Why Withlacoochee River floodplain deannexation from Valdosta? @ GLPC 2021-07-26 2021-07-26

Update 2021-08-02: Withlacoochee River floodplain deannexation at Valdosta City Council 2021-08-05.

Valdosta should not deannex 310 acres of Withlacoochee River floodplain around Cherry Creek. No good reason for deannexation has been given by the applicant, and there are substantial reasons to be concerned about potential uses of that land if deannexed. Instead, Valdosta and Lowndes County should purchase the entire 530.24 acre property down to the Withlacoochee River to add to a trails system up and down the Withlacoochee River. The advisory Greater Lowndes Planning Commission (GLPC) at its meeting this Monday should recommend against annexation, and then the Valdosta Mayor and Council should deny.

I am sending a letter to that effect today to Valdosta City Planner Matt Martin, and I recommend you do, as well: mlmartin@valdostacity.com

[Public land and Uvalde Land Trust Deannexation request, Withlacoochee River]
Public land and Uvalde Land Trust Deannexation request, Withlacoochee River

That deannexation is on the GLPC agenda for this Monday, July 26, 2021. The only land access to the property is through the City of Valdosta, and since that whole area of the river has extensive flood plain and little road access, Lowndes County cannot provide public utilities, fire/police protection, or emergency medical response across the river to the subject property, as the City Planner points out in the agenda sheet. The landowner’s stated purpose would be better served by the property remaining inside the city limits: “to use for wildlife management, and rec. use as it is in a mitgation bank & has no development use.” The City Planner even recommends annexing the rest of the subject property into the city, down to the river.

[Location in VALORGIS]
Location in VALORGIS

Further annexation would not be necessary for integration of the property into a series of land and water trails along the Withlacoochee River, linking up with the county-owned land on the west (right) bank around Shadrick Sink off of River Chase, and across North Valdosta Road (US 41) with Langdale Park, the largest park of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority (VLPRA). Langdale Park is only partly within the Valdosta City limits; none of its extensive river frontage is inside the city.

[Langdale Park in Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail]
Langdale Park in Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail

As the City Planner points out, the property “is located within the Parks / Recreation / Conservation (PRC) and the Linear Greenspace /Trails (LGT) Character Areas on the Future Development Map of the Comprehensive Plan”…. Also, it “is the City portion of the “Cherry Creek Wetlands Mitigation Bank”…. But there is no indication in the GLPC agenda materials that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has been contacted about that. If this is part of the deal Lowndes County made with USACE about Inner Perimeter Road, USACE should have a say. According to Billy Bruce, Valdosta Daily Times, January 19, 2008, Donation of wetlands to benefit schools,

Water, that most precious life-giving commodity that becomes more and more the focal point of controversy with recent record droughts and growing concerns over global warming trends, is the gift that keeps on giving.

That’s why Cherry Creek Properties Inc., made up of a group of local real estate and property developers, has decided to take critical action to protect the invaluable resource for the Valdosta Metropolitan Service Area’s growing population….

The land sits on the 100 year floodplain and has four miles of frontage on the Withlacoochee River. Its natural flow dumps millions of gallons of water into the aquifer that provides local communities with potable water for drinking, irrigation and more….

The pristine wetlands, with its well preserved habitat for wildlife and critically strategic position in the local flow of water into the aquifer here, has fallen into good hands, [James Lee] Herndon said….

“We just wanted to do something for our community because it has given so much to all of us,” Herndon said. “Water is the gift that keeps on giving. We couldn’t think of a better way to say thank you. If we don’t have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, what have we accomplished?”

Such a trails system would help preserve those pristine wetlands by letting people who appreciate them experience them and help keep them clean. It could link up with the existing VLPRA Troupville Boat Ramp Park off of GA 133, between the Little and Withlacoochee Rivers, and the proposed Troupville River Park down to the Little River Confluence.

[Troupville River Park in Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail]
Troupville River Park in Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail

The Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail (WLRWT) has already been established by WWALS, including that stretch of the Withlacoochee River, with a resolution of support from the City of Valdosta, a letter of support from the Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority, and a financial contribution from the Valdosta-Lowndes Conferences Center and Tourism Authority, as well as resolutions of support from the Cities of Hahira and Adel.

