COVINGTON — The Covington City Council made a move Monday night to try to correct 10 years of unkept promises to residents of Wildwood Subdivision.
The council unanimously denied a request by Ardent Acquisitions, seeking to develop additional lots in the subdivision, to remove previous zoning conditions including a secondary entrance.
Senior Planner Scott Gaither said the denial does not prevent Ardent from working with the fire department to come up with a remote access entry for emergency vehicles that could be gravel, without getting council approval. So the council also required that a permanent paved road be developed, including curb and gutter.
About 30 residents of Wildwood and nearby neighborhoods attended the council meeting.
Eric Threets said he worries whether the fire department can access the neighborhood in an emergency. Alan Mills, who has lived there for about a year, said a gravel road for emergency vehicle access would be a patchwork solution and not adequate from a development and safety standpoint.
“The history of the developers in the neighborhood leaves a lot to be desired. There’s a lengthy list of conditions that weren’t met,” he said.
Wildwood’s history dates back to 2002 when the property, located just south of U.S. Hwy. 278 and east of Covington Bypass, was in the unincorporated county.
White Enterprises owner Hubert White successfully petitioned the Board of Commissioners to rezone 449 acres of what was then called Woodland Park Development from Agricultural to R3 Singe Family Residential. The BOC required at least two access roads, one from U.S. Hwy. 278 and the other on the north side of Eastside High School connecting to Ga. Hwy. 142.
In 2005, developer R.J. Fields and Greyland Development acquired Woodland Park under the name Alcovy Green LLC. The BOC allowed Fields to modify the site plan to remove the required access road from U.S. Hwy. 278. The board still required a second access road but did not specify where.
In 2006, Fields filed a petition to annex the property into the city of Covington. Former Covington Fire Chief Don Floyd issued a memo to the city’s planning and zoning director stating that the subdivision did not meet the International Fire Code requirements for access. Floyd said he would not issue a variance to the requirement for a secondary entrance and if the entrance was not in place prior to Dec. 31, 2007, certificates of occupancy would not be issued until access requirements were met.
Floyd sent several similar memos over the next three years, but the secondary road was never constructed. In May 2006, the city council approved the annexation of 256 acres and rezoning from county R-2 to city PUD, or planned unit development. The condition for the secondary access and deadline of Dec. 31, 2007 was also approved, along with other zoning conditions placed by the county, including the donation of 250 acres of wetland to the county. The council rezoned 7 acres from PUD to Highway Commercial in April 2007.
In 2008, the city approved a new zoning ordinance and the property was designated Neighborhood Residential 2.
In 2009, Floyd sent memos to the planning and zoning director noting that Wildwood, by then owned by Crown Communities Inc., did not comply with the fire code. Crown Communities representatives proposed a utility easement as a temporary solution. Floyd stressed that it would not be a substitute for a permanent road and set a deadline of January 2010.
Ultimately, 53 houses were constructed but with no second entrance. In July, Fields and business partner Todd Terwilliger with Ardent Acquisitions requested zoning conditions be amended. City planning staff and the planning commission recommended denial.
Some council members said it’s time for the city to stand firm.
“I just feel like this governing body certainly needs to take a stand and say, ‘No, you’ve got to build a secondary road or you can’t build on it,’” said Councilman Chris Smith.
Smith said 53 homes should never have been built, as a second access road is required once a development reaches 30 homes.
Terwilliger requested to withdraw the petition without prejudice, which would allow a rezoning request to come before the council at any time. Though the council chose instead to deny the request, that won’t stop development on the property, at present owned by Hamilton State Bank, under current zoning conditions. The zoning conditions still require the second road and now a requirement specifies that it must be paved. The city also required the donation of wetlands to the county be completed, another condition that has not yet been met.