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Planning commission says S. Hall mixed-use development not ready

POSTED: February 3, 2014 11:59 p.m.

After hearing residents’ concerns about the potential impact on traffic and local schools, the Hall County Planning Commission unanimously recommended to deny the application of developer KHTW to rezone a property in Flowery Branch to allow for a mixed-use development.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Planning Commissioner Chris Braswell said during Monday night’s meeting. “We normally see a lot more information than this.”

The proposed development, on a nearly 30-acre tract along Spout Springs Road near its intersection with Hog Mountain Road, calls for a 352-unit apartment complex and 5,000 square feet of commercial retail space. The land slotted for construction consists of an undeveloped parcel and a closed golf course.

“It will give individuals a place where they can come live and have a community feel,” KHTW developer Kent Henderson told The Times in January. “It’s almost just a natural fit.”

But several residents — many of whom reside in the Sterling on the Lake and Grandview Estates subdivisions — objected to this characterization, saying the development would bring unchecked growth to a residential area that has so far escaped Atlanta’s suburban sprawl.

Traffic is “already ridiculously congested” along Spout Springs Road, said resident Liz Fabiny, and the influx of hundreds of new multifamily apartment dwellers would only aggravate the problem.

Several residents said they had moved to Flowery Branch to get away from the kind of development KHTW is proposing. They feared South Hall County would soon look like Gwinnett County, dotted with vacant strip malls and massive apartment complexes, with snarling traffic just one of many side effects.

Residents also said they were distressed by the prospect that local schools could soon be overcrowded if construction of the mixed-use development is allowed to proceed.

“That’s one of the most important concerns,” said resident Preston Fray.

Claudia Goss, a local teacher with children in the area’s public schools, echoed that sentiment.

“So for that reason, I do ask this board to reconsider zoning this property in this way,” she said.

Henderson’s partner at KHTW, Tim Wilbanks, told the planning commission that the area, already replete with hospitals and big-box retailers, is primed to be the next growth corridor in Hall County. Located close to Interstate 985, the development was consistent with the makeup of the area, he added.

Wilbanks, however, acknowledged some of the concerns residents had, and admitted he had not reached out to local schools to address the potential impact of his development on enrollment numbers.

“I’m open to a lot of things,” he told the planning commission. “I would say everything is negotiable.”

That offer was met with the approval of county planning staff, which had recommended that KHTW be permitted to move forward on the basis of several conditions, including making accommodations for the widening of Spout Springs Road and the submission of architectural and landscape plans.

Wilbanks offered no renderings, no timetable for construction and no estimated cost for the development, facts that prompted planning commissioners to call the proposal “premature.”

Nevertheless, the planning commission showed obvious signs of struggling with its decision. There was a noticeable silence and hesitation among commissioners when it came time for a motion, and Braswell initially said he would support the project at a lower density — 10.5 apartment units per acre rather than the proposed 12.

But Braswell’s motion failed, and planning commissioners ultimately voted to reject the application.

“Right now, you don’t have any factual information” about the impact the development would have on local schools, Planning Commissioner Johnny Varner said, adding that he wanted to see “more transparency” before greenlighting the project.

“(Schools) know growth is coming,” Wilbanks said. “All growth has an impact.”

Wilbanks and his development partners will now have an opportunity to convince the Hall County Board of Commissioners that their project should get the go-ahead. And they might already have one commissioner on their side.

In an email responding to the concerns of one resident, Commissioner Craig Lutz wrote, “I believe you should be able to do just about anything you want on your property as long as it does not interfere with someone else’s peaceful enjoyment of their property.”

The Hall County Board of Commissioners will take up the matter when it meets at 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road.


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