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Questions on resource strains aired on Four A development
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Developers of a proposed 308-acre, mixed-use development invited the public to an information session Thursday in hopes of answering questions regarding the impact the project will have on traffic, schools and the county's aging water system.

Rockdale residents have voiced strong opposition to the development during recent zoning hearings for the property, which is situated between Iris Drive, Johnson Road and Flat Shoals Road. Still in the "conceptual" stage, Four A International has owned the property since 1982 is awaiting the city's zoning approval in order to break ground.

"This is still very concept-driven," Four A Director of Development David Roper said Thursday. "I have a high degree of confidence there are market opportunities, and we will be preparing to engage those once the zoning is approved. We probably have six months of site work to do and I anticipate we will be turning soil in 2014 (if the zoning is approved)."

With a proposed 1,451 residential units and 505,500 square feet of commercial space planned for the site, residents have voiced concerns over the need for such a development in a community with an abundance of vacant stores and empty houses. Other long-reaching concerns include the strain the development will put on the county's dilapidated Almand Branch sewage facility, the increase in traffic along the winding Johnson Road and the overcrowding of schools.

"We need higher education, light industry, jobs, high tech industry, and we need a college in Rockdale," Conyers resident David Shipp, who serves on the Rockdale Water and Sewer Authority, said at the Four A meeting. "We don't need any more homes. Put a college there."

Among the first to arrive for the three-hour meeting were Shipp, Water and Sewer Authority Chair Elaine Nash and Rockdale School Superintendent Richard Autry, who all said they have not yet had an official meeting with the developers to discuss the impact of the project. If the zoning change is approved and construction begins in 2014, the first phase will involve a 200-unit multi-family residential building, single family homes and commercial space that is expected to generate 750,000 gallons of waste per day according Four A's initial impact study.

Plans for the project call for creating a "livable community" with "lifelong communities principles" and the concept of the mixed-use development is a "walkable, human-scaled community providing a healthy, activity-oriented, traffic calming lifestyle serving all age groups" according to information provided by Four A. The design will be heavily monitored by the city's planning department, which has been working with the developers for four years and has created a very specific idea of how the development will look, as laid out in the mixed-use development zoning district approved by the city last year. But the problem residents see with the development is not how it will look, but rather will it be beneficial to the community and is it smart growth.

"We have all these empty homes and all these developments that didn't get off the ground, and we are going to build another one?" Elaine Nash, of the water and sewer authority, said at the meeting Thursday. "We have over 2,000 empty homes in Rockdale. We don't have a shortage of housing."

The developers say they are looking to bring something new to Conyers - a level of living and a lifestyle they say is in high demand but low in supply, according to Geoff Koski, a land use economist who is working as a consultant on the project. In response to concerns regarding the vacancy at Four A's Corner Market, Koski said the developers are not into "speculative" real estate ventures.

"The idea is that the first phase really sets the tone for the community and retail follows rooftops," Koski said. He referenced Patrick Square outside of Clemson, South Carolina and the mixed-use Baxter Village community outside of Charlotte, North Carolina as models for the Rockdale project.

While Corner Market does have several vacant parcels available for lease, the apartment complex behind Corner Market is 95 percent occupied according to Susan Haydel with Ram Partners, the company that manages the apartment complex. At the information meeting Thursday, Haydel said the first phase of development includes over 200 multi-family units in a four story building above retail space. She said the high-end, strictly rental units will likely rent for an average of $1,200 per month, and amenities will include elevators, a gym, a pool, brick sidewalks, a cyber cafe and interior corridor parking.

"I think it is time for Rockdale to grow," Haydel said. "This developer does everything first class. Look at the buildings at Corner Market. All units will have crown molding, ceramic tile, 9 foot ceilings and other high-end features."

The design features, however, were not among the concerns voiced by residents, and even though the city council is expected to consider the Four A rezoning request again at their regular meeting June 5, there may be many more meetings to come before the project will gain more support than opposition from the community.

"Initially I share some concerns," RCPS Superintendent Autry said at the information meeting. "We want to have a sit down meeting to talk about what the impact is for construction, overcrowding and we need to know to expect and plan for."

City of Conyers planning officials are holding an information meeting Tuesday, May 28 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm in city council chambers to address questions from the public about the city's mixed-use development district, which is the zoning classification Four A is seeking in order to move forward with the project.