The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a commercial and residential zoning application Thursday evening after months of controversy over the planned apartment complex.
Riverbrook Village Development Partners LLC of Murrayville asked to rezone about 83 acres northwest of the intersection of Price and Thompson Bridge roads to allow for mixed residential and commercial use. The developers are planning to build a retail shopping center on 60 acres and an apartment complex with 220 units.
The project could create nearly 150 construction jobs.
Residents filled the meeting room of the county’s Government Center, with those opposed to the apartment complex dressed in red. The meeting was relatively calm, although applause, boos and other murmuring was heard.
Developers Steve McKibbon and Robbie Robison came to the commissioners with a new plan that moved the main entrance of the apartment complex off of Price Road and on to Thompson Bridge Road. The plan would remove the complex from the neighborhood of Walnut Grove and have a fully accessible entrance with a traffic light approved by the Georgia Department of Transportation in 2006. The entrance was part of the original plan that included town houses instead of apartments.
The board approved it 3-to-1, with Commissioner Billy Powell recusing himself at the start of the public hearing on the agenda item. Powell said he decided to recuse himself because his wife used to be in business with Robison and McKibbon on a different piece of property. The relationship ended about a year ago, he said. “With a prior business relationship, I thought it was best that I not participate in the discussion or voting,” Powell said.
Commissioner Scott Gibbs voted against.
The project was approved with several conditions, which included a 220-apartment unit limit, which is about 10 units an acre. This makes the apartment complex the most high-density residential site in unincorporated Hall County. Lanier Village Estates is about 5 units an acre, said Srikanth Yamala, county director of planning.
Traffic and driver safety remained a concern of Milton Osborn, president of the residents association of Lanier Village Estates, after the decision.
“Trying to get out of Lanier Village Estates is an exercise now,” he said. “I can’t imagine what would be like with 220 apartments, with all the people adding to that. Thompson Bridge Road is a racetrack. I just think this additional traffic is going to make things much worse.”
Board Chairman Richard Mecum said the developers answered his concerns, which included traffic congestion, density and safety. He said the county couldn’t go by the comprehensive plan after allowing Lanier Village Estates to build its development.
“The comprehensive plan is null and void,” Mecum said. “It goes back to property rights; it goes back to the Constitution of The United States.”
The local and state governments need to take action to make sure the county can control traffic congestion and ensure safety, Mecum said.
DOT is expected to widen Thompson Bridge Road at some point, and the new entrance allows cars to go in and out.
The fact that the developers are local and plan to bring local economic development and construction jobs was also a factor in Mecum’s vote.
“Local people, they’ve got projects here,” he said. “They live here, that’s the big thing.”
McKibbon said he and Robison were happy with the commission’s decision. The next step for the project is the engineering and permitting processes. They hope to break ground as soon as May.
“We think it’s a good project and we want to do everything we can to be good neighbors,” McKibbon said.
“I don’t want to do anything to hurt the neighbors,” he said. “This is my community, too.”