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Flowery Branch City Council says yes to land annexation
Councilman Joe Anglin, Mayor Mike Miller, Councilman Fred Richards, Councilwoman Mary Jones and Councilman Damon Gibbs listen to resident concerns over a requested annexation and light industrial rezoning at the Thursday meeting of the Flowery Branch City Council. - photo by CARLEY SHAREC

The controversial annexation and rezoning requests of a large portion of land in South Hall County has been approved by the Flowery Branch City Council.

Around 70 concerned residents showed up to the Thursday council meeting, many using the public comment portion to encourage council members to vote against the rezoning of around 180 acres of land from either residential or agricultural to light industrial.

In the end, both the rezoning and the annexation of around 141 of those acres were approved, with the council voting unanimously for the annexation requests. Councilman Joe Anglin voted against the rezoning requests.

Councilwoman Tara Richards was absent.

While opposition was passionate, both sides were generally cooperative with each other, with Mayor Mike Miller thanking members of the audience for their cordiality.

Many of the people who spoke Thursday also spoke at the public hearing on the issue on Oct. 2, bringing up many of the same concerns with traffic and safety issues topping the list.

The land, between Mulberry Street, Interstate 985, Wade Orr Road and Atlanta Highway, is next to both residential and commercial zoning, with three nearby subdivisions. Many expressed concern over a main access point for truck traffic into the proposed industrial park coming from Wade Orr Road.

John McHenry, Flowery Branch’s planning and community development director, listed the conditions attached to the ordinances. For example, the applicant, America’s Home Place, is required to do a traffic impact study with “any type of development they do on the property,” McHenry said. “We feel that this will really address the traffic issue.”

Also, truck traffic would be required to use Hog Mountain Road to get on and off I-985 rather than using Wade Orr Road, a condition some audience members questionedthe city’s ability to enforce.

Also, there are several things the land cannot be used for; among others, the land can’t be used as fairgrounds or for a cemetery.

There had also been concerns about the possibility of an adult business being able to operate on the premises. McHenry said the city itself can’t prohibit an adult business as it would turn into a freedom of speech issue, but one of the additional conditions is that the private land owner shall prohibit adult businesses.

Resident Elaine MacGillivray was not satisfied, inquiring about other possibilities of land use like a cell tower or brewery/distillery.

A concern that kept coming up is there is no master site plan for the land, though city officials say the applicant’s goal is to put in an industrial park under the light industrial zoning.

“A lot of the things suggested were great,” resident John Powell said about the conditions placed on the ordinances. “What needs to be done is some type of preliminary plan, which has been proposed.”

Powell, who also spoke Oct. 2, was particularly bothered by a statement made on that date, when a suggestion was made that the land be used for either an office-professional zoning or for more residential in the area.

“That’s when the counsel for the applicant said that nobody’s building houses right now anyway,” Powell said. “Well, gee whiz, they’re building 200 in Gainesville with their company. So Gainesville gets the nice houses. We get the warehouses. That just bothers me that something like that was the statement.”

The Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board has recommended approval of an annexation and rezoning request to allow for the development of a 219-lot subdivision off Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville; the Gainesville City Council is set to vote on whether or not to approve the development at its Nov. 4 meeting. The applicant is West Ahaluna LLC, a local developer with ties to America’s Home Place.

Council members Damon Gibbs and Anglin expressed reservations before casting their votes, though Gibbs ultimately voted for both the annexation and rezoning requests.

Gibbs pointed out the applicant’s request is not against what is in the Flowery Branch and Hall County comprehensive use plans.

“The vote tonight is not for what will go there,” he said. “The vote tonight will be surrounding two issues. One, bringing that property into the city of Flowery Branch. And two, making it possible — possible — for a light industrial to go into that area.

“I’ve not seen a site plan, so I have no way to know if it’s dentist offices that are going into light industrial; if it’s restaurants going into light industrial ... I have no idea,” Gibbs continued. “What my commitment is to you tonight as homeowners ... I’m going to put myself in your position as much as I humanly, possibly can. What I will commit to tonight is, if this passes in the zoning piece, I will commit to having additional hearings before any site plan will be approved. And no building of any type, no commercial development of any type, will be able to happen on that property until a site plan is approved.

“And I will not vote for a site plan that does not include a second entrance to that property. Period. I don’t care if they have to go buy more property to get access to a second entrance. I do not agree with the only entrance to that property ... being on Wade Orr.”

Prior to the final rezoning vote, though, Anglin challenged that idea, saying the property may not be developed for years to come. By the time a site plan is brought before the council, he said, none of the current members may be on it.

“You may have a whole different group that you’re appealing to,” he said to the audience.

As mayor, Miller does not vote unless there is a tie, but he did address the issue, saying he would rather have the property under Flowery Branch jurisdiction than letting neighboring governments have the opportunity.

“Buford is two properties away from this property,” Miller said. “I am more comfortable with us having ... control of the zoning there and what’s required there than (Buford and Hall County).”