No road, no new homes in Wild­wood

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

No more homes will be built in the Wild­wood sub­di­vi­sion in Cov­ing­ton un­less a sec­ond, paved road is built to pro­vide a sec­ond en­trance for res­i­dents and emer­gency ve­hi­cles.

The Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil voted Mon­day to deny a de­vel­oper’s re­quest to amend the zon­ing con­di­tions on va­cant land in the Wild­wood sub­di­vi­sion, and, in fact, voted to make the con­di­tions more strin­gent by re­quir­ing a fully paved road for a sec­ond en­trance and not al­low­ing a gravel road to be built.

It’s un­clear if the de­vel­oper look­ing at the prop­erty, The Ar­dent Com­pa­nies, is will­ing to pay to build a paved road.

Coun­cil mem­bers made it clear they wanted the next de­vel­oper plan­ning to build homes in the sub­di­vi­sion to make up for the failings of past de­vel­op­ers, who never built a sec­ond road even though it was promised and re­quired by the zon­ing con­di­tions placed on the prop­erty when it was orig­i­nally re­zoned.

The In­ter­na­tional Fire Code re­quires there to be two en­trances to de­vel­op­ments of a cer­tain size, though Cov­ing­ton’s fire mar­shal said the code doesn’t spec­ify whether roads must be gravel or paved.

The coun­cil fol­lowed the plan­ning com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tion from last week, but only coun­cil votes are bind­ing.

The coun­cil’s de­ci­sion means that no one, not the cur­rent de­vel­oper nor an­other de­vel­oper or com­pany, can re­quest any change to the prop­erty’s zon­ing for six months.

Todd Ter­williger, with At­lanta-based de­vel­oper The Ar­dent Com­pa­nies, orig­i­nally asked for an

amend­ment, hop­ing to find a cheaper al­ter­na­tive to build­ing a sec­ond road. Ter­williger de­clined to comment to The News last week; how­ever, Smith said Tues­day he was told by Ar­dent a gravel road could cost around $300,000 to build, while a paved road with curbs and gut­ters could cost $800,000.

Cov­ing­ton Se­nior Plan­ner Scott Gaither said Tues­day the road in­cluded in the orig­i­nal plans, which would tie Wild­wood into the neigh­bor­ing High­grove sub­di­vi­sion, would be around 1,900-2,000 lin­ear feet long.

Though Ter­williger has never ex­plic­itly stated it in any pub­lic meet­ing, curre-mt mar­ket con­di­tions mean that the up­front cost of build­ing such a road would make it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to re­al­ize a profit on the ac­tual build­ing and sell­ing of new houses. Even with­out the road cost, home­build­ing is not cur­rently turn­ing big prof­its in New­ton County; mul­ti­ple other builders have told The News over the past few months they ex­pect it to take sev­eral months to a year be­fore home ap­praisals reach a point where they’re higher than what it costs to build a new house.

Ter­williger ac­tu­ally asked the coun­cil to al­low him to with­draw with­out prej­u­dice his re­quest for an amend­ment, which would have al­lowed ei­ther his com­pany or an­other de­vel­oper to come back any­time with an­other re­quest, whether it re­lated to the road or any­thing else, such as lot and house sizes.

He said he didn’t want to pe­nal­ize Hamil­ton State Bank, which ac­tu­ally owns the prop­erty. Ar­dent con­tracted with the bank to pur­chase lots in the sub­di­vi­sion in July, but Ter­williger said the zon­ing con­di­tions threw up a “red flag.”

Some plan­ning com­mis­sion mem­bers and res­i­dents crit­i­cized Ar­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tives for be­ing un­pre­pared last week, be­cause they had not had a chance to meet with the fire mar­shal and city plan­ning depart­ment to dis­cuss op­tions. How­ever, rep­re­sen­ta­tive R.J. Fields said sched­ul­ing con­flicts had de­layed a meet­ing — which Smith con­firmed — and Ter­williger said Mon­day that the con­tract has a timeline, which is why he was try­ing to move quickly. He said he has reached out to Cony­ers-based Crown Com­mu­ni­ties about build­ing houses; Crown orig­i­nally built homes in the sub­di­vi­sion.

Ter­williger and Fields left af­ter the de­ci­sion and did not say if they planned to pur­sue de­vel­op­ing the prop­erty.

Lo­cated on 256 acres, Wild­wood has 53 homes and 34 de­vel­oped lots ready for homes; orig­i­nal plans called for up to 550 homes.

The un­de­vel­oped por­tion — around 189 acres — went into fore­clo­sure dur­ing the hous­ing mar­ket col­lapse and has changed hands mul­ti­ple times.

The coun­cil ac­tu­ally placed a sec­ond con­di­tion on the prop­erty be­fore con­struc­tion would be al­lowed, which is to re­solve some out­stand­ing greenspace and wet­lands do­na­tion is­sues. Un­der the orig­i­nal con­di­tions placed on the prop­erty when it was re­zoned by the county from agri­cul­tural to sin­gle-fam­ily res­i­den­tial, some of the 256 acres would be set aside and do­nated to the county as per­ma­nent greenspace.

For­mer Cov­ing­ton city at­tor­ney Jerry Bouchillon said he checked deed records and not all of the do­na­tions have taken place. Gaither said he had not yet been able to con­firm the prop­erty trans­fers with county of­fi­cials.

Wild­wood res­i­dents ex­pressed the same con­cerns about safety they did last week and have for years.

Speak­ing on be­half of the neigh­bor­hood, the Rev. Eric D. Threets Jr. said hav­ing only one en­trance — Scenic Park­way, two one-lane roads di­vided by a raised, grass me­dian — was un­safe be­cause it could be blocked off by a car break­ing down or bad weather con­di­tions, hin­der­ing both res­i­dents and emer­gency ve­hi­cles.

Threets said res­i­dents are not op­posed to more home build­ing, but sim­ply want an­other en­trance.

Coun­cil­man Chris Smith said he was not happy with a gravel road and said it was time for the coun­cil to take a stand and make sure the prom­ise made to res­i­dents is kept; the rest of the coun­cil agreed.

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