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Economic woes slow, won’t halt Old Town development in Flowery Branch

POSTED: January 30, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Discussion on Old Town Flowery Branch

Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew and developer Kellin Dobbs address the South Hall Business Coalition on the Old Town Flowery Branch development planned for downtown.

TOM REED/The Times

Sandi and Brian Cantel listen to the presentation about the Old Town Flowery Branch project Thursday during the South Hall Business Coalition meeting.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Progress on Old Town Flowery Branch, a $15 million development planned for the downtown area, has slowed because of the nation’s failing economy.

But its developer, Kellin Dobbs of Buford-based Hortman & Dobbs, told a group of South Hall business and community leaders Thursday morning that the firm’s ambitious plans haven’t been derailed.

"We do have our challenges," Dobbs said, speaking to the South Hall Business Coalition in the community room of the town’s historic depot.

"But unlike a lot of the other commercial spaces and some of the places you see out there that may not be as successful as they should be, we truly believe we have a unique canvas in this downtown (area)."

Work on the multiphase project, which calls for a 280-space parking deck, a new shop-lined street, townhomes and a park, was expected to start in November.

"We hope this year, by third quarter, we’ll continue to set us on the pathway to start (the project)," Dobbs said.

City Manager Bill Andrew said the city highly values Old Town Flowery Branch.

"We’ve come to look to (the project) as the Kia plant for Flowery Branch," he said. "... This is something ... in the heart of what we see as being the essence of Flowery Branch."

Andrew said that the city has tried to do what it can to produce solid business development, even in a less-than-favorable economic climate.

"We are open to suggestions to working with companies on what they see as market conditions that are changing or to better facilitate their dreams," he said.

Andrew cited a few examples, including allowing Hampton Inn & Suites on Holland Dam Road to increase its number of hotel stories to five from three, and the Publix-anchored shopping center on Spout Springs Road to build a larger sign to stay visible among spreading development.

He said he had initial doubts about the scope of the Old Town project, which called up front for the demolition of the old Country Craft building.

"They had pulled permits and all this, and we just felt like they weren’t going to do anything with them," Andrew said.

He said he was shocked when he saw equipment moving into town for the project.

"The vision that they had, not only was it audacious, it is something that’s going to transform this town but transform it in a way that still retains what we find special about it."

Over the past year, "we’ve transformed our comprehensive plan, our zoning code, our historic district to accommodate what they wanted ... as their vision," Andrew said.

As part of those efforts, the city increased the residential and commercial density of the Old Town property in exchange for the developers creating a park.

Dobbs said he was grateful for the city’s cooperation.

"... This is a wonderful opportunity for Flowery Branch. We have many different things to deal with today ... but we have finally tailored this project with the help of the creative vision (of city leaders)."



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