0814ZONINGHear Hall County Planning and Zoning Director Randy Knighton explain the rules for zoning an equestrian center.
They will gather in red to show solidarity in opposition to the rezoning request of one of their longtime neighbors.
After being delayed twice, Lora Cushard’s request to rezone her Murrayville property for use as an equestrian business must be heard or dismissed at today’s 5 p.m. meeting, Chairman Tom Oliver said at the commission’s last meeting.
The Cushards’ attorney, Rob Chambers, requested to delay the item at the July 24 meeting in the hope that he could meet with neighbors and come to a compromise.
"The neighborhood’s really not willing to let them run a business," said Mike Nosach, a longtime resident of the Lake Shore Forest subdivision.
The tightly organized community has worked for decades to maintain the character of the neighborhood and has banded together to protect, once again, what they feel is a threat to their way of life.
In 1986, area residents, many of whom are still there, petitioned to have the zoning tightened from a vacation cottage designation to a residential zoning, Nosach said.
Vacation cottage, a lenient zoning designation, allowed people to rent out their homes and put mobile homes on their property, things Nosach said the residents then felt devalued the area.
"Every single lot owner in the whole subdivision had to sign off on (the rezoning)," Nosach said.
The Cushards’ 11-acre property on Ivy Drive is currently zoned R-1, meaning no commercial businesses are allowed within the designated area, according to the official code of Hall County.
The Cushards are not newcomers to Hall County, having lived and raised horses on their property for a decade. Horses are allowed for personal use in an R-1 area, and Nosach said he never heard any complaints about the family’s horses.
"Nobody in the neighborhood ... made any effort to oppose that," he said. "But somewhere along the line, they decided that they wanted to take it a step further and go full time into the boarding and the training."
Nosach said he and others in the community were surprised when they saw the Cushards begin construction on what he described as a $60,000 to $80,000 barn.
"They did not communicate with any of their neighbors regarding this, or their plans," Nosach said. "They turned around immediately thereafter and tried to rezone the property back to AR3."
AR3 is an agricultural-residential zoning designation Cushard needs to be able to operate the equestrian facility.
Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell, in whose district the conflict takes place, said AR3 is "made to protect the farming way of life." It is not a more lenient zoning category than residential because farmers live and operate their businesses on the same property.
Powell said in his four years as a commissioner, he has never heard anyone request to "down zone," or move from a stricter zoning to a more lenient zoning category. He also said people rarely look to operate businesses in R-1 areas.
The issue first came before the Hall County Planning and Zoning commission on June 16. After hearing both sides, the planning commission recommended the Hall County Board of Commissioners deny the Cushards’ request.
Chris Braswell, a member of the planning and zoning commission, said recommending denial was a very difficult decision .
"I sort of see both sides," Braswell said. "It’s unlike any we’ve seen before."
Braswell said while he was sympathetic because the Cushards’ livelihood was involved in the case, the deciding factor for him was the dedication of all the neighbors who attended that meeting.
"If that many people got together that long ago and still showed up at a meeting 22 years later, it makes a difference," Braswell said.
The planning and zoning board hears facts and makes recommendations to the Hall County Board of Commissioners, which makes the final decision in all zoning issues.
Both Braswell and Powell said they are unsure of which way the five-member board of commissioners will vote on this issue.
"You just never know one way or the other," Powell said of the outcome. "It’s just kind of hard to call."
But neighbors are holding on to their original convictions.
"The bottom line is the neighborhood, first of all, is adamantly opposed to changing the zoning category within in our neighborhood because it opens up a whole other can of worms as far as what people can do with their property," Nosach said. "Secondly, they were opposed to having a public business in the middle of a subdivision. Really, there are two facets to it that are equally weighed."
The Cushard family declined to speak to The Times for this article.
"In the interest of our young loving children and our neighbors of nearly 10 years, we wish not to make any further comments," Paul Cushard said.