Apartment complex blocked

Despite warnings that something worse might be built on adjacent land, Columbia County commissioners denied the rezoning of a 10-acre tract in Evans on Tuesday night, disallowing the construction of a luxury apartment complex there.

Executives with Meybohm Commercial Properties and Johnson Development Associates Inc. asked for the rezoning at the corner of Washington and Kroger roads from commercial to apartment-residential uses. The land neighbors 20 acres already zoned for apartment uses, according to county records.

Developers had planned to combine the acreage for the luxury apartments. The commission voted 3-1 to deny the request, with Commissioner Ron Thigpen as the sole dissenter. Commissioner Diane Ford was absent.

Jim Berardinelli, the director of real estate for Spartanburg, S.C.-based Johnson Development Associates, said his company intended to build an upscale apartment complex targeted to young professionals at an average cost of $900 per month per apartment in a 312-unit complex.

The complex would have included a "resort-style" swimming pool, a mixed-use clubhouse, a fitness center, an Internet cafe, a jogging trail, play areas and a $500,000 landscaping package inside a gated community, Mr. Berardinelli said.

Now, area residents could be neighbored by a substandard apartment complex created by developers heeding only to the minimum standards of construction on the 20 acres already zoned for apartments, warned Dennis Trotter, of Meybohm.

Because the zoning of the 20 acres next to Heritage Hills subdivision is already in place, commissioners can do little to prevent a different developer from constructing less-desirable apartments there, Mr. Thigpen said.

"When we look back two years from now ... we potentially have done a disservice to all these folks represented here tonight," he said.

The land previously had been zoned as apartment-residential. It was rezoned for commercial uses in mid-2007 for a Tractor Supply store. Later, store executives decided to remain at their current location on Bobby Jones Expressway.

During a recent Columbia County Planning Commission meeting, where the rezoning was recommended for approval, Mr. Berardinelli said his company would not build if they were limited to 20 acres.

A full 30 acres is needed to build something other than subsidized housing on the property, he said.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.