End of the road?

Plan­ning Com­mis­sion says no more homes in Wild­wood with­out sec­ond en­trance

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

The par­tially-built Wild­wood sub­di­vi­sion is ex­pected to re­main that way for a while longer.

An At­lanta de­vel­oper, The Ar­dent Com­pa­nies, wants to restart home build­ing in the Cov­ing­ton sub­di­vi­sion, which has 53 homes and 34 lots ready for homes, but the com­pany doesn’t want to pay to build the sec­ond en­trance re­quired by the In­ter­na­tional Fire Code and, there­fore, by city or­di­nances.

The Cov­ing­ton Plan­ning Com­mis­sion voted unan­i­mously Tues­day to deny Ar­dent’s re­quest to amend the zon­ing con­di­tions for the sub­di­vi­sion. Ar­dent had hoped — and still hopes — an al­ter­na­tive could be found to pro­vide bet­ter ac­cess to emer­gency ve­hi­cles with­out build­ing a sec­ond road. But plan­ning com­mis­sion mem­bers ex­pressed skep­ti­cism and said ex­ist­ing and any new res­i­dents need to be pro­tected.

The plan­ning com­mis­sion doesn’t have the au­thor­ity to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion, but its vote will go to the Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil as a rec­om­men­da­tion to deny the re­quest. The coun­cil will have the fi­nal say at its 6:30 p.m. meet­ing on Mon­day.

Ar­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive Todd Ter­williger has set up a Fri­day morn­ing meet­ing with the fire mar­shal and other city of­fi­cials, Cov­ing­ton Fire Mar­shal Tony Smith said Thurs­day, pre­sum­ably in the hope of pre­sent­ing an al­ter­na­tive to the City Coun­cil be­fore its fi­nal vote.

Ar­dent of­fi­cials had ac­tu­ally re­quested a de­fer­ral of its zon­ing amend­ment re­quest to an­other meet­ing, but plan­ning com­mis­sion mem­bers were un­con­vinced any op­tion be­sides build­ing a sec­ond en­trance would meet the needs of the neigh­bor­hood.

Un­der the In­ter­na­tional Fire Code, hous­ing de­vel­op­ments of a cer­tain size must have two ways to en­ter and leave the de­vel­op­ment so that emer­gency ve­hi­cles can still ac­cess the neigh­bor­hood if one way is blocked, ac­cord­ing to Smith.

There are some ex­cep­tions that can be ap­proved by the lo­cal fire mar­shal, in­clud­ing in­stalling sprin­kler sys­tems in ev­ery house. How­ever, Smith said in a fol­low-up in­ter­view Wed­nes­day that wouldn’t be an op­tion be­cause not all of the 53 ex­ist­ing Wild­wood homes have sprin­kler sys­tems.

“At this point, the city, al­though we don’t want to hold back any

progress as far as de­vel­op­ment, we re­ally need to take care of the things that should have been taken care of many years ago,” Smith said Wed­nes­day.

The 256-acre sub­di­vi­sion prop­erty was an­nexed from New­ton County to Cov­ing­ton in 2006, and home build­ing be­gan in 2007. The re­main­ing un­de­vel­oped land is ap­prox­i­mately 189 acres, ac­cord­ing to the New­ton County Tax As­ses­sor’s of­fice. Orig­i­nal plans called for up to 550 houses to be built in the sub­di­vi­sion.

Wild­wood res­i­dents packed city hall for the plan­ning com­mis­sion meet­ing, and they all ex­pressed a de­sire to see a sec­ond en­trance built. In ad­di­tion, cur­rent sub­di­vi­sion build-out plans call for an­other en­trance that would con­nect a road at the back of the de­vel­op­ment, Scenic Park­way S.E., to a road in the High­grove neigh­bor­hood, Ea­gles Park­way, which runs next to East­side High School.

Part of res­i­dents’ frus­tra­tion stems from the fact that a sec­ond en­trance has been promised for many years. Ac­cord­ing to Se­nior Plan­ner Scott Gaither, the un­de­vel­oped por­tion of the neigh­bor­hood has changed hands mul­ti­ple times – most re­cently from First State Bank, which was closed by the FDIC in Jan­uary 2012, to Hamil­ton State Bank.

As with many sub­di­vi­sions built dur­ing the hous­ing boom of the late 2000s, prom­ises by de­vel­op­ers went un­ful­filled af­ter com­pa­nies went bank­rupt. Orig­i­nally, the de­vel­op­ment was al­lowed to start with­out a sec­ond en­trance, be­cause it was promised one would be built later on – first off of U.S. High­way 278 and later to con­nect to High­grove.

Wild­wood res­i­dent Shawn Walker said when the city ex­pe­ri­enced an ice storm a few years back, cars were un­able to get up a steep por­tion of Scenic Park­way and were stuck in their neigh­bor­hood. Sim­i­larly, when a car broke down on one side of the road – which con­sists of two, di­vided one-lane roads – res­i­dents were afraid to travel the wrong way down the other side be­cause of the steep hills and limited sight­lines.

“The safety of peo­ple comes first,” he said.

De­vel­oper R.J. Fields pre­sented on be­half of Ar­dent be­cause he had ex­pe­ri­ence with the pro­ject pre­vi­ously, but his pres­ence didn’t seem to help.

Plan­ning Com­mis­sion mem­ber John Travis, who made the mo­tion to deny, said the is­sue has been brought up over and over again since 2002 – when the land was orig­i­nally re­zoned to res­i­den­tial – but no de­vel­oper has yet been able or will­ing to build a sec­ond road.

Gaither pre­sented a his­tory of the sub­di­vi­sion, cit­ing mul­ti­ple at­tempts over the years to find an al­ter­na­tive to build­ing a sec­ond road. The city’s staff rec­om­mend de­nial of an amend­ment re­quest as well at Tues­day’s meet­ing.

“Th­ese con­di­tions were placed upon the prop­erty to pro­tect the sur­round­ing properties and prop­erty own­ers, to en­hance and con­trol the growth ex­pe­ri­enced by New­ton County and the City of Cov­ing­ton dur­ing this time, to pro­vide a safe and at­trac­tive place for peo­ple to live, and to up­hold the in­tegrity of the com­mu­nity,” the city’s of­fi­cial staff rec­om­men­da­tion said.

“Staff does not see the need nor can sup­port any amend­ment to the stated con­di­tions of zon­ing, as any change could undo 10 years of agree­ments and co­op­er­a­tion with the sur­round­ing prop­erty own­ers and New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers.”

Gabriel Khouli /The Cov­ing­ton News

The Ar­dent Com­pa­nies is look­ing to de­velop the Wild­wood neigh­bor­hood.

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