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City hears from public about Sawnee Village mixed-use project
Sawnee Village
Plans for the proposed Sawnee Village between Dahlonega Highway and Pilgrim Mill Road.

Those in favor and opposed to a large, mixed-use project in the city of Cumming gave their thoughts on the project this week.

On Tuesday, Dec. 22, members of the Cumming City Council held a public hearing on a request to rezone 152 acres between Dahlonega Highway and Pilgrim Mill Road and east of Pilgrim Mill from office professional (OP), single-family residential (R-1A) and planned shopping center (PSC) districts to planned-unit development (PUD) for a development known as Sawnee Village.

Members of the council listened to the public’s comments but did not discuss the project, and no action was taken at the meeting. 

The proposal and those in favor

Scott Morgan, the city’s director of planning and zoning, said the project will include residential units of different types, 106,700 square feet of retail, restaurant, office and indoor amenity uses and 220,000 square feet of institutional senior living.

Warren Jolly, with developer The Providence Group, said changes had been made to the proposal on the east side of Pilgrim Mill.

He said previously 270 townhome units had been proposed in the area, though that had been reduced to 122 single-family detached lots around the perimeter and 98 townhomes in the middle for a total of 220 units. 

“This is a big zoning,” Jolly said. “We’re willing to meet with anybody we can meet with … to make sure the facts are straight. It’s complicated zoning with lots of moving pieces.”

Amid concerns that the development could impact nearby schools, Jolly said those living in the development would likely be young professionals and empty-nesters looking to downsize. 

The development will also include 44, 55-foot, front-entry, detached residential units on 12.5 acres; 105, 45-foot rear-entry, detached residential units on 24.6 acres and 72 motor court lots on 21.1 acres.

More than 50 acres of the total development will be used for attached residential units, which will include 26, 20-foot, rear-entry townhomes and 38, 24-foot, rear-entry duplex townhomes near Dahlonega Highway.

The development will also include 262 multi-family units on 9.2 acres, 220,000 square feet of institutional-senior living units on 14.6 acres, six vertical mixed-use units on .8 acres, 18.4 acres of commercial uses and about 30 acres of open space.

That portion of the development will also include more than 50,000 square feet for retail, restaurant and office uses near Dahlonega Highway, a 7,000 square-foot restaurant and 26,000 square feet for indoor amenities.

The senior living portion of the project is proposed with independent living, assisted living, and memory care units and is being included with 21,000 square feet for retail, office and restaurant on the west side of Pilgrim Mill for another mixed-use area.

The proposal also includes a central amenity area with a clubhouse, pool, fitness center and outdoor patio space.

Plans for the project also show the potential North Cumming Bypass, which is proposed to extend from Sawnee Drive to Pilgrim Mill Road.

The current proposal is the second time the project has come before city leaders this year.

In January, members of the Cumming City Council voted 3-0, with Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter abstaining and Councilman Christopher Light recused due to a conflict of interest, to deny an application to rezone the land to a PUD for a project called The Villages at Brooks Farm.

The previous proposal was for a mixed-use development with 231 age-restricted single-family homes, 25 traditional single-family detached homes, 56 single-family attached townhomes, 335 multi-family units and 42,500 square feet of vertical mixed-uses with 60 residential units over commercial and retail units on the 152 acres of land.

As part of the motion in January, council members gave the property owner an exemption to a typical one-year ban on filing applications for the land where an application has been denied.

Neighbors opposed

Several neighbors came out to the meeting and continued to raise issues with the size, density and traffic concerns for the project, including whether a second entrance onto Dahlonega Highway is needed. 

Fonda Harrison, who lives near the property, said while she thought the design of the development was high-quality, she was concerned about the potential impacts on schools. 

“I will agree that this development appears to be a quality development, but also there are more units in this particular development than there were in the first one,” Harrison said. “There’s also not an age limit on this development like there was, which means a bigger impact on our school system and potentially our roads because younger families, younger couples are going to be on the road more than the 55-plus communities.”

She added that she felt the recent annexations and projects in the city, such as the council’s recent approval of 176 homes on Pilgrim Road, had not taken infrastructure needs into account. 

“All of the annexations and all the developments that are occurring within the city of Cumming really seem to be occurring without regards to infrastructure,” she said. “If that’s occurring, it would be great if there was sharing of what all infrastructure needed to be improved to support all these developments that are occurring in the city of Cumming.” 

Another speaker living near the proposed development said “What we’re asking for is the apartments to be removed and the units come down. Everything else is just window dressing.” 

Formal mayoral candidate William Stone, who has family near the property, also said he believed the developments would have an impact on schools and felt questions should be answered before a decision is made on the project.

“This has been going on for a long time, and we still have open questions that seem like there shouldn’t be at this point… yet, we’re going to potentially vote on the biggest development in the city of Cumming with what seems to be a lot of fair and open questions about what it is,” Stone said.