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880-home development goes before Gainesville planning board Tuesday
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Zoning meeting notices are posted along Ahaluna Drive in Gainesville. Oak Hall Companies has made plans for an 880-home active-adult community off Ahaluna Drive and Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 and is hoping to get approval from the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board on Tuesday. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board

What: Proposed rezoning/annexation for 880-home, active-adult community off Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Gainesville Justice Center, 701 Queen City Parkway

With its dense woods and quiet, except for sounds of nature, it seems this Lake Lanier peninsula is miles from city lights and noise.

And especially city traffic.

But that may all change in coming years, if an Atlanta developer’s plans for an 880-home active-adult community off Ahaluna Drive and heavily traveled Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 gains Gainesville’s approval.

The first step for Oak Hall Companies is going before the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board Tuesday.

“There’s such a huge need and demand for this (type of development),” Oak Hall principal Tad Braswell said in a phone interview last week.

He said other communities mixing retirees with workers nearing retirement, such as Cresswind at Lake Lanier in Gainesville and Village at Deaton Creek in South Hall, have succeeded in tapping that market.

“If you look at the history of Atlanta and people who have moved here over the last 20 years, half of our buyers are empty-nesters who are working out of their house or are semi-retired and want a place to live where they don’t have any yard maintenance … and want to live with people who are like them,” Braswell said.

Oak Hall is seeking to annex and rezone 185 acres for the community, including 178 acres for 790 homes. The total number of homes includes an assisted living center.

Seven acres would be for other uses, including 3 acres donated for a fire station.

Also, plans call for another 24 acres for commercial development off Dawsonville Highway and 26 acres for an additional 90-unit townhome project off Strickland Drive.

The huge development has some area residents especially concerned about traffic impacts.

“The concept of the 55-plus community combined with assisted living can provide some positive services to the residents in both the local and nearby communities,” Gene Korzeniewski said. “However, the additional traffic it brings, on top of the growing congestion in the area, may be more detrimental than the benefits it offers.”

During construction, “I expect traffic on Ahaluna to be backed up well below the North Lake Square side entrance on a regular basis,” Korzeniewski said. “That, by itself, would not be intolerable since there would be an end in sight for the construction.”

And nearby resident Clyde Morris has become a common sight at public meetings where Dawsonville Highway traffic is discussed.

He spoke again on the subject last week at a meeting in Oakwood of a transportation planning group comprising top area elected officials.

Morris is pushing for Dawsonville Highway improvements sooner rather than later, saying he fears the new development could add 9,000 cars per day to an already crowded corridor.

“Please do whatever you can because we are about to go from bad to worse,” he told the group, which includes Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan.

Officials say the impact won’t be as bad as residents may think.

For one thing, the project would be built out over six years. Also, it will be age-restrictive, meaning school bus traffic shouldn’t be an issue.

Further, “road improvements will have to be made,” said Ethan Underwood, a Cumming lawyer representing Oak Hall.

The developer will have to work with the Georgia Department of Transportation on access points along Dawsonville Highway.

“We are working with GDOT and the city to see if traffic lights are warranted and (if so) at what points,” Underwood said. “We anticipate there’ll be at least one traffic light.”

Also, Oak Hall officials have said they believe if their applications are turned down, the property won’t go undeveloped.

“Currently, this property is zoned for 200 single-family homes with no restrictions,” Underwood said. “What you could have (with current zoning) — and this is what we have tried to convince the neighbors about — is (younger families) constantly in and out all the time.

“We think this (Oak Hall development) will have no greater traffic impact than what the property is currently zoned for.”

“This is probably the least intrusive (use) for the property,” Braswell said.

Also, he said Oak Hall could end up spending $2 million on Dawsonville Highway road improvements “that wouldn’t happen if not for our development.”

City planning officials are recommending approval of the requests based on several conditions being met, including several related to traffic.

The city planning board’s decision will be a recommendation to the Gainesville City Council, which will have final say on the requests.

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