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Commercial growth plan off Ga. 365 in Lula stirs up sewer dispute
Town, Hall County at odds over who can provide service to area
1003BOJANGLES
A Bojangles' restaurant and truck stop are planned off Ga. 365 near Lula, pending approval from Hall County commissioners at Thursday's meeting.

Hall County Board of Commissioners

What: Proposed rezoning for retail development off Ga. 365 at Ga. 52

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

Proposed development in one of Hall County’s hottest areas for growth has scratched at old wounds over sewer between Lula and Hall County.

The northeast Hall city isn’t objecting per se to Gainesville-based Hornet Properties’ plans for retail development, which includes a Bojangles’ restaurant and an expanded travel center off Ga. 365 and Lula Road/Ga. 52. It’s set to go before the Hall County Board of Commissioners for final approval Thursday.

But officials bristle at the possibility Hall County is looking at some point to provide sewer to the development, which got the Hall Planning Commission’s OK on Oct. 3.

“That’s the only issue we have,” Lula Mayor Milton Turner said.

Friction over sewer goes back years, with Hall County and Lula disputing over who would provide the valuable commodity to the Ga. 365 area.

A 2004 map showing areas countywide where various governments can provide sewer depicts both Hall County and Lula serving an area between Ga. 52 and the Habersham County line.

Only a couple of short stretches, including one just south of Belton Bridge Road, are exclusively in Lula’s district.

The map “says Lula-Hall County, but as everybody understood it, Lula’s service area would be Ga. 52 north,” Turner said. “That’s why we built our sewer plant where we did.”

The plant is off Magnolia Station Drive, which is off Ga. 52 north of Ga. 365.

Hall County Commissioner Scott Gibbs sees the issue differently.

A joint service district “means first-come, first-serve,” he said. “Whoever gets the pipe there first, it’s theirs. And that’s what we’re intending on doing.

“I hate it for Lula ... but we want to see that area develop.”

The Ga. 52-Ga. 365 intersection has some development already, but its potential is wide open — as in large plots of undeveloped land.

In 2008, a multiuse development involving 1,135 acres along Ga. 365 and Ga. 52 was approved by Hall commissioners.

Plans, which included 2,054 homes, retail and office space, haven’t materialized, but the potential is still clearly there.

The county’s comprehensive plan “identifies the area around the intersection ... as a regional retail node,” a Hall County planning report states.

The regional commercial zone could have up to 1 million square feet of buildings and sites covering 100-plus acres.

Part of Lula’s motivation for a Nov. 8 referendum asking city residents whether they favor liquor sales in restaurants is the growth creeping toward the town.

“We think that, to get some progress coming on Ga. 365, we’re going to have the liquor voted in, so I hope the people vote for it,” Councilman Garnett Smith has said.

Hornet’s plans at the busy intersection include two restaurants, including the 4,000-square-foot Bojangles’, and 44,500 square feet in retail space.

Development of the 16 acres would “be market-driven,” project engineer James C. Garrison told the planning board.

He elaborated in an interview last week.

“The timing of that retail, restaurant and future development is predicated on ... sewer being available,” Garrison said. “I don’t know the details of the sewer (issues between Hall and Lula), but I do know that by the amount of retail we show and the additional restaurant, we could not serve that by septic on that property.”

And “whoever serves our property (with sewer) is who we have to go with,” Garrison said.

In his comments to the planning board, Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said, “Our No. 1 concern is whether or not ... the (developer) is going to participate in the cost of the sewer extension,” he said.

Planning board member Chris Braswell told Bergin and other Lula officials, including Turner, at the meeting: “I think our hands are tied as far as the sewer. We can’t direct them one way or another on that.”

Then, in a nod to commissioners, he added, “You’ll have to come back to the other people who sit in these chairs.”

Hornet’s proposal otherwise drew raves from planning board Chairman Don Smallwood.

“Personally, I think this is a good development,” he said. “I know that it’s going to be an expensive development, so you’re not going to go up there and put up some junk. It’ll be a first-class development.”

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