Builders argue annexation increases costs
by DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
Mar 27, 2013 | 1322 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Local builders complained Tuesday evening that annexing unfinished subdivisions would lead to higher development costs, higher home prices and unsold houses standing empty for longer periods.

Builders expressed their concerns as the Cleveland Municipal Planning Commission considered annexing eight areas into the city. The areas included:

- 15.5 acres of Anatole subdivision;

- 49.1 acres located in the Old Freewill Road area including Silver Springs subdivision;

- 974.9 acres including Hardwick Farms and a portion of the surrounding property to the east to the existing city limits along the Norfolk Southern Railroad;

- 27.8 acres off Westland Drive, the site of the proposed veterans home;

- 88.2 acres along Silver Maple Drive;

- 327 acres along Mason Road, Johnston School Road and Brymer Creek Road, north to the existing city limits;

- 14.1 acres on Autumn Drive and Summer Breeze Circle North to 31st Street N.E.

- 48.8 acres along Old Chattanooga Pike, including Ridgefield Court and Chestnut Oak Drive.

The commissioners voted to recommend annexation of six areas to the City Council: Anatole, Hardwick Farms, the veterans’ home site on Westland Drive, and along Mason Road, Autumn Drive and Old Chattanooga Pike.

The meeting was eventually adjourned to noon on April 4 until after city staff and builders can resolve their differences. The areas along Old Freewill Road were tabled until builder Dennis Epperson is assured the city will accept county standards for streets and setbacks in Silver Springs subdivision. Also, an 8-acre subdivision along Urbane Road was removed from the Hardwick Farm area.

The area along Silver Maple Drive was postponed because it is undeveloped woodland and the owners, the children of Dr. John Stanbery, do not want the 88.1 acres annexed into the city.

Ocoee Region Builders Association President Lake Mantooth criticized the city for “fast tracking” the annexation to avoid proposed legislation in the General Assembly. If passed, annexation would require a referendum of affected property owners. The legislation is S.B. 270, sponsored by state Sen. Bo Watson.

“Our grave concern is, once (local) hearings begin, areas proposed for annexation will be grandfathered in if the bill passes even without the input, approval or agreement of the landowners,” Mantooth said. “Annexation affects a whole range of issues concerning financial arrangements, lot sales and tax structure, just to name a few.”

He said builders have no assurances the plats and plans approved by Bradley County would be accepted by the city.

“Currently, builders are not protected from regulation changes even after preliminary and final plat approval (by the county),” he said.

Mantooth said builders can sell their properties with the advantage of rural development loans available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

City of Cleveland Development and Engineering Services Director Jonathan Jobe said the annexation is not on a “fast track.” It has been at least a yearlong process and any property within the urban growth boundary could be annexed at any time.

At-Large Councilman George Poe, who serves on the Commission, said Hardwick Farm requested annexation two years ago and then asked for more time. The Council has given it that time, he said.

Jobe said city staff wants to be pro-development.

“If it (Silver Springs subdivision) is already coming in and if he’s (Dennis Epperson) already got preliminary plat approval, I’m not going to make him jump through a whole new set of hoops he has jumped through over here. I don’t want to cost him any more money,” he said. “We will work with developers trying to come in. We don’t want any undue burdens.”

Preliminary plat approval in the county expires after two years. Final plat approval does not expire.

“If it is valid when you come into the city, I’m going to honor it,” he said.

Ricky Brooks said $400,000 has been invested in building a road and bringing sewer into 8 acres off Urbane Road. If it is annexed into the city, then he cannot sell the homes under the Rural Development loan program. He asked for a two-year delay before his property is annexed.

“I wish someone would have told me you were going to do this,” Brooks said.

Epperson said he was glad to hear what Jobe had to say, but it was not the same as city staff told him.

“They told me that Silver Springs would be annexed and if I didn’t have the asphalt down, I would have to build those roads to meet city specifications,” he said. “Basically, I was told our (city) inspectors will be out there and you will build the roads to our specs if you don’t have those roads in by the time we annex. I’m glad to hear something different tonight.”

He said annexation would add about $2,000 to the cost of one of his houses.

Commissioner and builder Tricia Haws said there are issues that have not been resolved with builders and they do feel annexation is being rushed. Builders and developers have already marketed their developments at specific prices.

“The building industry is just now beginning to make its way back and those of us who survived are very happy to still be here,” she said. “We’re getting different answers along the way and unfortunately, these are issues that are going to cost a tremendous amount of money.”

Commissioner Larry Presswood said the city and builders should sit down and resolve their differences.