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Hall County's 'Mayberry,' Clermont is in no big hurry to grow
North Hall town bucks development as other areas speeds ahead
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Jo Carroll pulls off the side of the street Wednesday afternoon in downtown Clermont to get a newspaper from the box along Main Street. Clermont has more than 50 businesses spread across its city limits.

With its farms and quaint homes lining Main Street, Clermont is resisting the march by other Hall County cities toward progress with their fancy Starbucks coffee shops and homemade gelatos.

And that’s OK by residents.

“It’s just an old laid-back town,” said Eugene Turner, whose Whole Word Ministry runs a thrift store off Cleveland Highway/U.S. 129. “Everybody ... is in no big hurry. I like it the way it is.”

Many residents prefer the quiet life, as seen by events over the past couple of years, such as opposition to  a proposed restaurant serving alcohol.

And even though it hasn’t stirred controversy among local residents, a business owner’s request to de-annex a home decor business, Iron Accents, has raised questions again about the town’s identity — how does it want to look, now and in the future?

Does it want it compete with larger cities, such as Gainesville to the south or Cleveland to the north?

Residents will get their chance to have a say on such matters as the town begins to update its long-range comprehensive plan, with the help of the Gainesville-based Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

From what he’s heard, Mayor James Nix said residents “don’t want the big-business type of thing — Wal-Marts and all that — but it’s small businesses that they’re really open to.”

“With growth comes headaches,” said Wayne Camboia, owner of Heritage Antiques and Restoration at 400 N. Main St.

“I don’t know if (Clermont) will be any bigger or not, but it doesn’t matter to me if it doesn’t,” said Jo Carroll, who was parking her car at a Main Street business to grab a newspaper.

Clermont has some 50-plus businesses scattered between its borders, with many of those lining Cleveland Highway, the town’s version of a commercial strip.

And U.S. 129 is where the growth debate is centered.

In 2014, El Rey Mexican Restaurant and Happy Food Mart in Clermont pushed the town of about 900 to look at changing local law banning the “sale, distribution or service” of any malt beverages, wine or distilled spirits.

Town Council voted to let the ordinance stand.

“I don’t think this’ll ever completely die out,” Nix said at the time. “But for right now we’re seeing that we’re not going to change anything.”

And then, last spring, Chris Nonnemaker wanted to withdraw his 6-acre tract featuring a Papa’s Pizza To-Go restaurant into unincorporated Hall, making room for a beach-themed eatery.

The request hit a nerve, drawing residents opposing the plans, and the Town Council voted down the request.

Joe McGoogan, who died after winning election to the council last fall, was certainly not a high-growth candidate.

In an interview before his win, he said he saw Clermont as a haven for both longtime residents and commuters who see the town’s slow pace as a break from the rat race elsewhere.

“They like the sidewalks and the people jogging, families just visiting or talking,” McGoogan said. “This is more like a family setting.”

And nothing says family, or small-town atmosphere, more than a mother pushing a stroller from her white picket-fenced home on Main Street to a nearby park off Market Street.

“My sister calls it Mayberry,” Lindsey Haynes said with a laugh, toting her 22-month-old, Sarah. “We like the quiet and the simplicity. We’ve enjoyed it.”

With another child on the way soon, Haynes and her husband are looking to move to a larger house, possibly in the Dahlonega area. But that doesn’t stop her from reflecting on Clermont’s future.

She said she wonders whether Hall’s growth from the south eventually will creep into the community.

“I don’t know if it can continue this way,” she said of the slow pace.

“There are people who want it stay the way it is, and there’s a smaller group of people who want to see it change and grow. I’m not sure which one will happen.”

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