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Tree buffer helps sway shopping center opponents

POSTED: March 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Hall County commissioners approved the rezoning of a 9.86-acre tract on Old Winder Highway on Thursday to pave the way for a shopping center area residents once vehemently opposed.

Dunhill Developers LLC requested the county commission rezone the property adjacent to the Mulberry River at the intersection of Old Winder Highway and Howington Road from agriculture residential to highway business. The proposed shopping center would contain 68,000 square feet of retail and office space, as well as an 8,000-square-foot restaurant.

Mike Townsend lives near the proposed shopping center site and was among the group of neighborhood residents who spoke against the development when it came under Hall County Planning Commission review on Feb. 4. Since that meeting, where five residents spoke against the development, Dunhill Developers met with opponents to determine possible concessions that could be made to appease nearby homeowners who said they did not want the traffic and odor associated with the potential restaurant.

"Financially, this is the best choice we have — to work together to maintain my property value," Townsend said. "I would rather have some say of what’s going to happen. It’s easier to control what goes in rather than fight a losing battle. It’s better than what could be there."

The developers agreed to establish a 100-foot buffer with evergreen trees between Mulberry Creek and the shopping center in an attempt to muffle noise and odor emitted from the shopping center.

Commissioners also approved Baker Land Design’s request to rezone a 266-acre tract on the south side of Union Church Road from agriculture residential and planned residential development to planned residential development to allow Eagle Ranch, a home for youth, to be updated. The rezoning allows construction of two more girls’ homes, maintenance buildings and a community lodge.

"The rezoning will enable Eagle Ranch to provide a home for 12 additional girls, bringing the total capacity of the ranch to almost 70 children," said Eddie Staub, founder and executive director of Eagle Ranch. "It also takes into account other needed buildings in the ranch’s future growth plan."

In addition to rezoning, Hall County Board of Commissioners authorized a $50,000 per year commitment to fund the City of Lula’s downtown Veterans Park. The Veterans Park will be built on less than one acre on Main Street in Lula, and will feature fountains and walkways to honor past and present members of the military.

Lula has already designated $100,000 of its own funds toward the project that Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said will total $650,000.

County commissioners also agreed to send a resolution to the state General Assembly asking the legislature to authorize the creation of community improvement districts in Hall County. Hall County Administrator Jim Shuler said community improvement districts, if the General Assembly approved them in Hall County, could be used as a tool by commercial companies to generate funds for shared improvements in a commercial district the county might not be willing to fund, such as additional lighting.

Shuler said a commercial improvement district is a special tax district that only commercial property owners can levy against themselves, on top of property taxes, for the purpose of funding improvements to the district.

Hall County Board of Commissioners also sanctioned a proclamation recognizing March 3 as the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day. Monday marks the 104th birthday of Dr. Seuss, and will be celebrated as a day to encourage children and adults to read.


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