In a surprising move, the Hall County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to restore the Friendship Road name for a stretch of Ga. 347 between Interstate 985 and Ga. 211.
The 3-2 vote rescinds a decision by the board in 2013 to rename the road Lanier Islands Parkway following a widening of the South Hall thoroughfare.
The Lanier Islands name will remain for Ga. 347 west of I-985.
It was an emotional meeting, with dozens of employees from Lanier Islands resort dressed in blue T-shirts showing their support for the 2013 change, which they said benefits their livelihood.
Supporters of Friendship Road, meanwhile, pleaded with the board to respect the history and heritage of the community that gave the road its name.
“This has become quite an issue,” Commission Chairman Richard Mecum said, recounting the recent history.
Ga. 347 was known at one time as Friendship Road, Holiday Road and Thompson Mill Road between Lake Lanier Islands and Ga. 211.
The Friendship Road name reflects the community that originated there about 170 years ago.
Commissioners Jeff Stowe, Billy Powell and Scott Gibbs voted two years ago for the change to Lanier Islands Parkway.
One reason given for the change was that the Lanier Islands name better reflects the geography of the area and helps direct visitors to points of interest on and around the lake.
But supporters said they believed the history of the Friendship community was being ignored in favor of commercial interests.
“These people have everything taken from them now ... their land ... now you want to take the name away from them,” said resident Ken Cochran, who narrowly lost to Commissioner Kathy Cooper last year for a seat on the board representing South Hall. “That’s just not right.”
State lawmakers joined the fray last year, approving a resolution dedicating Ga. 347 between I-985 and the Braselton town limits as Friendship Road.
The resolution also dedicated Ga. 347 from the western shores of Lake Lanier east to I-985 as Lanier Islands Parkway.
Supporters asked the board Thursday to acknowledge the wishes of state lawmakers.
“I believe that you will find admiration and respect for your actions if you have the courage to correct the mistakes of the past,” said resident Phyllis Mercer.
Brian Rochester, executive vice president of Gainesville-based Rochester & Associates, a firm that provides land surveying, civil engineering and project management service, spoke on behalf of the resort and the economic benefit it brings the community.
“These are tough times and tough decisions you’ve got to make,” he told the board. “The reality, though, is many decades ago Friendship Road began to change.”
With the widening of Ga. 347 into a four- and six-lane highway, the road is now more commercial than residential, Rochester said.
“If people think it’s going to staty the same and not change, I think that is not a good perception,” he added, urging the board to side with the resort and its investment in Hall County.
Cooper, who helped bring the issue back up for a vote, said the Friendship community remains strong despite the changes.
“I’m the farmer that stayed,” she said, addressing Friendship Road supporters. “I really do understand ... and I just hope that there can be some kind of preservation there for you.”
Powell said he had been swamped with emails in the last few days as the issue reached a boiling point, though he did not change his vote.
“I got every one of your emails and read every one,” he said. “Some of them were even threatening. I’ve been threatened in person with how I vote.
“My statement is I have and always will make what I think is the best vote for the entire county,” Powell said.
Stowe told The Times on Monday he voted in favor of the Lanier Islands name two years ago partly to avoid any confusion with multiple road names.
But that problem reared its head in a new way when Braselton decided to keep the Friendship Road name for Ga. 347 within its town limits.
“That is very confusing to have four different road names,” Stowe said about the highway changing names back and forth.
“I’ve taken to heart everything y’all have said,” Stowe told supporters. “I’ve been torn with which way to go on this.”
Ultimately, Stowe reversed course and sided with Friendship Road.