Update: Flint Timber Pulls Application for Mountaintown Creek Mega-Development

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Update 5.25: FYN speaks with VP of the Flint Timber development company:

Yesterday I approached Flint Timber Vice President Ron Bowman for comments on the company’s sudden withdrawal of its project application.

Mr. Bowman explained that the move was determined by the current economic climate, and that he believes the project would still be a good development for Gilmer County in the future. Mr. Bowman also pointed out the company’s history of contributing to the community, which includes a Coosawatee River clean-up project in 2004 and land donations to the local government.

Update 5.24: The developer has withdrawn its application for the Mountaintown Creek project:

NWGRC Press Release: Gilmer County government and the NWGRC have been notified today by email that Flint Timber, the developer, has elected to withdraw their request on the Mountaintown Creek (housing project) “due to the unfavorable economic conditions at this time.”

I have tried to notify everyone herein that has been a part of my regular communications, and I have also added everyone who attended the pre-consultation review and happened to provide an email address on the sign-in sheet.

For those who have already submitted formal comments, thank you. For those that have not, you no longer have a reason to comment at this time. Thank you for your consideration on these matters.

Barnett Chitwood

Northwest Georgia Regional Commission

Original Article: “Mountaintown Creek Mega-Development: What’s the Real Impact?”

Though it may come as a surprise to readers familiar with the failed housing developments and foreclosed homes scattered across Gilmer county, a land development company has proposed a giant, 1750-home gated community to be built near Mountaintown Creek, 5 miles west of Ellijay. FYN has taken a look at the project’s official regional “impact study” and has spoken to representatives of the local real estate market for their take on the proposed development.

Flint Timber, L.P., has proposed building the project, named Mountaintown Creek, on 1,975 acres of undeveloped land bounded by the Coosawatee River to the south and the Eagle Mountain subdivision and Mountaintown Creek to the east. The property neighbors the Corps of Engineers Ridgeway Road Property, Tales Creek, and private land holdings on its west side. The main entrance to the property will be from Highway 282, which is located about 1000 feet from the northernmost point of the project.

Graphic by Brandon Lee

The development would include a golf course, equestrian center, boat ramp, biking and hiking trails, and extensive “green space” areas. Developers of the project, which is planned to be built over the span of 10 years in multiple phases, claim that it will ultimately bring $65.3 million in tax revenue to Gilmer County.

In order to meet state regulatory requirements for developments of regional impact, Flint Timber has submitted an impact study to the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission. The impact study answers questions designed to provide the NWGRC staff with a “better understanding of the proposed development and its potential impacts on the area”.

Mountaintown Creek Impact Study: Highlights

The project is currently zoned R2 and qualifies as a “Residential Mixed Use Development within the Greenspace Development Ordinance Section 62-51.” From the report: “The Mountaintown Creek project would be a Master Planned Community providing a mix of single family and multi-family residential (sic), with a density based on the current R2 zoning regulation of 1 unit per acre, with multi-family units making up less than 50% of the allowable units.”

The Impact Study addressed a range of issues raised by the proposed project:

  • Potable Water:
    According to an Engineering Report by G. Ben Turnipseed Engineers on Water System Improvements for the project, the Ellijay-Gilmer County Water and Sewerage Authority (EGCWSA) can provide water service to the development via an existing 8” main water line. Off-site line extensions will be required to reach the main, along with a new booster pump station and a 500,000 gallon storage tank.
  • Waste Water:
    Discussions are underway between the developer and the EGCWSA regarding a two-part waste water system proposal.

    Because of the high cost associated with the length of conveyance to the Ellijay Wastewater Treatment Facility (5-7 miles) from the project, the developers have proposed a temporary, on-site treatment plant for Phase-1 of the project.

    The developers would later, during subsequent phases of the project, tie in to the Ellijay Wastewater Treatment Facility. Flint Timber has received a letter from the EGCWSA offering adequate wastewater disposal for future residents of Mountaintown Creek.

  • Financial Impact:
    As mentioned above, the developers claim that, over the 10 year lifespan of the project, Mountaintown Creek will generate 65.3 million in tax revenue.

    From the report: “There is little doubt that revenues generated will far exceed the services required…in general terms the high income producing Mountaintown Creek homeowners will be a major contributing factor to the local economy.”

    We will return to this subject below.

  • Transportation:
    Mountaintown Creek comes within 1000 feet of GA Hwy 282, 5.1 miles west of Route 5 in Ellijay.

    Regarding potential traffic increases on Hwy 282, the developers point out that the state already recognizes that this road will experience traffic count increases in the near future, not just from new residential developments, but also as an east-west link to I-75.

    The developers claim, therefore, that by the time Mountaintown Creek residents “significantly impact GA 282 traffic, the required improvements will have been addressed”. Additionally, although no formal traffic study has been undertaken, the applicants claim that the project’s large proportion of part-time and retiree residents will translate into a low traffic impact during daily traffic peak times.

    All roads within the Mountaintown Creek are to be private and therefore will not be the responsibility of the local taxpayer base.

