Think of it as the municipal government version of a blockbuster, three-team trade. On Tuesday, members of the Cartersville Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend de-annexing more than 250 acres near Paga Mine Road back to Bartow County — who, in turn, would most likely annex the property right back into the City of Emerson.
“Bartow County owns several hundred acres on the opposite side of the Etowah River, more across from the Waterford area,” Cartersville Director of Planning and Development Randy Mannino said. “The County is requesting to de-annex approximately 265 acres.”
Such a proposal, Mannino added, isn’t standard procedure for the City.
“We’ve done a few of them, but I think the property was zoned public institutional in the city limits,” he said, “and I believe, temporarily when it’s de-annexed, it will go back to the county as an A1 agricultural zoning.”
Mannino said he’s heard concerns that some city property may be stuck in pockets “sitting out in the middle of nowhere” if the de-annexation request goes through. However, if the municipalities iron out an agreement to make the de-annexation official, he said those properties wouldn’t be at risk of being “stranded.”
“One being the fire training facility, which is in the city jurisdiction, that’s just north of the subject property,” he said. “There is a horse farm in the Paga Mine Road area, but there will be a strip of property left back to the city jurisdiction.”
Rather ironically, Bartow County opted to annex the property into the City of Cartersville roughly 15 years ago.
“It was put into the city to push back on that landfill that was looking at the Paga Mine property,” Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson said. “The County and the City worked together to defeat a regional landfill going there. Since then that’s been the site of interest for Avatron and other big developments, most recently Jim Jacoby’s interested in a mixed-use.”
At one point, Olson said the county water department contemplated using the property as the site of a treatment facility, possibly with farm fields to take advantage of biosolids disposals.
But that was before the property started garnering interest from developers with big ambitions.
“This is the third, maybe, big project come and sniff this area,” Olson said. “It’s hard to find several hundred acres of undeveloped land right on the interstate, and everybody sees LakePoint so we sort of expected sooner or later something would end up there.”
While the proposed Avatron Park development fell through, the County is optimistic that Jacoby Development Inc.’s plans for a gargantuan, 1,000-acre-plus mixed use site — currently titled the Etowah Highlands — will one day become a reality.
In fact, the County already approved a tax allocation district in and around the Paga Mine area, which would assist Jacoby with the upfront costs of redeveloping the site.
“Their first concept, they talked about putting a golf course down this way, and then more recently they’ve said 'No, we’re not interested in a golf course.' I think they’re really more interested potentially in the part that’s straight north, but they’re still evolving their plans,” Olson said.
Conceptual documents presented last fall indicate the development would include 565,000 square feet of commercial and residential properties, complete with 3,700 residential units and and a mixed-use, retail-anchored city center.
“They’ve talked about making it look like Beale Street and Bourbon Street and have it snazzy,” Olson said. “It’s a grand project. Of course, we’ve had a lot of people propose grand projects. So we’re glad to see it moving forward, but we haven’t gotten any details yet, so there could be some kind of residential or greenspace aspect that would tail off to the southwest.”
Pending the project goes forward — and the Cartersville City Council votes to approve the de-annexation at an April meeting — Olson said the County would most likely annex the 265 acres into the City of Emerson. Essentially, he said the purpose of the request is to get “their whole project under one jurisdiction.”
“It could all be in the county if they wanted to de-annex the big 500 acres from Emerson, but I don’t know if Emerson would even agree with that,” Olson said. “I think that they would probably look forward to receiving revenue and so forth off of the development, if it occurs.”
However, Olson said the County does not intend to sell all of the property to prospective developers.
“We wouldn’t sell the frontage along the river,” he said. “Their designers have talked about that, too, to keep greenspace, maybe have walking trails, more kayak access. It’s a valuable resource that, once you lose, you don’t get back.”
With Commissioners Greg Culverhouse and Steven Smith absent, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the request to the Cartersville City Council. A first council reading of the proposal is scheduled for a March 21 meeting at 7 p.m.
The planning commission also approved an update to the city zoning map, in the words of Cartersville Assistant City Attorney Keith Lovell, “with the understanding that if the council approves the de-annexation request by the County, that that will be reflected on that map.”
The zoning map update is the first for the City since 2016. “We try to annually update the zoning map with all the cases that occurred in the previous year,” Mannino said. “We haven’t done that in about three years, so we’ve got about three years worth of zoning cases.”
The planning commission also gave their approval for Chairman Lamar Pinson to sign off on a preliminary plat for a 13-lot split at 721 Mission Road.
Mannino said the property will be developed under its current R20 single family residential zoning.
“This is an administrative procedure,” he said. “It is not a rezoning … the next step in the process is for the applicant to submit engineered drawings of the actual design and layout.”