Gary Gilmer, a former Atlanta developer, is seeking to rezone two adjacent parcels at 3217 and 3221 Skinner Mill Road from single-family residential to multi-family residential that would accommodate his 66-unit townhome development — a community which he described as high-end and having a “village” feel.
Opponents of Gilmer’s request, scheduled to go before the Augusta Planning Commission on Monday, contend traffic would increase on the already busy thoroughfare. Their main fear, however, is plummeting property values that would result from a new development, with smaller homes and lot sizes than their nearby homes.
“Whether they’re pretty or not doesn’t matter,” said Rick Acree, who lives across from the property on Skinner Mill Road. “It’s not in keeping with the character of the community. If he wants to build townhomes, there are places that he can do that, and it would be consistent with what’s already there.”
Gilmer, who now lives in Thomson and serves as treasurer on the Thomson-McDuffie County Chamber of Commerce, said he’d been eyeing the six-acre property for about six months, noting its proximity to restaurants, shopping outlets and other commercial spots as ideal for retirees, students and Masters patrons.
The development, which Gilmer called “Worthington,” would consist of one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet. Each townhome would include Craftsman-style architecture, one- or two-car garages, timber accents and staggered elevations. The neighborhood also would feature antique street lighting and a central congregation area for residents, Gilmer said.
Though the property is bordered on one side by detached-home subdivisions, the other end is framed by apartment complexes.
“You need a variety of product I think for community to be real successful,” he said. “Back in Atlanta, every little community has their own variety.”
In Atlanta, Gilmer developed mixed-use buildings, townhomes and single-family homes for about 20 years. His projects ranged anywhere from $250,000 to $6 million, but Gilmer said he took a big hit financially after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. started shutting down banks.
Gilmer moved full-time to Thomson in 2008 and has since been involved in home renovation projects, fire restorations and mold remediation across the area, he said.
Gilmer said he also plans this year to build 22 townhomes on a Columbia County parcel near the future Gander Mountain store.
For the Skinner Mill Road project, Gilmer and business partner Vance Henry are proposing a density of 10.9 units per acre, which is less than the 17 units per acre maximum set forth in the multi-family residential zoning district. Initially, the duo had toyed with adding more units but scaled back after hearing concerns from neighbors, Gilmer said.
The estimated $11.5 million project would be built in three phases, likely to be completed within two years. Gilmer said he’d price the units between the high $140,000s and about $200,000. Binding covenants, he said, would be drawn to govern homeowners in the neighborhood.
“The last thing we want is for something to go downhill,” he said. “This has very strict guidance that prohibits that.”
Still, more than 100 neighboring property owners from Waverly, Dorchester, Woodbluff and several other neighborhoods have signed a petition to prevent the rezoning from passing, said Acree, who is also the city’s facilities manager.
“The 30909 zip code has more apartment units than any other zip code in the city of Augusta,” he said. “We don’t need any more multi-family in that area.”
At an April 28 neighborhood meeting, those residents voiced their dissatisfaction to Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith, who has said he opposes the rezoning for the burden it would place on traffic and schools.
Gilmer said he and Vance have gone door-to-door talking with neighbors and believes the negative perception about the project is starting to change. He said early misinformation that the development would consist of apartments likely created a stigma.
Acree, who plans to protest the rezoning at Monday’s meeting, said townhomes would be just as detrimental to his property value as apartments.
“Whether it’s 105 apartments, which would be permitted under the zoning they requested, or 66 townhomes, it’s still substantially more dense than the neighbors we’ve got now,” he said.