In a split decision, LaGrange City Council voted to approve the rezoning of the property on the 1400 block of Vernon Street, essentially giving the green light to a 320-unit apartment complex that plans to build there.
Council members WT Edmondson and Nathan Gaskin voted in favor of the rezoning while council members Tom Gore and Mark Mitchell voted against. Councilman Jim Arrington abstained from voting, so Mayor Jim Thornton broke the tie by voting in favor.
A divisive factor for residents was fear that the proposed apartment complex would lead to an influx of traffic in the surrounding area.
Thornton said he understands the concern about the new apartment complex, but he believes denying it will lead to less development in this part of town.
“If the 300 apartments are the traffic problem, you can’t put them anywhere on the west side of town because if you put them on West Point Road or you put them on Roanoke Road, those people will still have to bring Vernon down,” Thornton said.
Thornton said he understood the frustration of those concerned about traffic on Vernon Road.
“We know Vernon is a problem [and] it’s a traffic problem. It’s not our worst. If you look at the traffic in town, it’s not the highest,” he said. “The problem with Vernon is that it goes from three lanes in the city, then it drops to two lanes, then it goes back to four lanes where this development is proposed.”
Town planner Mark Kostial said he helped the council by interpreting the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) for this rezoning. He said he wanted to make sure all requests met the expectations set out in the updated document.
“As a planner, my role is to interpret and administer our UDO after receiving a rezoning application [and] also ensure that requests made [are] in line with the expectations listed in our 2021 Global Plan Update,” Kostial said. “The Town of LaGrange is genuinely concerned about safe and efficient traffic throughout our community, which is why staff have and will continue to communicate with GDOT representatives regarding existing traffic issues in the street corridor. Vernon and many of our other major thoroughfares which are also state roads.
The UDO was updated in 2021 and has ten objectives listed to help the town of LaGrange. Kostial said the city is concerned about traffic and will continue to update alongside the Georgia Department of Transportation.
David Sample, a concerned citizen, spoke at the first public hearing on the rezoning. In an interview after the meeting, he cited traffic as the main one.
“We have 320 units on a 22 acre site. It’s just one of the issues and it’s the one we’ve targeted the most due to concerns about increased traffic on an already congested road,” Sample said.
LaGrange Police Department Lt. Marshall McCoy said he encourages members of the community and council to bring their concerns to the LPD.
“If they have any frustrations, they can contact me. We have traffic counters. We send officers. We deal with traffic issues at all times,” McCoy said. our elected officials and the mayor and they’ve always worked with us on that, anything they see, they can always contact us as well.
Kostial said the decision to rezone the property was based on a traffic impact study completed in April 2021.
He said the study highlighted challenges associated with traffic, which were brought to council by members of the community.
“Based on information contained in a recently completed traffic impact study dated April 29, 2021, Vernon Street has a 24-hour volume count ranging from 15,905 to 16,750,” Kostial said. “Citizens who use this road regularly and those who reside along this corridor have first-hand knowledge of the challenges associated with traffic congestion that they have expressed to our elected officials.