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Purchase of vacant subdivisions spurs construction
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Home building is slowly picking up in Newton County, but the pace could ratchet up quickly as development is restarting in multiple vacant subdivisions around the county.

Building is taking place in at least three previously vacant or only partially built-out subdivisions, while two vacant subdivisions had their preliminary plats — a subdivision’s layout plans — approved by the Newton County Planning Commission in September. Other subdivisions are expected to follow suit in the near future.

Conyers-based Crown Communities, one of the Atlanta area’s largest home-building companies, was the first company to pick up the pieces from a housing market collapse that left large swaths of Newton County abandoned in mid-development.

Crown began building homes earlier this year in the Silver Ridge Farms subdivision at the intersection of Jack Neely and Harold Dobbs roads. The subdivision plans Crown submitted to the county — which called for 211 homes on 110-plus acres — were the first plans local officials had seen since around 2007, but other companies are following Crown’s lead.

Subdivisions being revived

Home for Me, a local company owned by Covington attorney Bryan Pulliam, purchased the undeveloped, 102-acre Westminster subdivision off Salem and Smith Store roads July 19 for $490,000 from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., according to the Newton County Tax Assessor’s website.

The county Planning Commission approved Westminster’s preliminary plat, which calls for 201 lots, in September. The subdivision already had roads and utilities installed for phase one, county Landscape Architect Debbie Bell said, which provides a cost and time savings for companies buying land now.

Twin Lakes subdivision, located east of the intersection of Lovers Lane and Roseberry roads, is in a little more unusual position. The 51.85-acre tract has not been sold, and is still owned by Eastside Commercial Bank. Bell said that the bank might be trying to get the property ready to make it easier to sell to a developer. Similar to Westminster, Twin Lakes already had roads and utilities installed.

The subdivision went into foreclosure in July 2010 after being purchased for $2.65 million in January 2007. The property is being marketed by Atlanta-based Bull Realty at a cost of $2.5 million, which is $24,038 per lot for the 104 lots. A flyer produced by Bull Realty said the property needs some sewer lines extended, but touts a "great location, close to a new Walmart Super Center."

Once a company gets a preliminary plat for a subdivision approved, it must then get a land disturbance permit to actually develop the land and then must get a final plat to begin developing individual lots with homes.

"People are inquiring about a lot of abandoned subdivisions, and we’re getting more specific inquiries," Bell said. "There’s a lot more activity than we’ve had in several years."

Lynn Morgan Ervin, director of the county’s developmental services department, said there are around 15 subdivisions that had preliminary plats recorded but never received final plats before they went into foreclosure. Ervin said there’s work taking place on around five or six of those 15 subdivisions currently.

According to the county, 64 subdivisions in the county are in some stage of non-completed development, ranging from some that don’t even have preliminary plats to some that have houses, but have roads that were never topped with a final layer of asphalt.

Some new rules

Both the Westminster and Twin Lakes subdivisions fall under the Salem Road Overlay District, a special zoning designation the county is applying in areas where it expects more dense development. The overlays set modern development standards that emphasize aesthetics, road and sidewalk connectivity, and mixed-use residential and commercial building in certain areas.

Both subdivisions have met the overlays requirements, but each asked for exceptions because of already existing utilities and plans. Westminster asked for an exception to a provision that disallows cul-de-sacs, as removing the existing cul-de-sacs would be cost-prohibitive. Twin Lakes got an exception to a requirement that sidewalks connect the property to surrounding properties. The subdivision will have externally connecting sidewalks on one side, but not on the side off Roseberry Road, as that’s a less- developed area. Sidewalks will still be required in the subdivision itself, according to Ervin.

The owners of the Iris Brook subdivision, Farmers and Merchants Bank, also could submit a preliminary plat for that 58-acre property soon. Another subdivision with roads and utilities but no homes, Iris Brook also had an issue with the cul-de-sac requirement, said county Zoning Administrator Judy Johnson. Because it was on the outskirts of the Almon Overlay, on Iris Drive near the Rockdale County border, the subdivision was completely removed from the overlay’s requirements, but still has to meet the rest of the county’s beefed-up development criteria.

Iris Brook is being marketed by the bank — which says the property will hold 109 lots, but no price was listed.

Silver Ridge Farms, which is more centrally located in the Almon Overlay, had to meet the requirements of the overlay when it was approved.

Home construction is coming back

Ervin said the first resident of Silver Ridge Farms is expected to move into a new house in the coming weeks, and she said Crown has permits to build up to 20 houses in the development.

Homes are also being built in Cooper’s Lake, southeast of the intersection of Fairview and Womack roads. Cooper’s Lake already had its final plat and a few existing homes, so a new developer was able to come in and start building with less paperwork. Atlanta-based Iconic College Realty purchased most of the lots in the subdivision in March.

Similarly, home construction is taking place in the partially developed Oakwood Manor, off Kirkland Road. One of the numerous alphabet-soup companies that are purchasing foreclosed properties around the country, Atlas Ga. XX Reo LLC, purchased dozens of lots in Oakwood Manor in November 2012.

According to Newton County’s Department of Development Services, builders have secured 55 residential building permits in 2013, the highest total since 2008. There were only 10 residential building permits approved in all of 2012; this year, there have been three straight months with more than 10 residential building permits.

Covington is not seeing the same increase. The city had 55 new residential building permits in 2012, but, as of early November, has only had 18 this year.