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What some Hall officials want changed after controversial warehouse ordeal
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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

Some Hall County officials want to see changes to the annexation process after the Buford Planning Commission recently approved a controversial warehouse facility. 

The 400,000-square-foot development from CA Ventures, a Chicago-based real estate management firm, 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 along a railroad track — in order to rezone its planned use from agricultural-residential to light industrial.

The project has been unpopular with residents, many of whom live in unincorporated Hall County or Flowery Branch rather than Buford. The project was rejected by Hall County in October 2020 and then Flowery Branch in December 2020 before the developer went to Buford for annexation and rezoning. The Buford Planning Commission approved the project July 20 after a big crowd booed the commission and several people spoke in opposition. 

Hall County Commissioner Kathy Cooper, who spoke at the meeting, said one of her main concerns was that this annexation was coming from a body which did not represent many of the residents it will affect. 

Residents have listed many concerns including increased traffic, a more intense use of the land than the current zoning and more trucks in the area. 

The annexation is also unusual, Cooper said in an interview Thursday, because this annexation is not necessary for city utilities like water or sewer as is often the case for annexations. Often, annexations happen when a city can provide a utility that the county could not as easily provide, Cooper said. The city has the right to annex the land, because its city limits border it along a railroad track on the southeast side of the property. 

“The thing I’m having trouble with right now is when there’s so many people that are against the annexation and the project,” Cooper said. “Buford’s willing to let that company override what everyone else in this area’s wishes are.”

Any increased protection for counties which wish to protect their land’s zoning would have to come from changes to state laws. Hall County objected to the proposal when Buford was set to hear it in March, and the case went to a state arbitration panel, who ruled in favor of Buford. The county then appealed that decision, but the court dismissed the appeal, Hall County Attorney Van Stephens said. 

The county has the right to object when the rezoning is considered significantly more intense than the county’s current zoning, Stephens said. 

Though the panel denied their objection, Stephens said, they added conditions for the land’s use that would require improvements along McEver Road. Steve Rowley, Senior Vice President & Market Officer of CA Ventures, presented road improvements at the July 20 meeting that would cost the firm about $1 million. 

“We’ve tried to be good neighbors,” Rowley said. “I don’t know that we’re giving them all the answers that they want.”

There should be little effect on traffic on the weekends, Rowley said. 

Buford Planning Commissioner Homer Whiting said after the meeting Tuesday that resident concerns expressed that evening were not new from what they heard in March. There are other similar commercial properties along McEver Road, including storage facilities, he said. 

“I don’t see why it wouldn’t (fit),” Whiting said. “It certainly would help the road.”

McEver Road includes a sharp curve, and Rowley said CA Ventures would substantially increase the curve’s visibility.

“It’s always tense when we have a warehouse,” Whiting said. 

The proposed use is more intense than surrounding properties, even with some adjacent commercial zoning, Stephens said. 

“It might affect the neighbors and in this case it does, but the neighbors are in the unincorporated part of the county,” Stephens said. “They don’t get to vote for the city council members so there’s really no accountability on the part of the city council members on the part of this annexation.”

One solution could be requiring a larger buffer — maybe 1,000 feet to a quarter mile — between different zonings when a city decides to annex land and rezone it for a significantly more intense use than the county’s, Stephens said. For example, a warehouse development like this one could be required to get moved farther from nearby residential properties, Stephens said, but that would have to change at the state level.

The Buford City Commission will have final say on the application in August.

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