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Cumming planning commission holds public hearing for Sawnee Village mixed-use project
Sawnee Village
Plans for the proposed Sawnee Village between Dahlonega Highway and Pilgrim Mill Road.

Plans for a major development in the city of Cumming were discussed by supporters and opponents at a meeting this week.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28, members of the city of Cumming’s planning and zoning board held a public hearing, but did not take any action, on an application to rezone 152 acres between Dahlonega Highway and Pilgrim Mill Road and east of Pilgrim Mill from office professional (OP), single-family residential district (R-1A) and planned shopping center PSC districts to planned-unit development (PUD) for a development known as Sawnee Village.

“Just to be clear for the record, no one’s voting on anything [at Tuesday’s meeting,]” said City of Cumming Planning Commission Chairman Ralph Webb said the item would come back at the group’s meeting later this month.

After the planning commission’s vote to either approve or not approve the project, the proposal will go to the Cumming City Council for a final decision.

 

The plan and background

According to documents submitted to the city and shown during the meeting, the development will 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 27 20-foot, rear-entry townhomes, 38 24-foot, rear-entry duplex townhomes near Dahlonega Highway and 78 27-foot, front-entry townhomes, 75 24-foot, front-entry townhomes and 117 20-foot, rear-entry townhomes across Pilgrim Mill Road. 

The development will also include 262 multi-family units on 9.2 acres, 220 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.

“We do believe this is within the spirit and intent of the [comprehensive] plan in the city of Cumming,” said Melody Glouton, a zoning attorney with Andersen, Tate & Carr. “It does offer a variety of housing options.

“What we have found in the land-use and zoning world is that there are different types of housing options that individuals throughout the community would like to have other than a single-family detached residential unit. This allows that to be another option for a potential homeowner to have an attached product.”

The development will include four areas with different uses.

Along Dahlonega Highway, there will be a mix of uses including 65 townhomes and six vertical mixed units over businesses as residential options.

That portion of the development will also include 18,900 square feet for retail, restaurant and office uses near Dahlonega Highway, 19,800 square feet for office and retail, 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.

On the east side of Pilgrim Mill, 270 townhome units are proposed in another community.

The other units will go in a community planned between Dahlonega Highway and Pilgrim Mill.

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

“This central amenity area with the retail surrounding it is what we see as the focal point within this proposed development,” Glouton said. “It has an opportunity to bring a mix of retail uses that will be surrounded by residential uses as you transition east across the overall development.”

Plans for the project also show the proposed North Cumming Bypass, which would 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.

The development was also proposed to include two passive park areas and neighborhood amenities such as a pool, clubhouse and interconnected sidewalks.

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.

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What neighbors had to say

During the meeting, several neighbors shared their thoughts, questions and concerns with the project, including impact on schools, added traffic and the proposed plans.  

Linda Ebert, who lives in the Parkside Walk neighborhood, said she respected the families who owned the land and felt there was a workable solution for the project but she and other neighbors were concerned about traffic and the size of the project.

“We’re frustrated that this solution has come in worse, in our eyes, than the previous PUD that was proposed by almost 200 units, which is going to be an additional 400 cars driving on these roads, up to about 1,600 vehicles,” she said.

Ebert said the project was also much more dense than surrounding neighborhoods. 

Mattie Ruth Stone, who owns property on Pilgrim Mill that would be surrounded by the development, and her family members, including Cumming mayoral candidate William Stone III, raised concerns with the project, which she said would be “in my backyard” and would impact her quality of life.

“Remember, no one spoke with me, and I was deliberately left out of the meeting with the developer,” Mattie Ruth Stone said. “Well, I want the 30-foot [buffer] and evergreen trees, just like the other [properties] are getting. I also want a seven-foot fence around my entire property because unlike the others, I have very little land between me and the [270] apartments and townhouses.”

Zachary Miller, who lives in the Adair Park subdivision, said he also did not feel the townhome units on the east side of Pilgrim Mill fit with the rest of the project. 

“If we had the central part of this, a reduction of apartments, a reduction of the 270 townhomes, we’re now in the ballpark of a quality product that we’re all looking for,” he said. “I think the problem with that is the current developer can’t do that the development with the cost that’s out there.”  

Neighbors also expressed concerns that because the senior living use is planned in an institutional area rather than residential, the 220 units were not factored into the project’s density. 


Responses

Following public comments from the neighbors, Warren Jolly, with developer The Providence Group, attempted to answer some of the community’s questions, with limited time remaining in the meeting. 

“We think this is a big step from where it was last time if you understand the plan,” Jolly said. “The problem is we need some more time to get with some of the neighbors and explain this concept and what we’re trying to do, and there’s a lot of things that we can solve that we don’t know about.”

Jolly said roads had been a major concern, but due to the scope of the project, it is considered a development of regional impact, or DRI, and must go through approval with the Atlanta Regional Commission and Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. 

“We’ll have the recommendations from that on Oct. 16, so we’ll know what intersections have to be approved and exactly what’s done,” he said, “and a lot of this is out of our hands because we’re not part of [the Georgia Department of Transportation]. … Hwy. 9 is a GDOT road.”

He said he did expect intersection improvements for the project and felt, since the commercial portion is planned on the Hwy. 9, or Dahlonega Highway, side, more traffic would be on that road than Pilgrim Mill.

Some speakers also raised issues that the building phases of the project were not included in the plan, which Jolly said was still being worked out as discussions with the community continued. 

After several comments about buffers during public comments, Cumming Planning and Zoning Director Scott Morgan said all properties would have a 30-foot undisturbed buffer, a 50-foot landscape buffer and a 55-foot exterior building setback.

Submitted plans show the landscape strips of evergreen trees and a six-foot fence will be built along property boundaries for the townhomes. 

Developers also said the residential portions of the property would be gated.

Responding to concerns that there were no impact fees, or fees paid by developers to cover the cost of increased demand on roads, infrastructure, services and amenities, in the project’s plans, City Attorney Kevin Tallant said all projects are required by city ordinance to pay the fees.

 “It does not have to be, in fact, it should not be, a condition of zoning that someone pays impact fees, it’s the law that people pay impact fees,” Tallant said. Webb. “We’re just collecting information.”