Pinewood Forrest fire safety discussed at work session

Pinewood Forrest is eager to keep moving forward on its massive development in Fayetteville, and it is asking the city for amendments to its development agreement and zoning.

In particular Pinewood is looking at three parcels totaling 135 acres approved for a mixed-use development with an eye on fine-tuning agreements on setbacks, lighting, residence size, and other issues.

The biggest point of contention is over the ability for the Fayetteville Fire Department to service the development. Because of the high number of residences within Pinewood Forrest, representatives are seeking a relaxing of spacing and sprinkler requirements from fire officials, among other changes.

Fayetteville Fire Chief Alan Jones explained the requirements for fire safety were in place well before Pinewood Forrest developers requested the amendments and should not be changed.

“It was designed for a very specific use, high-density, mixed-use, big projects. We weren’t placing a burden on someone with existing zoning. We put the requirements in place beforehand, then people came and asked us for that zoning,” said Jones. “If you want this zoning, just understand here are the requirements. There’s really no need to get in the weeds about the requirements and whether they like them or not. They were in place when they asked for the zoning.”

Pinewood Forrest is designed in the style of New Urbanism. New Urbanism, with its aim for walkable neighborhoods and a variety of housing types, creates a challenge for older ordinances. The PCD zoning was created to help with the style, but it could not have foreseen a development on the scale of Pinewood Forrest and its planned 1,300 residences on 234 acres. The Villages at LaFayette were the prototype for dealing with New Urbanism, but on a much smaller scale.

The key is how to provide proper protection at such high density.

“We did it so we could develop fire protection requirements that would keep that urban type fire protection challenge within the capabilities of our suburban level of fire protection,” Jones said.

Between the close proximity of the homes to each other and a preference for no in-home sprinkler requirement, Jones was not comfortable with his department’s ability to provide proper protection. As it was currently presented, Jones strongly recommended denial of their request as it would present a fire safety risk to the community outside of the realm of the department’s resources.

The sides did seem to find some middle ground by looking into the alleys between homes. Representatives from Pinewood Forrest were open to making those alleys one way, which would give fire trucks the required space and alleviate some of the need for in-home sprinklers.

Director of Community Development Jahnee Prince expressed a lot of frustration with the PCD zoning itself, noting that the cost of applications from the developer does not come close to paying for the amount of work done by staff to research and respond.

The ambiguity of the zoning can lead to different interpretations between developers and staff. Prince said the ordinance likely needs to be totally rewritten.

“The problem is that we’re asking developers to sort of write their own zoning, and that’s not their area of expertise,” Prince said. “It was written when New Urbanism was brand new about 15 years ago. It’s not new anymore. We can write code that will address it.”

Mayor Ed Johnson preached patience as the project covers a lot of new ground for all parties involved.

“The intent of this work session is to discuss the amendments so that we can hear all facts and sides of the issue so that we can make a just decision,” Johnson said. “My philosophy is that when you have contentious issues, the best way to resolve it is with an open mind.”

Staff recommended approval of the proposed changes, saying they are consistent with the intent of the PCD zoning district.

Whether or not enough questions have been answered to soothe the concerns of the city will be answered with a special called meeting and vote set for tonight at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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