An 860-home active-adult community off Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 was unanimously approved by Gainesville City Council Tuesday night.
Council members particularly cited the money Atlanta-based Oak Hall Companies would have to pour into improvements on the heavily traveled road.
“They’re willing to invest potentially millions of dollars here, and I think I have the responsibility to take this tax burden off the taxpayer and place it on these guys, who are willing to take it,” Councilman Zack Thompson said.
In three separate actions, the council gave its first OK to the 234-acre development off Ahaluna Drive, a project that includes 535 detached homes and townhomes and a 325-unit building for independent-living and assisted-living residents.
The final vote will take place in two weeks, but council members seemed in agreement as they discussed the project, which has otherwise triggered huge traffic worries among area residents.
“I do feel that having a planned development is better for this area,” City Councilman Sam Couvillon said.
“I think that if you go in right now and develop it as it is (zoned) currently … you don’t have the significant improvements for the traffic.”
Plus, Couvillon said, “you’re not going to have any impact on the school system, which is significant if you follow what’s going on in the schools right now. We have overcrowded schools, and this is not going to impact the schools.”
Residents have fiercely opposed the project, down to dissecting the traffic impact study conducted by Oak Hall. They have said the studies weren’t comprehensive enough and were based on old data from faraway 55-and-older communities, such as ones in Florida and Canada.
Couvillon cited a much closer-to-home study conducted by the Gainesville and Hall County at Cresswind at Lake Lanier, an active-adult community with some 700 homes. The study showed that a traffic light at the community’s entrance wasn’t warranted.
“That validates the (study’s) numbers saying an age-restricted development has less traffic, which helps me come to my decision of saying that the age-restricted (community) is a better alternative than a … development that isn’t age-restricted.”
That has been a core argument for Oak Hall, which has said the development, as currently zoned, would allow for 200 single-family homes with no age restrictions.
Clyde Morris, a lawyer who lives near the proposed development, also has been a vocal opponent, saying he believes road improvements need to be made as soon as possible, before any further major development is approved on the road.
“It’s irrefutable that Oak Hall’s development will exacerbate this traffic problem,” he said. “If the city is going to approve (the plans), then it needs to fix the traffic problem that already exists — and quickly.”
In one testy moment during his remarks, Morris began asking the council a series of questions, including what specific actions the city has taken in pushing improvements to Dawsonville Highway.
“It’s not your time to ask questions, Mr. Morris,” City Attorney Abb Hayes said. “If you would just proceed with your comments.”
“With all due respect, I don’t think there’s any rule that prohibits me from asking questions to the council,” Morris said.
“Please proceed, thank you,” Hayes said.
Morris paused for a moment, looked at the council, then said, “No answer,” before making another point.
Couvillon referred to Morris’ questions during the council’s discussion.
“I think everybody here would agree the quicker we get these improvements the better,” he said. “... A lot of the funding comes from the state. Dawsonville Highway is a state highway. We can’t arbitrarily say we are going to improve or widen a (state) road.”
However, he added, “the city will be a squeaky wheel. We will stay on the state. We will be pushing them for these improvements.”
Oak Hall has said it believes traffic improvements it has planned will lessen the development’s impact. From turn lanes to potential intersection improvements, the company must meet several traffic-related conditions before land disturbance permits are issued.
The developer also has pledged $425,000 “to be used solely for the purpose of making roadway improvements along Dawsonville Highway from McEver Road to Ahaluna Drive,” according to a city planning document.
The development is expected to be built in phases over six years, officials said.
Oak Hall principal Tad Braswell said after the meeting that if the project gets final approval, he expects grading could start in late fall.