March 13, 2007
1,100 Acres in Southern Harris County to Be Transformed into The Grove: Community Expected to Be Completed in 20-30 Years
By Harry Franklin, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.
Mar. 13--Two of Columbus' oldest and wealthiest families are joining forces to develop an 1,100-acre planned community in south Harris County.
Housing prices are expected to start in the high $200,000 range and rise to over $1 million. It will include apartments, townhouses, patio homes, larger houses and estates on two or more acres. The project is expected to take 20-30 years to complete.
The Grove will be almost twice the size of the 600-acre, 550-unit Maple Ridge golf community, which includes a 180-acre golf course, but no commercial space other than that.
Mathews D. "Mat" Swift, president/chief operating officer of W. C. Bradley Real Estate Division, and Otis Scarborough, president of George C. Woodruff Holding Co. of Columbus, said they have visited more than 30 of the top planned communities in the United States and will incorporate into The Grove the best elements of each.
Woodruff and the Turner family formed the Mulberry Grove Development Company LLC for this development, which will include 737 acres of Woodruff land and 365 acres of Turner land. The partners on Monday applied to Harris County to rezone the properties from agricultural to Community Unit Planned Development, which allows high-, medium- and low-density housing, as well as office, commercial and corporate facilities and greenspace. The application also triggers a Development of Regional Impact study that should be conducted in the next few weeks.
"This is a planned community," said Scarborough. "It's like urban redevelopment projects with community centers, lakes, tracts set aside for two schools, churches, a fire department and police department. What better place to do it than at an I-185 interchange just north of Columbus?"
A conceptual master plan prepared by HighGrove Partners LLC of metro Atlanta shows that most of the residential development will concentrate on the east side of Mountain Hill Road, where two lakes totaling 27 acres are planned, as well as tracts for housing, a community club and greenspace. Nearly 30 acres is set aside for a public school.
The west side of Mountain Hill includes an 80-acre highway commercial tract extending to Ga. 315 and a high-density residential pod.
On the south side of Ga. 315 will be 80.5 acres for apartment/office or general manufacturing, 80 acres for highway commercial, a large area for apartments and another school site.
Swift said a series of public meetings will be scheduled in the next two months to acquaint the community with the project and to address questions.
Sewer lines crucial
Houses need sewers.
Columbus Water Works President Billy Turner said the Columbus Water Board last year approved extending its sewer lines to serve the growing needs of north Columbus and possibly Harris County.
Water Works has $3 million available from the sale of bonds to complete the extension and Turner said bids could be taken in June or July for the Columbus portion of the line extension, expected to take about a year to complete.
"We basically have a proposed contract," said Harris County Commission Chairman Danny Bridges."We've had numerous meetings. I don't see any hang-ups. We expect it will cost Harris County about
The Harris County portion of the sewer line would be a forced main running from the connection at the county line up to 315. Bridges said it would serve not only The Grove, but any other development in that area, said Bridges.
Turner said he told Water Board members and Columbus councilors in February that he expected the sewer service contract to be approved so that Harris County would, for the first time, tie into a Columbus sewer line. Columbus already provides water to Harris County.
To handle the additional sewage, he said Water Works will use a slightly larger sewer line and will charge customers in Harris County more than Columbus customers.
The rezoning application is expected to be considered April 18 by the Harris County Planning Commission, which would then make a recommendation to the Harris County Commission, for a possible May 1 vote.
Bridges and Commissioner Harry Lange said if the rezoning is approved May 1, the county commission would likely vote that night on issuing up to $4.5 million in revenue bonds to finance the sewer project.
The Woodruff and Bradley family interests have also agreed to pay Harris County
$1 million up front to buy rights to tap onto the sewer line, Swift and Scarborough said.
"We still have to decide whether we reduce the amount of the bonds by $1 million or bank that money to make bond payments," said Bridges. "Our county manager, Carol Silva, has talked to bonding companies, but we still have to select one. We could borrow from ourselves to get the project started. But once we get started, we could have the line in the ground within 12 months."
Unlike the typical residential subdivision that creates housing but not commerce, Scarborough said, "We're bringing an opportunity and a solution to the problem. We will help generate a larger tax base for Harris County and help ease the property tax burden on homeowners. It won't be like Columbus Crossing. It will be landscaped similar to a Peachtree City or Hilton Head."