That entire 530.24 acre Cherry Creek property sold in 2020 for $106,000, which is also its assessed land valuation, according to the Lowndes County Tax Assessors. Valdosta and Lowndes County are now in negotiations to buy the 74.14 acres at the Little River Confluence for its assessed value of $123,041, or $1670/acre. The Cherry Creek property at only $200/acre is an even better buy. The City of Valdosta and Lowndes County, or VLPRA, or One Valdosta-Lowndes, should consider purchasing the Cherry Creek property in addition to the Little River Confluence property.

Such a trails system could link into cleaning up Sugar Creek for boating and land trail access.

[Beautiful Sugar Creek, but trashed]
Beautiful Sugar Creek, but trashed

Austin, Texas, is turning its urban Waller Creek into Waterloo Greenway of linked parks and trails down to the Colorado River.

Waller Creek, Austin, Texas (LimnoTech)
LimnoTech: Restoration And Revitalization Of Waller Creek, Austin, Texas.

Sure, Austin is a much bigger city, but because of that it has a much harder problem. I bet Austin cannot buy any land for $200/acre. One Valdosta-Lowndes recently listed Troupville River Camp as number one on its top 20 list. A trails system all the way there from Cherry Creek would be a jewel for Valdosta and Lowndes County, supporting recreation and quality of life of the existing population, and drawing businesses and employees such as the city, the county, and the Development Authority say they want to attract.

[GLPC Agenda July 2021]
GLPC Agenda July 2021

Also on that GLPC agenda is a rezoning of a subdivision with no indication that the two items are related.

[Map: Bettys Place and Uvalde]
Map: Bettys Place and Uvalde

That subdivision, Val Del Villas on Bettys Place, is by Northside Property Development, of the same James Warren as Uvalde Land Company.

[Map: Bettys Place]
Map: Bettys Place

That location was rezoned for that subdivision in 2019 by the Lowndes County Commission. The survey plat annotated with flood certification says it was done for NATCO, LLC. NATCO owns all the land between Val Del Villas across the Withlacoochee River to Uvalde Land Trust. Part of that land NATCO in the past few years clearcut and replanted. Clearcutting would be an unfortunate use of the Uvalde tract, given the history of Withlacoochee River flooding, especially in 2019 and 2013, causing sewage spills from Valdosta.

The City Planner points out that “there has been no discussion of any proposed zoning for this property in Lowndes County, and a rezoning application has not yet been submitted to County staff.”

There are far too many unanswered questions about this deannexation and potential uses of the subject property. The Planning Commission should recommend denial, and the City of Valdosta should deny the deannexation request.

Further, the City, or Lowndes County, or VLPRA, or some other such organization, should purchase the entire subject property down to the Withlacoochee River and use it to build an extensive riverine land and water trails system.

Agenda Sheet, VA-2021-16 Deannexation Request by Uvalde Land Company (PDF)

JuLy 26, 2021

Deannexation Request by Uvalde Land Company
File #: VA-2021-16

[Zoning Location Map]
Zoning Location Map

Uvalde Land Company LLC, represented by James Warren, is requesting to deannex 310 acres from the City of Valdosta. The subject property is the City portion of the “Cherry Creek Wetlands Mitigation Bank” property which is located between the Withlacoochee River and the Cherry Creek residential neighborhoods. The applicant’s stated reason for the deannexation is to use it “for wildlife management and recreational use”. Pursuant to State law, the Lowndes County Commission has already adopted a Resolution formally “consenting” to the deannexation, however the final decision for such deannexations rest with the City Council. It should be noted that the property is currently zoned R-15 in the City, and there has been no discussion of any proposed zoning for this property in Lowndes County, and a rezoning application has not yet been submitted to County staff.

[Future Development Map]
Future Development Map

The property is located within the Parks / Recreation / Conservation (PRC) and the Linear Greenspace /Trails (LGT) Character Areas on the Future Development Map of the Comprehensive Plan which supports both residential and conservation-related zoning districts. The property is adjacent to the unincorporated area of Lowndes County. Deannexation of this property would not create any “islands” of incorporated area and it is therefore eligible for consideration under State law.

