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Active-adult community proposal features Ga. 53 road fixes of its own
Conditions placed on development dont ease resident fears
0604Road2
Traffic crowds Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 near the North Lake Square shopping center.

Gainesville City Council

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

Both sides acknowledge Dawsonville Highway has heavy traffic and that the number of cars will go up if Gainesville City Council approves an 880-home active-adult community Tuesday.

But if there were a fork in the busy road, that’s where the developer and opponents to the development would part.

Atlanta-based Oak Hall Companies says it believes traffic improvements it has planned — some that must be made before dirt is even turned — should help negate the impact of the development.

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 company) has volunteered to make improvements that aren’t required but feels are the right thing to do,” said Ethan Underwood, a Cumming lawyer representing the developer. “They’ll help the project, as well as the existing residents.”

Area residents, however, aren’t exactly cozying up to Oak Hall’s annexation and rezoning plans, which include single-family detached homes and townhomes, an assisted and independent living apartment building, and 24 acres for commercial development off Dawsonville Highway.

Oak Hall’s proposed road fixes “would probably be helpful but certainly not adequate,” vocal critic Pat Horgan said last week.

The Georgia Department of Transportation “already told us earlier that such small improvements, while positive, will not completely address the underlying traffic flow issues.”

Bottom line is “there are no major GDOT improvements planned for (Ga.) 53,” Horgan said. “People keep talking about all the improvements coming, but they are not differentiating about those that will have major impact and those that are largely cosmetic. Nor are they talking about time frames.”

At various government meetings, residents have spoken against Oak Hall’s plans, saying the last thing an already overburdened road system needs is a massive residential development.

Horgan said he believes Gainesville is “moving ahead on Oak Hall despite the traffic problems and without solutions. They are ignoring the issues and questions in the traffic study.”

Some fixes Oak Hall would have to do would be based on recommendations from an April 7 traffic study.

For one thing, “the study should have been a 24-hour count, but wasn’t,” Horgan said. “Trends have shown that traffic volume during non-peak hours has been growing, but the peak time study doesn’t see that.”

That issue flared up briefly at the May 9 meeting of the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board, which swiftly recommended approval.

Board member Jane Fleming questioned Tad Braswell of Oak Hall about the company studying traffic 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.

“That’s the standard peak hours,” Braswell said. “... That’s the standards we go by. Anywhere you do a traffic study — the ones that are done by malls — that’s what is taken into consideration.”

“I know there’s a lot of traffic later, after 6 p.m., for restaurants, shopping and just normal stuff,” Fleming said.

“Everything has been held up to engineering requirements of the city and the state,” Underwood said. “… We hired a traffic engineer to do that data. That’s what he does for a living.”

Chris Rotalsky, Gainesville’s public works director, said the methods used in the traffic impact study – based on the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Trip Generation Manual — “are consistent with standard engineering practices.

“The city has reviewed the (study) to ensure the correct trip generation criteria are used according to the manual.”

City Manager Bryan Lackey said city staff “has placed an enormous amount of time in developing the traffic-related conditions that will require the developer to design, implement and/or contribute to the improvements to all four intersections directly impacted by this potential development.”

He went on to say, “While some in the community have debated the accuracy of the developer’s traffic study, staff developed these conditions with an eye toward knowing what improvements would be appropriate to be placed upon the developer to maximize the near-term road improvements along this corridor.”

And that was “regardless of whether such improvements were included in the developer’s traffic study,” Lackey said.

A couple major issues are how much traffic can the road as built handle and how much flows daily through the area.

The most recent DOT data shows an estimated average of 27,100 vehicles per day in 2016, up from 26,300 in 2015. An Atlanta-based consulting firm, Arcadis, has been hired “to collect traffic data and construct a model of the corridor,” SueAnne Decker, district traffic engineer, has said.

“(Oak Hall’s) development on Ahaluna is included as part of the model.”

The study should be completed this summer, DOT district spokeswoman Katie Strickland has said.

Clyde Morris, who has been vocal in pushing for the city to make Ga. 53 traffic improvements as soon as possible, said traffic patterns can change quickly from “relatively smooth sailing to gridlock.”

It “seems to have a switch that gets triggered when we reach some critical number of vehicles,” he said. “It goes from free-flowing to gridlock, seemingly in an instant.

“We are teeter-tottering on the edge of a traffic apocalypse and there is no plan in place to fix it.

Gene Korzeniewski, who lives off Ahaluna, said he believes “the responsibility for the traffic congestion on Dawsonville Highway lies squarely on the shoulders of the city officials.”

“Land around Dawsonville Highway continues to be rezoned for development projects that generate significantly more traffic than originally planned and more than the highway was designed to handle.”

“We understand there’s a problem on Dawsonville Highway,” Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said at a May 2 roads planning meeting. “And we’re working closely with GDOT and the city. We’re going to do some short-term things and, of course, some things take a long time.”

Oak Hall officials have said 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.

Also, Oak Hall has said it believes if its applications are turned down, the property won’t go undeveloped.

“Currently, this property is zoned for 200 single-family homes with no restrictions,” Underwood has 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.”

Korzeniewski said data used in the traffic study was based on an average in five locations in the U.S. and Canada and some of the data dates to the 1980s.

“So the trip generation data reported is not very appropriate,” he said. “Using more local and current data shows driving habits have changed significantly compared to the study. “

The current zoning “would be a better fit for the surrounding community and less of a burden on Dawsonville Highway capacity,” Korzeniewski added.

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