The Flowery Branch planning and zoning department moved into new digs Friday.
The city’s planning and zoning department, along with the offices of city manager, building inspector and code enforcement, is relocating from 5509 Main St. to two buildings across the street from city hall, 5512 and 5514 Main St.
"The city is growing so rapidly, we needed additional room in the planning department," said Mary Jones, Flowery Branch councilwoman.
"As our town grows, it’s going to give us ample room to work and a nice place for developers to come and go from. It ought to help us grow along with the development that’s coming into town."
Hortman and Dobbs Developers LLC have plans for a $15 million five-structure, mixed-use development to be built on three blocks in downtown Flowery Branch. Construction on the project could begin by early fall, Marty Hortman of Hortman and Dobbs Developers said.
Before the move, Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew worked from his office in the city hall building while Flowery Branch Planning Director James Riker oversaw city development plans from two doors down at 5509 Main St., a building the city leased for about $900 per month. The city’s planning and zoning department has operated at 5509 Main St. for the past two years.
On Monday, an emergency city council meeting was held in Flowery Branch to approve three communications contracts with AT&T that total more than $15,000.
Andrew said the contracts had been overlooked, and needed to be approved before communication networks between the two buildings and city hall could be installed Tuesday morning, allowing city officials to move into the new office buildings on Friday.
Andrew said his office, as well as the former planning and zoning department building, was too small for the growing needs of Flowery Branch.
He said the new offices across from city hall will provide a more professional and modern working environment that will be more aesthetically appealing to the high quality developers Flowery Branch aims to attract.Andrew added that people who met with city staff or council members in the city hall building had only one men’s restroom to use — an unheated former jail cell that has been converted to a bathroom.
"It’s embarrassing when we have people over sometimes," Andrew said.
Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling said the move is a needed upgrade for the planning department.
"Hopefully we’ll get some developers in who are interested in continuing the renovation of downtown," Hirling said.
Flowery Branch City Council approved the agreement with Hortman and Dobbs Developers LLC on Dec. 18 for a $2,200 per month lease on 5512 and 5514 Main St. in the relocation of city staff offices from 5509 Main St. And on Feb. 6, the city council approved the $300,000 purchase of 5509 and 5511 Main St. The city bought the two buildings from Samuel and Joann Malcolm.
The vote considering the purchase of the two buildings for $300,000 divided the city council 3-2.
"I think it’s great," said Pat Zalewski, Flowery Branch City Councilwoman. "That whole side of the street now belongs to the city. That will make those buildings much more marketable, if that’s what the city wants to do. I think in the long run, purchasing those two buildings will be a very wise decision."
But the two newly elected members of the Flowery Branch City Council, Craig Lutz and Chris Fetterman, said they disagree with the $300,000 purchase.
"I was absolutely floored when I first heard about the purchase of the building," Fetterman said. "I believe it’s an utter waste of taxpayer money to move out of one building, start a lease at a 120 percent increase, and then about a month later purchase the building we just moved out of."
While Zalewski said the purchase of the buildings has made nearly the entire block the property of Flowery Branch, which could make it more enticing to developers, other city council members said they believe the city’s money could have been better spent.
"I think the people’s money shouldn’t be put on land speculation," Lutz said. "That’s a risk I don’t think we needed to take with the people’s money. I don’t think the government should play landlord."
Andrew said that although there are no plans for developing the city-owned property on Main Street at this time, the city hall building on Main Street could benefit from a different location, one that is more spacious and not in a prime location for development.