The Cherokee County Planning Commission during Tuesday night’s meeting approved a zoning request for property where developers want to build an assisted living facility in Hickory Flat.

After Planning Commission member Richard Weatherby recused himself because of an ownership stake in the property, the remaining members heard a case from Manor Lake Development, asking for 21.54 acres at 125 Foster Road in the Hickory Flat community to be rezoned from residential requiring lots of 80,000 square feet to office institutional so an assisted living and memory care facility could be built there.

“(There will be) 105 units in the main building, which will house the assisted living and memory care residents,” Will Creekmore of Manor Lake said. “It’s a one-story building that has kind of a mountain lodge feel.”

In addition, Creekmore said there will be 10 independent living cottages, each of which contain four units to house residents who may want to be near to a spouse in the main facility, or want to be close to it for all of its amenities. He said the facility is not a high-density development and would not create traffic problems for the area.

Six people addressed the commission during the hearing, four of whom supported the application and two who were opposed to the change.

“My record is clear that I’m a strong proponent of responsible growth in Cherokee County. I feel this change from R-80 to office industrial is appropriate,” Brian Kovacs said, adding it would bring good-paying jobs to the area, would not tax the school system and would look nice in the community.

Larry Singleton said he works with companies like Manor Lake Development to find property for facilities.

“This is a classic example of step-down zoning,” Singleton said.

On the flip side, Robbie Graham Exley voiced her concerns about the traffic she believed would be generated by the facility, as well as it creating a serious water pressure issue for the area.

“This is a huge complex. It’s going to be traffic going in and out constantly,” she said.

Also opposed to the rezoning was Summer Owens, asking if a facility like this was really needed because of similar facilities in various stages of development nearby. After having talked with some of her neighbors, Owens suggested a different idea for the property.

“What we do hear is that there is a demand for casual dining, small retail and small business space, but in a desirable setting,” she said.

After Exley and Owens spoke, Creekmore addressed their concerns, saying that traffic has never been an issue with any of the developments his company has been involved in. He also said the company would do its part to keep the water pressure from being an issue and that nearby developments are not similar to what was being planned for the site.

Commissioner Tom Ware asked Creekmore if the 45 parking spaces shown in the plans would be enough, with Creekmore saying it would be, as there are only between 20 and 25 staff members at the facility during the day. During the subsequent discussion, Commissioner Rick Whiteside agreed Hickory Flat has a traffic problem, but said the project would have less of a traffic impact than other uses. Commissioner Ken Smith also expressed support. Commissioners then voted to approve the rezoning.

The final case of the night involved a request from Jacklett Construction to rezone 8.29 acres at 9358 Free Home Highway from agricultural to office institutional and light industrial for the purpose of putting a construction office and shop on the site, along with concurrent variances to remove the interior buffer between the office institutional section and light industrial section, as well as to grade and replant the exterior buffers along the north and south property lines. Weatherby also recused himself from this case, explaining that Jacklett had contributed to his campaign for the board of commissioners.

“This property that we have found, we’re excited about it. We truly think it’s a win-win for everybody,” Jacklett Construction President Leonard Jacklett said, explaining that the property was a fairly difficult one to develop, with an old chicken house on the site, along with it being located between a water tower and a cell phone tower.

He went on to explain that the company would work to make their proposed office and shop blend in with the surrounding community, saying the office would be made to look like a farmhouse, while the shop would strongly resemble a barn. After speaking with future neighbors, he said none of those he spoke to had any issue with the development. Speaking in favor of the case, Ray Durham said he lives across Free Home Highway from the site and, not only did he believe it would be a good asset for the neighborhood, he said he would essentially have to see this every day and had no issue with it going there. Following Durham, real estate agent Cynthia Chandlee said she felt this was an ideal location for the company, as she believed the site would be a tough sell for a residential community.

Planning commissioners passed a motion to recommend approval of the rezoning, but with two conditions added. The first condition called for the office to be residential in style and the shop to be built to look like a barn, while the other would limit the light industrial portion of the property to this kind of use.

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