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Branching out with downtown project

Development plans could jazz up Flowery Branch

POSTED: March 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Tom Reed The Times/

An old building and a vacant lot occupy this portion of Railroad Avenue. Part of the planned redevelopment of downtown Flowery Branch would place a restaurant about where the old building stands and the Railroad Street Building would be built on the empty lot to the right.

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There are big changes in store for downtown Flowery Branch - $15 million worth of change to be exact.

Hortman and Dobbs Developers, LLC is planning a nearly three-acre, mixed-use development, dubbed Old Town Flowery Branch, to be built in the three blocks adjacent to Main Street along Pine, Chestnut and Church streets and Railroad Avenue.

"Our development will revitalize an older, inactive downtown," said Flowery Branch resident Marty Hortman, who is partner with Kellin Dobbs in Hortman and Dobbs Developers. "Flowery Branch needed some new life breathed into it."

Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling said the Old Town Flowery Branch development fits in well with what the city had envisioned for the downtown area in June 2006 when city officials drafted a 2025 Comprehensive Plan for the city.

"We wanted to revitalize downtown, and they're starting it," Hirling said. "For years, nothing was happening downtown. You wouldn't even see a car."

Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said the Old Town Flowery Branch development is one that also falls in line with the chamber's Vision 2030 plan for Hall County. One of the plan's 15 tenets states that the county should be composed of multiple municipalities that maintain their unique identities.

"I just think it'd be the ideal thing for Flowery Branch. That's the key: living downtown and having a walkable, family-oriented atmosphere where you can live, shop and eat," Dunlap said.

She added that the $15 million development certainly won't be bad for the town's economy, which already is on the upswing.

Hortman said he has been developing land in the Southeast for the past 30 years. He said he has not been involved with a mixed-use project of this magnitude before, but the Old Town Flowery Branch development aims to revitalize the historic downtown area with families, young married couples, singles and empty-nesters who will live, shop and eat at the development.

Hortman said the $15 million development includes 21 condominiums, 14 lofts, seven town homes, possibly two restaurants with outdoor seating, a pub and a grocery store. Plans for the downtown development also call for a five-story parking deck, a half-acre public park, and several retail stores and office spaces.

The five-structure development will feature one- and two-bedroom town homes with covered garage parking and rooftop terraces. The condos and lofts will also have one- or two-bedroom options and balconies that overlook Pine Street or Railroad Avenue.

Hortman said Flowery Branch officials have yet to approve the final plan and minor rezoning changes to allow for all the facets of the mixed-use development, but he said construction on the project could begin by early fall, and is expected to be finished by fall 2009.

Old Town Flowery Branch will be constructed on the former site of the Country Craft building that dated back to the 19th century. The old furniture store's administration office was kept intact; Hortman and Dobbs is refinishing the building that will be leased as an office space.

Dale Jaeger of the Gainesville planning design firm The Jaeger Co., is working with the city of Flowery Branch, the Flowery Branch Historical Preservation Committee, and Hortman and Dobbs Developers to ensure that the new development is in tune with the historic architecture already present on Main Street.

"We want a building that looks like it was built in 2008, but looks compatible with its surroundings," Jaeger said. "For Flowery Branch, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Jaeger said. "It'll bring life back to the town center."

Hirling said Flowery Branch's downtown area has been lagging economically since the late 1990s, when gift shops and a deli operated on Main Street. She added that since the streetscape project has recently revamped the first block of Main Street, businesses have started to trickle in to the historic area.

"All of a sudden, you're seeing people and businesses downtown again. It's starting to come alive again," Hirling said. "With what Hortman and Dobbs have planned, it will give Flowery Branch a booming downtown. Hopefully once they come in, some other developers will see what they're doing and will develop further down Main Street, maybe all the way down to Gainesville Street."

James Riker, Flowery Branch's planning director, said the city council could review the developers' plan by June. He added that some city rezoning changes must occur to allow for increased residential density before construction can begin in the fall. Riker said he does not foresee the development causing any major traffic congestion in the area, and the project is slated to operate on city water and sewer.

"I think a lot of citizens are looking for eclectic communities that existed 100 years ago, like Flowery Branch," Riker said. "I think redeveloping (historic downtown areas) is a trend that's happening all over Georgia. Other cities are trying to establish new downtown areas. But we've got a downtown. We're simply trying to enhance it."



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