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Gainesville planners OK construction in stream buffer
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Gainesville’s planners voted Tuesday to allow a Habitat for Humanity home to be built inside a 75-foot buffer meant to protect streams from erosion.

The city’s Unified Land Development Code bars development within 75 feet of a stream bank. The first 50 feet closest to the stream must be completely undisturbed and the remaining 25 feet may be minimally disturbed but free of pavement or other impervious cover.

The code allows the city’s Planning and Appeals Board to override the rules on a case-by-case basis if property owners can cite significant hardships with conforming to the rules.

Habitat for Humanity of Hall County asked the city’s Planning and Appeals Board to vary that rule and allow the organization to build a single-family home 25 feet from the stream and 1 foot from the property line on the right side of the property.

The nonprofit organization would like to build a 1,248-square-foot home on the property at 807 West Ave. However, choices on a building location on the 0.39 acre tract are few; the property is flanked with a stream, two sewer utility easements and the topography is sloped, according to planning documents.

"There are a lot of things going on out there," Principal Planner Matt Tate told the board Tuesday.

Rob Owens, executive director of the organization, asked that the board approve the request. He said the property had been donated and Habitat for Humanity already had a family lined up to live in the future home, but the local stream buffer requirement would render the property useless.

"This is the only way we can put the house on it," Owens said.

The majority of the planning board moved in favor of Owens’ request. Vice Chairman Joe Diaz did not, although he said he was not opposed to Habitat for Humanity’s proposed project.

Diaz said his vote was a matter of principle. There have been a number of requests that have been approved to vary the city’s stream buffer requirements.

"If it’s not important, I feel like the code needs to be modified," Diaz said.

Although the board’s approval moves within the city’s bounds for development around streams, the house still will meet state regulations that keep development 25 feet from a stream, Tate said.