A controversial zoning change in one of Columbia County’s most upscale neighborhoods stayed intact Tuesday, meaning a defunct golf course is still without its original clubhouse.
Dozens of Jones Creek residents who packed the gallery at the Columbia County Board of Commissioners meeting left upset after their appeal to halt the zoning change at 777 Jones Creek Dr. didn’t get approved.
Jones Creek 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.
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.
Most recently, golf event management company Bond Golf Global is reopening Jones Creek’s driving range beginning Masters Week, with a long-term goal of resurrecting the entire course.
Herbert then submitted a new rezoning request. Instead of changing the zoning to S-1, it became a request to make a minor change to the Planned Unit Development, or PUD, conditions. Legally, the new request did 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.
The new request asked 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 attorney and Jones Creek resident Hammad Sheikh told commissioners that those changes aren’t what’s upsetting his neighbors – it’s what’s staying the same. The minor revision keeps in place the proposed future use of the property as “hospitality meeting space, restaurant space, catering space and kitchen.”
“That’s not what that clubhouse is meant for, used for and is needed for,” he said. “That clubhouse is part of a planned unit development, as everyone knows here.”
Tripp Nanney, president of the Jones Creek Homeowners Association, said he was appealing to commissioners on behalf of “579 homeowners and approximately 1,200 Columbia County voters.”
He said allowing the zoning change to stand would create a loophole literally as big as a house. Specifically, if the golf course cannot regain its clubhouse, it leaves the golf course property vulnerable to further development.
“Is there another residential neighborhood in Columbia County that has a hospitality house and a full-time restaurant right in the middle of it? I don’t think so,” Nanney said. “This potential model has no upside for our residents, and it starts a dangerous precedent.”
Attorney Wendell Johnston, speaking on behalf of the Jones Creek residents, told commissioners he believed the clubhouse’s PUD “has never been changed appropriately,” specifying that the county’s “minor revision” procedure is statutorily improper. By not requiring public notice, a public hearing or a Board of Commissioners vote, he said, the county allows applicants to skirt considerable public scrutiny.
“If you change the PUD and you don’t have those procedures in place, you violate the Columbia County code and you violate state law,” he said.
District 1 Commissioner Connie Melear, whose district includes Jones Creek, entered a motion to overturn the planning commission’s approval of the clubhouse rezoning. However, no one seconded the motion, which killed the motion without putting it to a vote.