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Despite opposition, home for developmentally disabled gets initial OK
South Hall community would have 158 housing units
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Dave Whittenton, representing Beckel Inc., speaks to the Hall County Planning Commission about plans to turn 21 acres in South Hall into a 158-unit complex for developmentally disabled residents.

Plans for a 21-acre South Hall County community serving developmentally disabled adults cleared a hurdle Tuesday with rezoning approval by the Hall County Planning Commission.

Over the opposition of several area residents, the board gave its OK to changing the zoning designation for the property off McEver Road from agricultural residential to planned residential development.

“We all don’t like change and we certainly don’t like somebody building something behind us, but it’s going to be done at some point,” Chairman Don Smallwood said. “I can support this (proposal) the way it’s written up.”

The proposal, requested by Roswell-based Beckel Inc., now goes before the Hall County Board of Commissioners, which has the final say on the matter.

Beckel, which is affiliated with Just People Inc., a nonprofit organization that works with developmentally disabled adults, is seeking to develop a mixed-use complex with 158 housing units off McEver and Radford roads.

The center would be bordered by Pine Wood, Blossom Farm and White Horse Creek subdivisions. Flowery Branch Elementary School also is nearby.

In addition to residential space, plans also call for up to 10,000 square feet of commercial development that would include a cafe, snack bar, personal care salons and sports training areas.

“The individuals we serve are aging, but an assisted-living center is not an appropriate placement for them,” said Kelli Salyer, vice president of Just People. “Many of them are 55 (years old) — they don’t require that kind of help, but they do require someone to keep a better eye on them.”

Several area residents protested Beckel’s plans for a variety of reasons, including concerns about traffic that would be generated on already-busy McEver Road, a main artery running from Buford to Gainesville.

“This sounds just like an apartment complex with mentally challenged people,” Mike McWilliams said. “I don’t think it’s a place for that many people on that small of property. It’s not that big of property.”

Neil Clark expressed safety concerns to the planning board.

“Every day, you turn on the TV and hear about mentally ill people shooting people, and there’s a school (nearby),” he said. “I don’t think anybody would want to live close to that.”

John Hickey said he worried about the development’s effect on property values “with that dense of a population plopped right next to us.”

A letter from Beckel director Kevin Dowling to Scott Puckett, Hall County traffic engineer, addresses traffic concerns. It states that at the Just People Village in Roswell, fewer than 10 of the 160 residents own or drive a vehicle and a typical day consists of 15-20 employees entering or leaving the property.

Dowling said Just People “operates a small fleet of buses and small vehicles to provide mass transportation to our residents” and, otherwise, about 10 people — usually family and friends — visit the complex daily on average.

Concerning the type of people in the Just People program, “the majority of individuals we serve are developmentally disabled — they’re not mental health (patients),” Salyer said. “So, the shooting that was described — that’s not the individuals we serve.”

Planning board member Johnny Varner said Just People would provide services “to a certain demographic that doesn’t get help.”

He added, “You may just want to think who’s going to help these people if we don’t get help for them.”