Augusta-area golf course could be on last legs after revision to property plan

AUGUSTA, Georgia — Upset Jones Creek subdivision residents are expecting to appeal a Columbia County Planning Commission decision that the residents say darkens the future of its abandoned golf course.

The Columbia County Planning Commission voted Thursday to approve a minor revision to how property at 777 Jones Creek, originally the golf course’s clubhouse, can be legally used by its owner.

The golf course closed in September 2018. In 2019 the course’s clubhouse and adjoining parking lot were purchased by homebuilder Mark Herbert’s company MBH Holdings, and the building continued to be rented to a catering business while the course itself, still without a new owner, fell into disuse and later foreclosure.

Herbert originally filed a request with the county to change the zoning designation of the property from Planned Unit Development to S-1 so it can be used only as “event, hospitality and meeting space; restaurant space; and catering space and kitchen.” Under that request, the building could not legally be permitted to operate as a golf clubhouse.

Related: Clubhouse and possible rezoning sits at center of Jones Creek golf course’s future

Previous reporting: Rezoning request for Jones Creek clubhouse withdrawn, but residents still worried

That request was protested by Jones Creek residents eager to see the golf course refurbished. Past developers who have approached the Jones Creek Homeowners Association have said that any plan to resurrect the golf course would have to include the centrally located clubhouse.

Herbert then submitted a new rezoning request. Instead of changing the zoning to S-1, it’s a request to make a minor change to the Planned Unit Development, or PUD, conditions. Legally, the new request does not have to be approved by the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, only the county’s Planning Commission, whose members are appointed and not chosen by voting citizens.

Weeds have started to grow in this bunker at the practice range at the Jones Creek golf course in Evans, Ga., Tuesday evening May 21, 2019. [MICHAEL HOLAHAN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

More than one planning commissioner told an overflow crowd at the meeting Thursday that the board was voting only on whether to change the building’s operating hours from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, and to prohibit trash pickup between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

But Jones Creek resident and attorney Hammad Sheikh said that the rezoning request is intended solely to allow the expansion of “related services” to a potential catering business or restaurant, not to a golf clubhouse.

“If a business can operate how I think the commission is implying – with the hours that are there, with the trash pickup that’s there, and it’s more feasible for that – why are we here?” Sheikh asked. “We’re only here because what little communication we are getting is telling us that they’re going to expand the related services.”

Trip Nanney, president of the Jones Creek Homeowners Association, said that a 615-vote survey of Jones Creek residents showed that 98% oppose the proposed rezoning. The upscale subdivision, he said, has 579 homeowners and “about 1,200 registered voters.” Many residents fear that the golf course property will be purchased piece by piece and redeveloped to crowd more houses into the neighborhood.

“This first little PUD revision gives way to potential development, whether this Planning Commission and our current Board of Commissioners will admit it or not,” Nanney said.

After the commission’s vote, Nanney said the next step for Jones Creek would be up to the residents. Planning Commission Chairman Al Dempsey said the decision can be appealed before the Board of Commissioners.

“Can we appeal? Should we appeal? Ideally, we can go to the commissioners we elect, and if that’s the next step, that would be great,” Nanney said. If the next step is for residents to file an appeal, he added, “I’d like to think they will. It sounds like they want to.”

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