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Council moves forward on annexation, rezoning plans
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An overflow crowd looks at information projected on a screen Thursday evening during a rezoning and annexation public hearing at the Flowery Branch City Hall. - photo by Tom Reed

Flowery Branch City Council gave its first OK Thursday night to measures that would pave the way for certain commercial and manufacturing uses on property off McEver and Gaines Ferry roads.

The council voted to rezone and annex a group of tracts despite pleas from residents who packed City Hall with vigorous objections, particularly addressing manufacturing plans.

“Y’all are crazy if you do this,” said Mike Baker, one of 14 people who spoke at the meeting.

The group also ignored a plea from South Hall Commissioner Bobby Banks, who wrote a letter to the city asking that the council postpone the matter “for further evaluation.” City Planner James Riker added that Hall County hasn’t filed a formal objection to the land requests.

Councilman Craig Lutz did move that two measures involving the manufacturing and industrial matters be postponed until the council’s next meeting on Feb. 18, but both motions failed.

Council members then approved all the actions related to the properties, except for Councilwoman Tara Richards, who abstained and didn’t speak during the public hearing or council discussion on the matter.

She didn’t give a reason during the meeting but said afterward that she had a conflict of interest in that she works for the applicant on the requests, Rochester & Associates of Gainesville.

The next and final vote is set for Feb. 18.

Councilman Kris Yardley told onlookers — many of whom had left after the 1 1/2-hour public hearing — that council members were still open to comments from residents and that possible changes could be made to the proposals between now and then.

The council is considering the annexation of nearly 45 1/2 acres split among five parcels, ranging in size from 1 to 20 acres, off the two roads.

Rochester, represented at Thursday night’s meeting by Brian Rochester, also wants the city to rezone that area to highway business and manufacturing and industrial.

In another petition, Rochester is seeking rezoning of nearly 31 1/2 acres next to the properties and farther north on McEver Road to manufacturing and industrial — land currently zoned in the city for neighborhood shopping.

Rochester is representing Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Stonebridge LLC and Alpharetta-based Kelly Family Investments on the matter.

All the lots are vacant, except for some landscaping and subdivision signs.

The proposed rezoning/annexations coincide with city plans to run a sewer line from the Cinnamon Cove condominium complex at 6500 Gaines Ferry Road through the area.

The project is expected to cost $1.3 million, with funding coming from the city’s special purpose local option sales tax. Construction could begin later this year on the line.

Rochester said the owners want high-quality development in the area that brings jobs and won’t hurt the area.

“They have a bigger stake in this than anyone,” he said, drawing some hisses from the crowd.

Residents, meanwhile, opposed the proposals for several reasons, including concerns over lower property values and heavier traffic in the area.

“This could be very devastating to our family,” said Kim James, whose house would face the manufacturing area of the property. “This is just totally wrong for this area.”

City officials discussed with Rochester about the possibility of the owners seeking approval from other governments if they can’t get Flowery Branch’s OK.

“I’m much more comfortable with Flowery Branch having control of what would go on this acreage as opposed to Hall County or Buford (having control),” said Councilman Mike Miller.

Banks, who stayed for the entire meeting, left City Hall fuming at the comments “that (Hall County is) not as good as (Flowery Branch is) in controlling development.”

“They threw us under the bus, talked about us like we are raving maniacs,” he said.

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