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No road, no new homes in Wildwood
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No more homes will be built in the Wildwood subdivision in Covington unless a second, paved road is built to provide a second entrance for residents and emergency vehicles.

The Covington City Council voted Monday to deny a developer’s request to amend the zoning conditions on vacant land in the Wildwood subdivision, and, in fact, voted to make the conditions more stringent by requiring a fully paved road for a second entrance and not allowing a gravel road to be built.

It’s unclear if the developer looking at the property, The Ardent Companies, is willing to pay to build a paved road.

Council members made it clear they wanted the next developer planning to build homes in the subdivision to make up for the failings of past developers, who never built a second road even though it was promised and required by the zoning conditions placed on the property when it was originally rezoned.

The International Fire Code requires there to be two entrances to developments of a certain size, though Covington’s fire marshal said the code doesn’t specify whether roads must be gravel or paved.

The council followed the planning commission’s recommendation from last week, but only council votes are binding.

The council’s decision means that no one, not the current developer nor another developer or company, can request any change to the property’s zoning for six months.

Todd Terwilliger, with Atlanta-based developer The Ardent Companies, originally asked for an amendment, hoping to find a cheaper alternative to building a second road. Terwilliger declined to comment to The News last week; however, Smith said Tuesday he was told by Ardent a gravel road could cost around $300,000 to build, while a paved road with curbs and gutters could cost $800,000.

Covington Senior Planner Scott Gaither said Tuesday the road included in the original plans, which would tie Wildwood into the neighboring Highgrove subdivision, would be around 1,900-2,000 linear feet long.

Though Terwilliger has never explicitly stated it in any public meeting, curremt market conditions mean  that the upfront cost of building such a road would make it extremely difficult to realize a profit on the actual building and selling of new houses. Even without the road cost, homebuilding is not currently turning big profits in Newton County; multiple other builders have told The News over the past few months they expect it to take several months to a year before home appraisals reach a point where they’re higher than what it costs to build a new house.

Terwilliger actually asked the council to allow him to withdraw without prejudice his request for an amendment, which would have allowed either his company or another developer to come back anytime with another request, whether it related to the road or anything else, such as lot and house sizes.

He said he didn’t want to penalize Hamilton State Bank, which actually owns the property. Ardent contracted with the bank to purchase lots in the subdivision in July, but Terwilliger said the zoning conditions threw up a "red flag."

Some planning commission members and residents criticized Ardent representatives for being unprepared last week, because they had not had a chance to meet with the fire marshal and city planning department to discuss options. However, representative R.J. Fields said scheduling conflicts had delayed a meeting — which Smith confirmed — and Terwilliger said Monday that the contract has a timeline, which is why he was trying to move quickly. He said he has reached out to Conyers-based Crown Communities about building houses; Crown originally built homes in the subdivision.

Terwilliger and Fields left after the decision and did not say if they planned to pursue developing the property.

Located on 256 acres, Wildwood has 53 homes and 34 developed lots ready for homes; original plans called for up to 550 homes.

The undeveloped portion — around 189 acres — went into foreclosure during the housing market collapse and has changed hands multiple times.

The council actually placed a second condition on the property before construction would be allowed, which is to resolve some outstanding greenspace and wetlands donation issues. Under the original conditions placed on the property when it was rezoned by the county from agricultural to single-family residential, some of the 256 acres would be set aside and donated to the county as permanent greenspace.

Former Covington city attorney Jerry Bouchillon said he checked deed records and not all of the donations have taken place. Gaither said he had not yet been able to confirm the property transfers with county officials.

Wildwood residents expressed the same concerns about safety they did last week and have for years.

Speaking on behalf of the neighborhood, the Rev. Eric D. Threets Jr. said having only one entrance — Scenic Parkway, two one-lane roads divided by a raised, grass median — was unsafe because it could be blocked off by a car breaking down or bad weather conditions, hindering both residents and emergency vehicles.

Threets said residents are not opposed to more home building, but simply want another entrance.

Councilman Chris Smith said he was not happy with a gravel road and said it was time for the council to take a stand and make sure the promise made to residents is kept; the rest of the council agreed.