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Dollar store plan raises concerns for Lake Ranch residents
Community gearing up campaign against rezoning effort
This piece of property at the intersection of Lake Ranch Drive and Dawsonville Highway is the possible site of a new Dollar General store. The existing residential building on the lot would be torn down, with the commercial building taking its place. - photo by Tom Reed

Lake Ranch Estates residents who oppose a proposal to build a Dollar General store at the front of their neighborhood spent their Monday night organizing an effort to stop it.

They call the commercial use of the property at the intersection of Dawsonville Highway and Lake Ranch Drive a traffic safety issue.

About 75 residents, at least some of whom have little experience in community activism, gathered at Lanier Hills Church in agreement that the plan is bad for their neighborhood.

"This is just a scary proposition for all of us," said Allison Toller, a resident who brought her children to the meeting.

They asked questions and voiced their concerns to their elected county official, Commissioner Billy Powell, and County Engineer Scott Puckett.

Lake Ranch Drive leads into a neighborhood with about 150 homes, and it dead-ends with no other road to enter or exit. The intersection with Dawsonville Highway is directed by a traffic light.

"You're looking at a blind hill going around a blind curve," said Lake Ranch Estates resident J.W. Wyatt.
One accident would make it impossible for residents to get in and out for work.

The plan was recommended by the Hall County Planning Commission in November. The county commission was initially scheduled to vote on the proposal Dec. 8.

Residents say traffic accidents are already a problem near the intersection because of the steep hill and sharp turn that are just past the proposed entrance to the store.

Linda Brady, who is one of the residents organizing the neighborhood opposition, said their approval isn't just specific to the Dollar General. Though she admits the store probably wouldn't have been her "first choice anyway," she said "we don't want any commercial real estate on that property."

The proposal is expected to be taken up by the Hall County Board of Commissioners at its Jan. 26 meeting.
For his part, Powell offered his support to the residents but could not promise other commissioners would follow.

Powell said they might want to also consider suggested requirements for the building in case their opposition fails.

"I can do what I can do, but remember I am one vote," he said. "You might want to hedge your bet, just in case."

Powell was put on the spot a few times by residents. He was asked by one if he'd been to the site to see the dangers and then asked when he would be up for re-election.

He answered "yes" to the first and "this year" to the second.

Brian Rochester of Rochester and Associates is representing SW Gainesville LLC, which is proposing the rezoning.

Rochester said he was not invited to Monday's meeting but he told The Times he has offered to meet with residents who oppose the plan but has been unsuccessful in scheduling a meeting.

"So far the only thing that I've heard from anyone is that they don't want anything built or that they want the entrance on Dawsonville Highway," he said, calling both "not feasible." He also said a study will be conducted to ensure traffic safety but only after the rezoning is approved.

"We will be looking at all of this, but it's not the appropriate time," he said.

Residents have already met with four of the five county commissioners but are planning an email writing campaign in the coming weeks as well.

They are also planning to stage a protest near the site of the proposed store.

"I've personally never picketed in my life. We just want to make a splash," Brady said. "My mother said she would come out and sit on her walker."