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Residents boo as Buford planners approve contentious warehouse
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Hall County residents react in disappointment Tuesday, July 20, 2021, during a Buford Planning Commission at the Buford Arena. Dozens of residents attended the meeting to oppose a controversial warehouse development proposed on McEver Road. The planning commission approved the proposal which will go before the Buford City Commission next month. - photo by Scott Rogers

Dozens of Buford and Hall County residents filled up one side of the bleachers Tuesday July 20 at Buford Arena in anticipation of a controversial plan to annex land in order to build two warehouse buildings totaling nearly 400,000 square feet. 

Despite concerns from several speakers opposing the development and contentious comments from the public after their speaking time was closed, the Buford Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the annexation and rezoning application with staff conditions.

The development, proposed by Chicago-based real estate management firm, CA Ventures, would require the city of Buford to annex a 36-acre tract at 6533 McEver Road — which mostly sits in unincorporated Hall County but borders the city of Buford — in order to rezone its planned use from agricultural-residential to light industrial.

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Hall County resident Teresa Cantrell speaks to fellow residents Tuesday, July 20, 2021, outside the Buford Arena following the Buford Planning Commission meeting which approved a controversial warehouse development on McEver Road. - photo by Scott Rogers

The development has had a difficult history with residents continually raising concerns about traffic, safety and the project not fitting with nearby residential areas. 

Buford is the third government that has seen this application, after the developer first proposed it to Hall County, whose Planning Commission recommended denial of the project in October 2020. The developer withdrew plans before it could be voted on by the Hall County Board of Commissioners. 

Then, the developer went to Flowery Branch, who also denied the project

 in December 2020. 

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Buford Planning Commissioners Harley Bennett, left, Homer Whiting and Wayne Johnson, right, prepare to vote Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in favor of the controversial warehouse proposal on McEver Road during a meeting at the Buford Arena. - photo by Scott Rogers

​​Hall County filed a formal objection before Buford was set to hear the application in March. This led to a state arbitration hearing in which the panel ruled Buford’s way on June 9.

Six people spoke in opposition to the development at Tuesday’s meeting, including Hall County Commissioner Kathy Cooper. Cooper said the development would be, “drastically out of character,” with nearby residential developments. And, because Buford was making the decision, Hall County residents did not have a voice in this process, she said.

Susan Barge, who runs the Lightway Recovery center for women in need next to the proposed facility, said she “could not believe” the lack of discussion from the commission regarding the application. After the opposition’s time for public comment elapsed, the commission moved to approve the application with little further comments. Residents in the bleachers booed the board’s decision before filing out.

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CA Ventures Senior Vice President Steve Rowley speaks Tuesday, July 20, 2021, at a Buford Planning Commission at the Buford Arena about CA Ventures proposed warehouse development on McEver Road in Hall County. - photo by Scott Rogers

Buford planning staff recommended approval of the annexation and rezoning application with conditions. Conditions included requiring the developer to make improvements on McEver Road, providing an enhanced 20-foot landscape planting plan at McEver Road and keeping lighting directed toward the property. 

Senior Vice President and Market Officer at CA Ventures, Steve Rowley, said the firm would spend $1 million on road improvements along McEver Road, including adding a turn lane, deceleration lane and widening the road to add visibility to a curve on that road. The developer also plans to add a 100-foot buffer between the facility and nearby residences on the south side of the property. 

Proposed road improvements were based on recommendations they had heard from Hall County planning staff, Rowley said. 

The application will go before the Buford Commission in August for final approval. If approved, the facility is expected to be completed near the end of 2022. 

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Hall County resident Teresa Cantrell speaks to the Buford Planning Commission Tuesday, July 20, 2021, at the Buford Arena opposing a controversial warehouse development proposal. The Buford Planning Commission meeting approved the proposal which will go before the Buford City Commission next month. - photo by Scott Rogers