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Economic opportunities bring hard choices for Lula

Opportunity for economic development is knocking at Lula’s door, but to take advantage, city officials need to make some hard decisions on funding alternatives for upgrading sewer capacity that could handle future growth.

The opportunities include servicing a poultry plant on a large tract off Lula Road/Ga. 52 that is owned by Gainesville-based Mar-Jac Poultry Inc. The company already owns and operates a hatchery in Lula — part of a conglomerate of operations that processes 2 million birds per week and ships poultry products worldwide.

An unidentified developer is pressing city officials to hurry up and provide sewer to 45 acres off Belton Bridge Road. There is talk about putting retail and homes there.

Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin brought city officials up to speed on the potential projects during a recent City Council work session. Mayor-elect Jim Grier attended the meeting.

“We’ve got a number of opportunities, and I’m perplexed,” Bergin told council. “I can’t do much right now.”

Bergin said the Belton Bridge property could be serviced with a line that he said would run from the 5th Street pump station back to Belton Bridge Road. He quoted a preliminary cost of $1.4 million to extend sewer for the retail development.

The 45 acres also could hold more than 100 homes, according to Bergin.

Bergin presented council with an option of adding a sewer line from the Belton Bridge Road sewer line connection to the wastewater treatment plant that would cost $161,000.

Should council move forward with the $1.4 million option, Bergin said the city might qualify for a long-term, low-interest loan with the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

“This is a toughie on y’all,” Bergin said. “Ultimately, it’s your decision how you want to go … The question is how quick development can come to the area. I know it’s a big challenge for you of what you can do and what you can afford.”

Mayor Milton Turner said at the meeting that he would like to have Grier attend talks he’s scheduling with a Mar-Jac representative. He wants the mayor-elect to be kept in the loop with the ongoing negotiations.

“I’m going to get (Grier) involved  in a meeting with them to see if this is going to progress,” Turner said. “We could have a meeting here to see what could be laid out and whether council wants to move forward with it.”

Bergin said the Mar-Jac development is still four to five years down the road, but some preliminary plans have been made for the target area.

“As we’ve done with our other master plans, how do you best address that property with wastewater?” Bergin said. “We’ve done some preliminary engineering to let (Mar-Jac) know what’s available. We’re very encouraged with what we’ve been able to identify not just for their property, but surrounding property as well.”

Lula has a balance of about $1 million on a GEFA $8.6 million loan to pay off the wastewater treatment plant the city completed in 2011. The plant is located on Magnolia Station Road off Lula Road.

The plant services the fast-growing Ga. 365 corridor that many project will continue to attract more industry, business and economic development to the area.

Hall County has expressed an interest in acquiring the wastewater treatment plant and would like to negotiate a deal with Lula officials.