Developer Gary Gilmer is abandoning both infill projects and withdrew his latest plans for a 38-patio home subdivision at 3217 and 3221 Skinner Mill Road during Monday’s city planning commission meeting.
“I was originally proposing the townhouses and all was looking great as far as with the banks,” he said. “They were 110 percent behind us, but now we’re doing what the community wants and the banks will not support the project. It’s going the other way. We tried to please them (neighbors), and we shoot ourselves in the foot. Either way, we’re stuck so we’re just going to totally withdraw all together.”
Gilmer and a business partner initially wanted to develop the two Augusta parcels into a 66-unit townhome development at a density of 10.9 units per acre, less than the 17 units per acre maximum set forth by the city. Gilmer planned to build out the “high-end” subdivision in three phases and price the homes between the high $140,000s and $200,000.
Surrounding homeowners, however, expressed disdain with the project, worried that traffic would increase on the already busy road and their own property values would plummet. A search on the city’s online property maps system showed that home values in the neighborhoods next to the land on Skinner Mill Road ranged from the upper 100s to nearly $1 million.
More than 100 residents living in Waverly, Dorchester, Park Place and other nearby neighborhoods signed a petition to block Gilmer from rezoning the six acres to multifamily residential.
In response to the opposition, Gilmer withdrew his townhome rezoning request in May and changed the layout. In his new plans, the clustered development remained gated and kept the same “English cottage” feel. Gilmer said the homes would be marketed between $299,000 and $400,000.
The three banks that approved financing for the townhomes, though, couldn’t do the same for the new project because of a low property appraisal, said Gilmer, a former Atlanta developer who now lives in Thomson.
“The appraisers today need 90 days or 120 days to look back on (comparables),” he said. “There aren’t any comps in the area that are going to appraise because this is an older community. We pushed the envelope with them, so to speak, beyond what they were comfortable with.”
Bart O’Quinn, who lives next to the property on Skinner Mill Road, said he and his neighbors are happy the land will retain a lower-density residential zoning. The current one-family residential zoning would allow no more than 17 homes to be built on the land, he added.
“I’d rather have woods then 17 homes, but I’d rather have 17 homes than 41 homes,” he said. “We just didn’t think it was going to be fair to have it switched on us.”
Gilmer said he’ll shift his focus to two proposed Columbia County projects that include a 16-unit townhome community on Flowing Wells Road near Interstate 20 and a 23-acre subdivision on Harlem-Grovetown Road.
“I’m learning more about the Augusta market,” he said. “It’s night and day from Atlanta is what I’m really realizing. I’m trying to bring the same product that I was comfortable in building back in Atlanta out this way. Without the banks supporting it, it’s just not going to happen right now. It might be another 20 years.”