Woodstock planning commission

In this file photo, Woodstock Planning Commission members hear a case. From left: Commission Chair James Drinkard, Commissioner Rod Chumbley and Commissioner Renee Gable.

WOODSTOCK — Plans to annex and develop land for a new medical facility in Woodstock are halted while the applicant addresses concerns from neighbors and city officials.

The Woodstock Planning Commission tabled an annexation and rezoning application Thursday from Piedmont Capital Partners to build a three-story medical office at 297 Rope Mill Rd.

The land, currently part of an unincorporated island within city limits, consists of 2.26 acres currently zoned for residential use.

In addition to annexing into the city and rezoning to allow commercial use, the applicant, represented by Jeff Pittman, seeks five variances: two are asking the city to require fewer trees planted on the site; one requests more parking spaces than the city allows; one reduces the size of the loading space next to the building; and the last variance would reduce the setback from 40 feet to 10 feet.

The Piedmont Capital Partners plan involves effectively clear-cutting all of the existing trees on the site. Woodstock requires builders that remove trees to plant at least 100 inches per acre in new trees, as well as replace specimen trees on an inch-by-inch basis. Pittman has requested variances to half each of these requirements, which involve planting more trees than in unincorporated Cherokee County. City staff recommended a compromise on tree density by reducing the requirement by 15%, and denying the other variance. The applicant will also have the option to pay into the city’s tree preservation fund for trees not planted.

Staff recommended approving 183 spaces in the parking lot, 54 more than the maximum, because the 183 spaces were calculated based on market data and Pittman has proposed 30 light-colored pavement spaces to comply with Woodstock’s sustainability measures. They also recommended the request for a smaller loading area.

Commissioners expressed concerns about the setback reduction, which staff recommended on the condition that a 10 foot Greenprints Trail extension be added along Rope Mill Road. They suggested alternatives that could save the setback, including rotating the building to face west to the parking lot instead of Rope Mill Road, or moving the building footprint to the center of the lot.

Pittman presented a revised plan for the site that proposed an eight foot trail extension with a 10-foot setback, though city staff said they had not had time to review the new plan.

Some residents of the Montclair at Ridgewalk subdivision across the street worried about the view from their neighborhood entrance.

“As we have thought over what, visually will be presented to us as homeowners here, it is very significant. I try to put it in my mind’s eye and what I see is a three-story wall immediately adjacent to the entrance to our subdivision. I applaud anything that can be done to ameliorate the look of that,” Carol Lango said. “Enough space between the building and the road that would allow for some serious landscaping that would cut the view, changing the position of the building would be fantastic.”

The site presents topographical challenges, with a slope downward from the east to the west side. Pittman said rotating the building would require it to be raised an extra 15 feet, which would not be “economically feasible.” But later, he was open to changing the layout.

“Would you be willing to possibly reshape the building, and I don’t know how many reiterations you’ve gone through, so that you could actually take that building and put it on the higher side, closer to the roundabout, and then turn part of that building to where you could still maximize your space and stay on top of that hill? That way the community’s only seeing a portion of that building, and you’re still getting a view where people have a sightline. Would that be a consideration?” asked Commissioner Rod Chumbley.

“We’ll go back and look at it again if we need to, if that’s what’s asked,” Pittman said.

Commissioners decided they wanted to see more options and they needed more information to make a decision. They voted 4-1 to table the project with Commissioner Robert Tidwell opposed.

The owner of the property is listed as James L. Drinkard. Planning Commission Chair James T. Drinkard said he is not, nor is he related to the property owner.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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