With mutters of “unbelievable,” an angry crowd of Grayson residents left the City Council meeting Monday after the council voted to approve a rezoning for property off Moon Road. The 65-acre property can now be developed as a 116-lot subdivision with lower cost, smaller homes than the surrounding properties.
The zoning change allows for homes in the 2,400 square foot range, or 2,600 square feet if the homes are built along Moon Road or adjacent to the first two phases of Georgetown Commons. The homes in the surrounding subdivisions are in the 4,000 square foot range and had sold in the $500,000 to more than $1 million price range. The developer is looking at selling the proposed new homes in the $200,000 to $220,000 price range. This property is essentially what would have been the third phase of Georgetown Commons had the housing market not taken a dive before it could be completed.
A spokesman for developer Rialto Capital out of Florida, Mitch Peavy, had requested that the property be rezoned to allow Verias Construction to build homes in the lower range instead of the minimum requirement of 3,000 square feet. He said although the homes would be smaller, they would still be upscale homes. He initially said that no more than 107 homes would be built, but the number agreed and voted on at Monday’s meeting was 116.
The rezoning had been tabled twice before, but third time proved to be a charm for the developer with the rezoning approved, albeit with 10 additional conditions. With the Grayson City Council one man short, the vote went down 2- 1, with Councilwomen Katie Mitchell and Allison Wilkerson Rooks the two votes that put it through. Most of the anger from the crowd was directed at the two councilwomen.
Gloria Bailey, a resident of the Heritage at Grayson, which is close to the new development, addressed the council on behalf of the opposing homeowners. Herself a realtor, she directed comments to Mitchell and Rooks specifically as fellow realtors.
“You appear to be putting personal interest to sell real estate above the interest of others. Why is this so important to the both of you, but not the mayor or other council member,” Bailey said, asking whether they did not think, as realtors, it was a conflict of interest to vote on the issue. She added in closing, “As a fellow realtor/broker, I am respectfully asking you to recuse yourself from this vote or vote the will of the people and to not allow this change.”
In defense of her vote, Rooks said she had asked Grayson City Planner Steve Sappington his reason for recommending approval. Although the planning board had recommended denial, Sappington’s recommendation had been for approval, with an additional 10 conditions as requested by one of the opposing homeowners.
“We hire Steve and most of the time we go with his recommendations,” Rooks said, adding she had asked him two questions, the first one being whether a zoning should be denied because the neighbors do not want it. “He said ‘No.’ And secondly, I asked ‘Does the property owner have the right to develop and build on his property? and he said ‘Yes.’”
The homeowners, however, were not convinced, with someone shouting out that Sappington was not elected to represent the people - they were. The homeowners in attendance believed that putting more, lower cost homes on the market would increase the supply, thereby again dropping the value of their homes. Most said the round of foreclosures had already significantly reduced their property values.
“We don’t need to be building anything,” Bailey said. “We haven’t seen all the forecloses yet – we’ve got another round of bullets to dodge, and an appraiser will be using those homes against us. You said they won’t, but they will and have.”
Those who spoke in favor of the zoning last month believed that the new homes would be better than the current run down and obviously incomplete lots on the propery. Homeowners in Georgetown Commons also were likely to get a shot at the recreation area being developed along with the final phase. Peavy said, however, that it would be developed as a separate entity and would not be called Georgetown Commons, Phase 3, but it would be linked to the other two phases. The size and scope of the recreation area would depend on how much the first two phases would be prepared to pitch in for the development and upkeep of the rec area.