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Gainesville, Hall numbers show uptick in development
Economy changes permit process
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The number of building permits in Gainesville is on the rise, a good sign for the economy, city officials noted recently.

"We've seen an upswing since the beginning of the year in permitting," said Rusty Ligon, director of the Community Development Department that oversees planning. "We're also talking to more people now than in the last year or so about potential projects."

For the January through May period, the planning department has seen 200 more commercial and residential building permits than last year.

The jump from 561 permits in 2009 to 648 permits in 2010 and 857 permits this year includes new construction, additions, remodeling and renovations.

During the same time period this year, the city issued 19 new construction permits for single-family residences as compared to one in 2010, four in 2009 and 21 in 2008.

"That's significant compared to the last few years for that time frame," Ligon said. "In 2010, we only issued one permit for the entire year."

For commercial buildings, the numbers are comparable to a year ago, but the economic footprint is higher as ZF Industries brings in a new facility, a new medical building goes into place next to the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center and several businesses pop up along Dawsonville Highway.

"There's Olive Garden, Cheddar's, Aldi, Joann; Taco Bell on Thompson Bridge Road and Kaufmann Tire hoping to use the spot where Sonic was on Dawsonville Highway," Ligon said. "For our office, it's economically significant to see new construction of different types. There's office space, manufacturing and retail right there."

The economy has also changed the way developers approach the permitting process, he added.

"There's not as much speculative rezoning as we've seen in years past," Ligon said. "People are getting their potential tenants signed on and financing in place before coming in to apply."

But the financing is harder to find, noted Matt Tate, the city's planning manager.

"Funding is still the issue for many of these developers," he said. "Finding a funding source has been challenging. That's the common theme I'm hearing."

With the changes in planning trends, now is the perfect time to work on the city's next comprehensive plan, Tate said. The report will outline community development goals for the next 20 years.

"With the 2004 plan, trends for population growth were skyrocketing, and now that's not the case," he said. "The issues we were facing then are different than what we're facing today."

The plan will also incorporate Vision 2014 from Gainesville Parks and Recreation, Vision 2030 from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan by the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

"Right now we're finalizing a community assessment document, which is an executive summary of our community that addresses the issues and opportunities here," Tate said. "So far, we've held stakeholder interviews and formed a task force with individuals from various neighborhoods and organizations to be our sounding board and guide the process."

The next step will involve the public through community meetings. On May 21, the planning staff will hold an open house event for residents to learn more about the comprehensive planning process and give their ideas.

"The main thing is getting the public engaged and involved," Tate said. "This is a great time to plan for the next 20 years of growth in the city."

Hall County staff members are seeing a similar uptick in building permits, but are not yet moving forward with their comprehensive plan.

"We've seen some reasons to be positive," said Randy Knighton, the county's planning director.

"We've experienced more inquiries or discussions from people who potentially want to develop property, and there's more of a buzz about potential development activity."

After lawmakers proposed changes during the 2011 legislative session for how governments approach the planning process, Hall County officials decided to wait on further direction from the state's Department of Community Affairs.

"We're in a holding pattern and are continuing to assess the changes and have additional conversations at the state level to fully understand what those implications are," Knighton said. "The department has provided some information, but there may be additional information forthcoming, and we want to wait until we have the information necessary to make a decision."


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