Developer withdraws plans for 293-unit subdivision in Mt. Airy

It was standing room only inside Mt. Airy City Hall as dozens of residents gathered to voice their opposition to a proposed 293-unit housing development on Demorest-Mt. Airy Highway. The Mt. Airy Planning Commission was scheduled to hold a public hearing on three rezoning requests from Cook's Construction of Gainesville, but the hearing was canceled after an attorney for the developer withdrew their request. (Jerry Neace/Now Habersham)

To the cheers of a delighted crowd, the attorney for a Gainesville developer withdrew her client’s plans to build a 293-unit housing development in Mt. Airy.

Around 70 citizens turned out Wednesday night to voice their concerns to the town planning commission about the proposed development on Demorest-Mt Airy Highway.

They never got a chance to speak.

The highly-anticipated rezoning hearing abruptly ended when Gainesville attorney Jane Range announced her client, Cook’s Construction, was withdrawing its zoning request application.

When the meeting ended, residents had plenty to say. Bruce Coleman called it a “big win” for Mt. Airy.

“I think our infrastructure couldn’t support it. And I think the writing was on the wall, and I think Cook saw that. There’s power in numbers,” he said.

David Robertson is president of the Tower View Homeowner’s Association. His subdivision sits right next to the proposed Cook development site.

“We worked so hard to get this to this place. We got the people out. They were totally against this because of the magnitude of the development. It would have literally made Mt. Airy the third-largest city in Habersham,” Robertson said.

“I think tonight was a perfect example of a community using the opportunity to have their voice heard,” Mt. Airy Town Attorney Jay Doss told Now Habersham.

“I think the planning and zoning committee handled this properly by accepting the withdrawal of the application. As far as what comes up next for the developer, that’s hard for me to say. But I do think that if they follow the process, they will come back with an edited or revised application with less houses per acre.”

The proposed development would have included a mix of single-family residences and townhomes on a 101.4-acre tract of land. Thirty acres were to be designated for greenspace. While the proposed development diagram stated there would be 2.9 lots per acre, once the designated greenspace was subtracted, the actual development area could have been as dense as 4.1 lots per acre.

Neighboring residents expressed concerns about traffic. There were also concerns about how such a large influx of new residents would impact town services. The project, as proposed, would have added approximately 771 new residents to the town, increasing its population by more than half.

The crowd spilled out into the hallway at Mt. Airy Town Hall during the planning commission meeting hearing on Jan. 18, 2023. (Jerry Neace/Now Habersham)

Mt. Airy Mayor Ray McAllister said he’d still like to see the property developed but in a sustainable way.

“Tonight was democracy at work. And I think Cook realized they were fighting a losing battle, maybe; I don’t know that for a fact because it didn’t come to a vote. So I hope we still have the property developed. I hope it’s developed advantageous to Mt. Airy and what Mt Airy wants and what we need. I have talked to the school board, and they were talking about the impact that it would have on Hazel Grove and that they are maxed out pretty much. We have to look at all things,” McAllister told Now Habersham.

For Robertson, the ideal development would be small.

“We like little communities. That’s the reason I moved here was because of the rural residential character. We would just as soon have it nice and rural. It’s for retirees, and that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.

It’s unclear what the developers now intend to do with the property. Range told the appreciative crowd they will now “go back to the drawing board.” Whatever they decide, Doss says they must wait at least 60 days before reapplying.

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