The Times will publish stories this Sunday from reporters Jeff Gill and Joshua Silavent examining the growth and development emerging in South Hall County, including the building of sewer infrastructure and the effect these changes are having on residents. If you’re not a subscriber, pick up a copy at your nearest newsstand, or subscribe online at gainesvilletimes.com.
Despite emotional pleas from residents concerned about impact on traffic and schools, the Hall County Board of Commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved rezoning land along Spout Springs Road in South Hall to allow for the development of a 352-unit apartment complex and limited commercial use.
Proposed by developer KHTW, the nearly 30-acre project site is less than a half-mile from the Hog Mountain Road intersection and close to Interstate 985, an area prized for its potential to be the next major growth area in Flowery Branch.
“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.”
There is no timetable for breaking ground on the $14 million to $18 million project. Developers have said the health of the economy and local job market will determine the timeline.
About three dozen residents, many dressed in red as a sign of unity, showed up at the Board of Commissioners meeting to voice their opposition to the project. Many acknowledged the changes coming to South Hall, but said the proposed development was the wrong density at the wrong location at the wrong time.
“My concern is you can hide the apartments, but you can’t hide the traffic,” said Randy Ittner, a 15-year resident of Flowery Branch.
County officials are considering acquiring the necessary right of way to widen Spout Springs Road, but turning the road into a divided four-lane highway is likely still a year or two away.
Kim Grennan, a teacher at Flowery Branch High School, said she feared the impact the proposed apartment complex could have on classroom sizes.
“We cannot change the size of our cafeteria,” she said. “We cannot change the width of our hallways. We are already at capacity.”
Ed Myers, lead engineer on the development who spoke on behalf of KHTW, said he expected the apartment complex to add about 100 new students to the local school system, a figure residents disputed.
After the vote, Grennan expressed disappointment that county officials had not heeded her warnings.
“I feel like they’re not in tune with what’s happening in the schools in this county,” she said.
Preston Fray, a resident of South Hall, said he was concerned about the impact the apartment complex could have on single-family home values. Fray moved to the area to escape Atlanta’s suburban sprawl, he said, but now sees the encroaching grip of development on his doorstep again.
“It’s not acceptable to just say that growth happens, so just deal with it,” he said.
Though the Planning Commission had recommended denying the rezoning needed for the development to move forward, the Board of Commissioners moved to approve the project with a series of additional conditions. Among them, the apartment complex is not to exceed 10 units per acre, no government subsidies or rental assistance will be provided, and the zoning will not take effect until a sewer service agreement has been made with the developer and fees have been paid.
About 10,000 feet of pipes would need to be laid to connect the apartments to the local sewer system, and county officials intend to have the developers pay for this expense.
“Flowery Branch is already busting at the seams,” said Commissioner Craig Lutz, whose district includes the project site. He added that having the apartment complex hook up to the Spout Springs Water Reclamation Facility would help the county pay off the system’s debt.
In urging the Board of Commissioners to approve the project, Myers made a remark that captured the laments many residents had about the change upending their community.
“Whether this development is approved or not, we have growth coming to this area,” he said. “We all know that.”
But Steve Slowick, president of the Grandview Estates Homeowners Association, said developers and local government need to consider how small changes to their plans for South Hall might alleviate the concerns of residents. Had the same project been proposed a mile farther up the road, he said, many residents would have been supportive. Moreover, better planning is essential in managing whatever growth does come that way.
“I just think government has a responsibility to be ahead of that and not behind it,” he said. “You don’t let the wagon push the horse ... that seems to be what is happening here. We’re getting pushed around by developers wanting to make money.”