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Posted: Thursday, August 28th 2014 at 9:07am

Piedmont Housing Village heads to Sept. 2 vote in Demorest

By Rob Moore Editor
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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Demorest City Councilmen Sean Moore, Jerry Harkness, Donnie Bennett, John Popham and Mayor Rick Austin look at a conceptual plan for Piedmont Housing Village presented by Sammy Smith. (Photo/Rob Moore)
DEMOREST - The Demorest City Council will vote Tuesday on a request from Piedmont College for a mixed-use development on Demorest-Mt. Airy Highway.

In its request for Piedmont Housing Village, the college has proposed commercial development along the road, with a dozen residential buildings behind.

The Demorest Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend approval, with seven conditions, of the request by the college for the development.

The conditions set forth in recommended approval include:

* Installation of a master water/sewer meter for the residential component of the project. That meter would be billed to the college;

* A copy of a final NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division;

* Design, permit and installation of an eastbound turn lane on Demorest-Mt. Airy Highway at the prime entrance to the project;

* A September 2016 update on the traffic impact study;

* Natural aesthetic enhancements surrounding the retention pond;

* Sensitivity to and encouragement of safe, lighted pedestrian pathways from the main campus to the project; and

* Compliance with exterior signage ordinance for the commercial component of the project.

The current land use for the parcel, located at 3999 Demorest-Mt. Airy Highway, is moderate intensity, meaning it allows both residential and commercial use.

At the front of the development will be either two or four buildings housing businesses.

Behind that will be a dozen residential structures with four four-bedroom apartment-style dorms each.

"Staff commends the applicants for a visionary, exceptionally good use plan for the property," city staff documents accompanying the request show. "Of particular high quality are interior, passive green spaces, resident connectivity, natural construction material and ample parking. Institutional research confirms a high need for quality student housing within easy reach of the main campus and further research confirms a need for myriad retail entities to be supported by the intended residents and general public as well."

Councilman John Popham said he has been asked by "a lot of citizens" if Piedmont College would build a pedestrian bridge where the former iron bridge was located over the old dam.

"I'll inquire," Mayor Rick Austin said.

There also was extensive discussion of a possible traffic signal at the entrance of the development on Demorest-Mt. Airy Highway, with council members and other city officials saying it likely would impede traffic trying to reach the nearby elementary and middle schools.

The traffic study included as a condition would help determine whether there is sufficient need for a signal at the development, located roughly 1,000 feet from Central Avenue (Historic Highway 441).

Regarding the proposed mixed-used development, Austin praised the college's plans.

"All in all, I think this particular project is going to be a great addition to our city," Austin said. "They are going to be, to begin with - and I think probably in perpetuity - very selective about the students that go into this particular development. This will be the premier development residential area."

Austin said being selected to live in the development will, as he understands it, be based on where a student is in his or her studies, on grade-point average, and may entail a letter of recommendation from the student's major professor.

"Choosing the students that go in there is going to be a rigorous process," Austin said. "I really love the idea of having some retail space there as well. I think it's new. I think it's novel. It's needed."

Demorest Public Relations Consultant Sammy Smith, who presented the staff and planning commission recommendations, explained the council's options.

"Next week you are empowered to accept the report as is, or amend it by striking some conditions or adding some conditions," Smith told the council. "That's your prerogative."

If approved, work on the development will begin around Oct. 1, with completion in July 2015.

Following the meeting, Austin further discussed the proposal.

"It is very much a first for the city and it's very much a first for the college as well," Austin said. "It's going to involve mixed use, it's going to be part residential, and it's going to have a commercial aspect to it as well. It's well planned. It got glowing reviews from the planning commission. We look forward to handling it in next week's meeting. It's going to be a great addition to our community and a great addition to the college."
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