[Cherry Creek Mitigation Bank Map]
Cherry Creek Mitigation Bank Map

Brief history. The subject property was part of a family farm estate that would later be sold off and eventually developed into the Lake Laurie, Cherry Creek Hills, and Cherry Creek North subdivisions that we know today. These subdivisions slowly started developing about 50 years ago on individual parcels—primarily around the shoreline of the central lake (Lake Cleve, a.k.a. Cherry Creek Lake). Most all of the property was annexed into the City in the 1970’s and it continued developing as the early phases of the now-existing subdivisions. The only portions that remained in the County were these few small pockets of land (individual homesites) around the lake (and these were later annexed into the City as part of the “Islands Annexation” in 2006). The bulk of the remaining undeveloped land (including the subject property) was conveyed to the University of Georgia (UGA) and then later sold to local developers in 1994. In 2001, the subject property was included as part of the developers’ creation of the ‘Cherry Creek Wetlands Mitigation Bank”, and this was later conveyed to the UGA “Arch Foundation” in 2007. The applicant acquired the subject property from the Arch Foundation in March 2020.

[Resolution Consenting to Deannexation by Lowndes County Commission]
Resolution Consenting to Deannexation by Lowndes County Commission

Deannexation requests are reviewed and processed in a similar manner as annexation, but in reverse. As required by State law, the applicant has already received a Resolution of support from the Lowndes County Commission consenting to the deannexation (see attached). However, just like an annexation request, the final decision for deannexation rests with the Valdosta City Council and the decision is purely discretionary. Deannexation requests are very rare, and the last such request was by Scott Houser in 2013 (Stallings Road) which was unanimously denied by City Council. Previous to that, the latest request was an approval in 1998 (5 acres along Lloyd Jackson Rd).

[Aerial Location Map]
Aerial Location Map

Many of the same factors and rationale considered for an annexation, are also considered for a deannexation. In this case, these reduce down to two main areas: land use and “potential development” as it relates to physical access, and City provision of utilities and other services. Because any future bridge crossing of the Withlacoochee River in this area would be extremely unlikely, and this property being located wholly on the east side of the river bank, any access to this property must come from the east side of the river —- which means “through the city limits”. This would hold true for ANY form of development access, public/landowner access, public utilities, fire/police protection, or emergency medical response. Lowndes County is simply not able to provide any of these in an adequate manner from the west side of the river. In terms of the existing R-15 zoning, wildlife management and passive recreation are already Permitted Uses in the City R-15 zoning (as long as there is no discharge of a firearm). Additional recreational uses (active) might also be available in the City’s “E-R” zoning, either as a Permitted Use or with a CUP approval. Therefore, based on the applicant’s stated intentions, staff does not recognize any legitimate or sufficient reason why this property should be deannexed — particularly since the property has been in the city limits for more than 40 years and the applicant has only owned the property for barely the past 1 year.

Furthermore, it should be pointed out and emphasized that the applicant still has NOT petitioned nor discussed any requested Zoning designations with Lowndes County planning staff. It is believed that the County’s “Conservation (CON)” zoning classification would be the most logical choice, since that is the designation on the remaining county-portion of the Mitigation Bank property and is the same zoning that elsewhere follows the boundaries of the river floodplain. However once deannexed, the City of Valdosta has no jurisdiction or purview over what the approved County zoning would be.

Nonetheless, the main question in reviewing any deannexation request is “Why?” and there is simply no compelling adequate reason(s) which support this particular request. If the property is truly to remain undeveloped and in a primarily natural state like it has for the past 40+ years, then leaving it in the city limits is clearly the best choice. This is particularly true if for no other reason than the City’s access and protective services, and “if” there should be any form of a development proposal for this property (or a portion thereof) in the future. And because of these same reasons, staff would further encourage the applicant to go ahead and ANNEX the remaining portion of the Mitigation Bank property so that all of the property would be under one jurisdiction. This would also serve as a logical means of “rationalizing the City boundaries” by making the property lines along the River channel match the city limits line, like it does in many other places.

Staff_Recommendation: Find inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan and recommend denial to the City Council. Staff also formally recommends that the applicant pursue voluntary annexation of the remaining portion of the “Cherry Creek Wetlands Mitigation Bank” property.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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One thought on “Why Withlacoochee River floodplain deannexation from Valdosta? @ GLPC 2021-07-26 2021-07-26

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