Citizens call for deliberation on Four A decision

CONYERS -- When Rockdale resident Jerri Byrd spoke to the City Council Wednesday night about a proposed mixed-use development, her message was similar to what others have said to local officials -- take your time, communicate with other local governments, and get it right.

"All I have to say tonight is I would really appreciate it if all the powers-that-be would get together and give this some serious thought," she said.

Byrd said despite public hearings on the proposed 308-acre mixed-use development, many questions still remain.

"I've listened, I've heard, but I don't know much," she said. "I just think we shouldn't rush, and I appreciate you tabling it last week. I hope you'll think about that again."

The City Council tabled a vote on the Four A International rezoning at its June 5 meeting, citing too many unanswered questions about how the massive development would pan out.

The Conyers-Rockdale Planning Commission also tabled a vote on the rezoning at its May meeting. The Planning Commission, which is an advisory board, is expected to revisit the issue at its July 11 meeting; the city deferred its vote until July 17.

Byrd isn't the only resident to call on local governments to collaborate on the proposed development, which is designed to include 300,000 square feet of retail space, more than 200,000 square feet of office space and a total of 1,451 housing units -- 726 single-family detached, 290 townhomes and 435 multi-family units.

At the June 4 work session of the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners, county resident Jim Roppo encouraged commissioners to be actively involved with the planning of the project, even though the city will ultimately make any decision on the rezoning. Roppo pointed out that services like water and sewage treatment will have to be provided by the county.

"Don't let the city of Conyers make this decision without you all being there and being involved. We need you to be leaders on this issue," he said.

County resident Don Meyer, at the same work session, called for a "summit" meeting involving the city, county, law enforcement and other service providers to discuss the potential impacts of the development.

"This is going to change the face of Rockdale County; it is going to change the face of Rockdale County if we let it go the way it is," he said.

The Four A rezoning request has become a topic of intense public focus in the past couple of months, but the development has been on the city's radar for years.

"The Four A people have owned the property for nearly 30 years, so there have been lots and lots of conversations over time," said city Councilman John Fountain, chairman of the city's Community Development Committee. "But in particular over the last seven or eight years, there has been lots of discussion between the state and Four A and the councilmembers and Four A. As this last (mixed-use development) idea has been developed, the staff Planning and Development people and the city manager's office literally have spent hundreds of hours with members of Four A and back and forth with members of the council."

Fountain said Four A has also been involved in discussions with Rockdale County and the school system over the years.

"Not that you can have too much of that conversation because, generally speaking, the more you talk the better understanding you can find," Fountain said.

Fountain also said that the city and county planning staffs have had discussions about the project, as well as with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Likewise, Richard Oden, chairman of the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners, said he's been involved with project discussions with Four A and the city since 2009. He said those discussions have been conducted where necessary and appropriate.

"Our communication has been basically as they needed to speak with us," Oden said Thursday. "Our communication is centered around infrastructure, water and wastewater."

Oden, who sits on the board of the Atlanta Regional Commission, acknowledged that the project will have a significant regional impact, which is why it has been reviewed by the ARC. However, the development is "strictly a city zoning matter and a city planning matter ... " he said.

Residents have expressed concern about the impact to the county's infrastructure, in particular the wastewater treatment system. County officials have said the system has enough capacity to serve the first phase of the project, as proposed, but would require upgrades to a southside treatment facility for additional phases.

The city's overriding objective, Fountain said, is to come up with a plan that is beneficial to both the developer and the community. The city's role in that process is to establish a zoning framework that protects community interests and in which Four A can create a profitable development.

"Ultimately, we do need to find something to do with the land that the owners will be happy with and that the community will be happy with, too," he said.