  • Airport Considerations:
    Gilmer County Aviation, which operates out of Ellijay Airport, has the capacity to provide Medevac service. Ellijay Airport has a 3,500 x 75 foot runway with pilot controlled lighting and a range of other modern private air travel amenities.

  • Security and Safety:
    The community’s security plan would be oriented towards preventing loss rather than enforcing criminal laws. The program would “seek to find a balance between the fortress approach of some very high-end communities and the very open, too-easily-accessible approach of others”.

  • Fire/EMS:
    Phase 1 of Mountaintown Creek would be served by two stations: Station 16 at Lower Tails Creek and Station 14 at Orchard Junction. Station 16 is a volunteer facility that is capable of being manned at a later stage, and Station 14 has an ambulance on hand.

    Helipad service is available from Pickens and Fannin Counties.

    Phase 2 of the project would be the trigger for an additional on-site facility that would serve the interests of the entire development. The developers claim that the structure may cost approximately $100,000, and the needed apparatus about $200,000.

    A survey was recently commissioned to determine an ISO rating (a risk rating by the Insurance Service Office) for the county; the results are pending.

  • Health Care:
    “Future residents of Mountaintown Creek are expected to be upper income families with comprehensive health care plans and therefore are not likely to be a financial drain on existing resources”.

  • Education:
    “The contribution factor of Property and Sales taxes from residents within the Mountaintown Creek community should exceed the ‘use factor’ by residents of the school system”.

  • Green Space:
    “In line with County goals for future residential development, the overall land plan for MC is compatible with the physical limitations of the land and the land uses in the area…”.

    From the report’s introduction: “This revised ordinance (residential mixed-use R2 classification) has allowed the Applicant to combine intensive research with ‘next generation’ master planning activities in a desire to create a more ‘green’ style residential community with an expansive network of parks, trails, and amenities surrounding diverse neighborhoods with attractive lifestyle offerings”.

  • Environmental Considerations:
    “Mountaintown Creek aspires to be a development model for Gilmer County. Combined with environmentally sensitive Covenants and Restrictions for its residents, the Applicant intends to meet or exceed standards for future master planned communities in Gilmer County.”

  • Archeological Considerations:
    Dr. Joe Joseph of New South Associates claims all known archeological sites on the MC property are in the river buffer. From an official statement by Dr. Joseph: “None of these are considered eligible for the National Register, although one rock shelter that sits on your tract has not yet been evaluated”.

Regional Impact: Opposing Views

The impact study outlined above was presented to the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission at its May 11th meeting. Part of an approval process required by state regulations, the meeting is designed to allow officials and citizens an opportunity to offer comments regarding the project.

Though completely alone in the boldly American move, Gilmer residents Jerry and Joene Deplancke took the opportunity to voice their concerns over the project’s viability.

Mr. Deplancke asked Flint Timber representatives about a bankruptcy filed by the company in March in Ware County. Company representative Zack Thwaight responded by explaining that a local bank had called for immediate repayment on a revolving line of credit. “We didn’t have the assets to pay off the loan and that (bankruptcy) was our only recourse.”

Joene Deplancke, a Gilmer County real estate agent, brought up what just might be described as the elephant in the room: the several failed housing projects that already exist in the county. “I wholeheartedly oppose this project.”, she said. “I can’t sell lots in the area now.”

In an interview with FYN, Mrs. Deplancke explained her point of view further: “Gilmer County is broke…we can’t afford to have someone come in and make changes that will affect the roads, changes in the school system, changes in the Sheriff’s department, etc.”

Mrs. Deplancke also questions the rationale behind lot prices used in Flint Timber’s 10-year projection of $65.3 million in property tax revenue. As planned, Mountain Creek lots in the .5-1 acre range will be sold for about $188,000; according to Mrs. Deplancke, this price range is grossly unrealistic, given the current real estate market. “Do you realize how many beautiful foreclosed homes are up here throughout the mountains?”, she asked.

Aside from lot prices, Mrs. Deplancke sees problems with the developer’s claims regarding potential new home construction. In reference to escalating construction material costs, she said “you can’t build a house for even twice what you would pay for an existing home”. She also pointed out that the developers’ tax revenue projections are based on the dubious assumption that 100% of the project’s building materials would be purchased in Gilmer County.

Mrs. Deplancke believes the developers are making faulty assumptions with regards to the project’s effect on the local school system as well. She pointed out that, since the beginning of the economic downturn, there has been a major increase in the “boomerang effect” – that is, adult children, and often their children, moving back in to their parents’ homes for financial reasons. According to Mrs. Deplancke, the effect of former “empty-nesters” and retirees housing school-age children without paying school taxes should be factored in to the financial prospects of the development.

Mrs. Deplancke summed up her position on the Mountaintown Creek proposal as follows: “None of the numbers make any sense”.

As Gilmer County Commissioner JC Sanford pointed out at the NWGRC meeting, if the project was completed in full, it would have a population greater than Ellijay and East Ellijay combined. We at FYN plan to address the questions and concerns of Gilmer County residents as the development proposal unfolds.

Author

BL

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