability. Worst case scenario, if everything fails, is the bond owner takes a haircut," Whitfield said.

"If it comes up that we decide not to change the zoning, then we may have some liability. That's the only way. That doesn't mean we're going to just push it through, though. That's why we want to be transparent about this process. With our board of commissioners now in place, it is important to me that we let them make the decisions on this and that we let everyone be part of the process."

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

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