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Hall Commission OKs rezoning for disabled adults community
Board also seeks grant for bridge projects
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Becky Dowling, “Just” People, Inc. founder and CEO, speaks during a Hall County Commission public hearing on plans to rezone 21 acres near Flowery Branch for a community for developmentally disabled adults at the Hall County Government Center in Gainesville on Thursday, September 24, 2015. - photo by Erin O. Smith

“Just” People scored a big victory Thursday night at the Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The organization was given the proper zoning to develop a 21-acre South Hall County community serving developmentally disabled adults. As soon as commission Chairman Richard Mecum announced the vote, applause roared through the meeting room.

“I’m glad we were able to proceed,” said Kevin Robinson, a resident of a Just People community in Roswell.

He and a throng of “Just” People residents, workers and supporters were beaming as they left the room.

The proposal’s foes had argued the development off McEver and Radford roads would drag down property values, increase traffic woes and have an apartment-like density that wasn’t “the right fit” in an area filled with single-family homes lining subdivision streets.

The commission’s vote was 4-1, with South Hall Commissioner Kathy Cooper the lone opponent.

“I feel like the density and the location are not as well suited as something else might be,” she said.

Other commissioners spent much of their time peppering the applicants and staff with questions, getting stuck at one point on fencing on the property.

“I wouldn’t be in favor of chain-link fencing,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said.

Ornamental fencing was made a condition for the property’s rezoning from agricultural-residential to planned residential development.

“If (adjacent residents) have a different fence style in mind, we’d certainly be happy to consider it,” said Kevin Dowling of “Just” People. “We don’t want angry neighbors.”

The village, which would have 158 residents living in a variety of housing units, will be bordered by Pine Wood, Blossom Farm and White Horse Creek subdivisions, and Flowery Branch Elementary School is nearby.

In addition to residential space, plans also call for up to 10,000 square feet of commercial development that would include a cafe, snack bar, personal care salons and sports training areas.

Before the meeting, opposition and support for the proposal had mounted furiously, with names being collected on online petitions.

Supporters and opponents who packed the commission meeting room were given a quick warning from Mecum before the public hearing.

“We ask you to be polite and that there’ll be no name calling, no clapping or hollering or loud noise,” Mecum said.

And both sides were mostly civil as they presented arguments for and against the proposal.

One of the strongest statements was made by a supporter, Krista Goodrich, who harshly criticized opposition for spreading misinformation about the plans, including that government subsidies were involved.

Project foes “were using a Nazi Germany tactic of instilling fear in people of a certain class in order to support your cause,” she said.

One opponent, Phil Eastman, said he knew “there may have been some comments made by uninformed individuals, and that’s unfortunate — they don’t represent the views of anybody up here speaking today.”

Several opponents said they applauded “Just” People’s work with special-needs adults, but they didn’t agree with the location.

“We’re not against ‘Just’ People,” Ken Blankenship said. “We’re simply against an enormous institutional facility in a quiet residential area.”

Becky Dowling, founder and president of “Just” People, which also has a community in Gwinnett County, told commissioners she wasn’t surprised or unfamiliar with “the fear of change or to people who are different moving into a community.”

She added that the residents simply “want to live among people who understand and appreciate them and what they have to offer, where they can be themselves, be accepted and feel safe.”


Other business

The Hall County Board of Commissioners also took the following action at its Thursday meeting:

Approved seeking a grant from Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank to help pay for a new $3.4 million bridge on Tumbling Creek Road over Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. The bridge would help direct traffic from Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway to Old Oakwood Road.

Approved seeking a grant from the infrastructure bank to help pay for $2.2 million in improvements to the Ga. 347 bridge at Interstate 985.

Approved funding, in an effort with Gainesville, for a device that helps catch and “trap” trash at Flat Creek and Lake Lanier.

Regional events