"If we didn't believe this would generate taxes from commercial development and help ease the property tax burden, we wouldn't spend this money to run the sewer line," Bridges said.
Because it is right at I-185, the project should not create significant traffic issues on area county roads. Drivers can exit the community and quickly turn onto 185 to drive to Columbus or north toward LaGrange or Atlanta.
Bridges calls The Grove "one of the biggest things that's ever been proposed in Harris County. It could be the start of a retail boom for this county like we've never seen before. You know what retail does for a tax base and for sales taxes. We've spent money to develop a business park near West Point. I hope that all works out. But I think this project will ring circles around any development we ever do in that park."
Bill Lincicome, CEO of HighGrove Partners LLC, project land planners, said, "The nice thing about the property is it will follow the new wave of planning where you create towns. There will be a core with a town center. They are interested in including churches and community centers."
The development will feature "indigenous planning and architecture not unlike what you would see in a Pine Mountain or Hamilton," he said. "Vickery in northern Atlanta comes to mind. We were the team that helped develop a list of planned communities for them to visit, places like Habersham in Beaufort, S.C., Palmetto Bluffin South Carolina and the Ford Plantation north of Savannah."
The project also will likely continue the strong push of commercial and residential development northward. But this time it should bring commercial development on a scale Harris County has not seen. Residential development has exploded for two decades. Commercial has lagged behind.
"Typically, the first commitment is to residential," said Lincicome, whose firm is working with Callaway Gardens and was land planner for the World Children's Center that is being built in Haralson County west of Atlanta and was proposed on tracts west of Pine Mountain. "Usually there is a commitment early to some component of a town center. I would suspect they would build a portion of the town center. This is a continuation of the positive downtown development taking place in downtown Columbus."
After talking with Harris County Schools Superintendent Susan Andrews, the developers added a second potential school site to the master plan, they said. The county's public schools don't have a lot of room for additional students. A middle or intermediate school already is planned on Ga. 315 beside the county's newest elementary school. But portable classrooms are being added at Harris County High School for next fall.
The property and area
The Grove tracts provide about 3,300 feet of frontage on the west side and about 2,800 feet of frontage on the east side of Mountain Hill Road, and about 3,400 feet on the south side and 2,500 feet on the north side of Ga. 315, said Doug Jefcoat, associate broker for Bradley Real Estate.
There is no commercial development on the east side of I-185 and Ga. 315. Two small established subdivisions are nearby on Mountain Hill Road -- Creek Bend and Mountain Hill Crossing. On the 315 south side, the property backs up to Poplar Place subdivision.
On the west side at I-185, the only business is a Chevron Food Mart near the southwest interchange, though a 17-acre tract across 315 has a "For Sale" sign designating it as "prime development property."
Ga. 315 is the first 185 interchange traveling north from Columbus into Harris County. It is readily accessible to the Columbus market. Ga. 315 is about 13 miles from Macon Road; 11 1/2 miles from Manchester Expressway; nine miles from J. R. Allen Parkway; seven miles from Williams Road; five miles from Smith Road, the northernmost interchange in Columbus; and 4 1/2 miles from the Harris-Muscogee County line.
Developers plan for the project to be environmentally friendly.
"This is just the opposite of urban sprawl," Scarborough said. "It's greenspace, but it's not a farm. We have a chance to do it better than it's ever been done. We are surrounding ourselves with absolutely the best consultants. It's taken 10 years to find the right consultants. We're not interested in doing this overnight. We're literally repeating a Pine Mountain here with all the facilities and bringing a community together around facilities. People want that fellowship."
Already they have talked with numerous interested commercial parties, but declined to identify them until the project is farther along.
The developers say that market needs will determine what goes up first. Typically, commercial interests follow residential development. But in time, they said they expect such businesses as grocery stores, banks, retail shops and others businesses to locate in Harris County's newest community. They also expect to draw high-tech corporate development to The Grove.
Ideally, in two to three years, some facilities should be ready to open, Swift and Scarborough said.
Copyright (c) 2007, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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