A commercial boom on the mostly wooded corners of the soon-to-open Exit 14 would fulfill the hopes of some neighbors and dash the hopes of others.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” said Brian Evans, founder and senior pastor of Oakwood Baptist Church. “From the church perspective, we welcome the development. I think it’s good for us and, overall, it’s good for the area.”
The church was built some 15 years ago on Martin Road. New development at the nearby Interstate 985 interchange is about to get its first test, as a retail proposal at the corner of Martin Road and Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13 goes to the Oakwood City Council on Monday, Aug. 12.
Tyler Gaines of Atlanta is proposing to rezone the property from multifamily residential to highway business. The rezoning could open up the site to various kinds of development, including restaurants, hotel, bank, pharmacy or gas station.
Nothing specific has been planned for the site, with city planner B.R. White telling the Oakwood Planning Commission on July 15, “It’s a speculative rezoning.”
The planning board recommended approval. City Council has the final say.
Oakwood City Council
What: Retail development proposed on Martin Road at Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12
Where: Oakwood City Hall, 4035 Walnut Circle
Area residents, particularly the heavily involved Martin Road Stakeholders, oppose the rezoning.
“They should put commercial enterprises on the other side of 985 where the industries are, not belly up to two residential areas,” said Gary McClung, one of the more vocal residents. “The property in question is part of a residential area.”
He added, “The additional traffic this would put on Martin Road would be unacceptable, including delivery trucks.”
Another vocal resident, Darlene Long, said the stakeholders group believes the rezoning “will negatively impact our community’s residential nature. A commercial rezoning request such as this will undo everything that we have worked so hard to get in place.”
The group formed in response to Exit 14 being built, but it has tackled other issues, including plans to widen Martin Road from Ga. 13 to Winder Highway that were eventually ditched and the just-opened roundabout at JM Turk Road.
“This commercial rezoning application comes on the heels of three long years of hard work by (the group) collaborating with (transportation officials) and Hall County government to keep our residential community safe,” Long said.
“Some still think it should be a commercial corridor,” she added. “There is plenty of land closer to the exit on Thurmon Tanner that is already designated for commercial use.
The interchange on the Oakwood-Flowery Branch border will connect Martin Road east of I-985 to H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway at Thurmon Tanner Parkway west of I-985. It’s set to open Aug. 31.
Both sides of the exit feature a lot of open land.
The Martin Road side has several churches, a Hall County fire station and Martin Technology Academy right off what will be the exit. The H.F. Reed side has several companies, particularly lining Thurmon Tanner, and little residential.
Over the years, Gaines’ property has toggled between zoning categories, with the Oakwood City Council voting in March 2014 to allow both commercial and residential uses. The property became all residential in 2017.
At the time, then-property owner The Brand Banking said there had been no “interest from any commercial developer.”
“It appears the primary commercial market in the city of Oakwood is (farther north) at Exit 17 and along (Ga.) 53. The (Martin Road/Falcon Parkway) property is off the beaten path of where the commercial market is located and where it wants to be.”
Frank Norton Jr., a Gainesville Realtor and real estate watcher who delivers an annual presentation on economic and development trends, said last week he foresees mixed commercial uses “not only at (Exit 14) but in surrounding areas.”
“It is only natural to see that kind of development around a new exit,” he said. “It will not supplant what’s happening at Spout Springs or Mundy Mill Road (exits). It will be in addition to.”
Evans has other reasons why he’d like to see the area open up.
“We’re interested in the traffic flow of people by our church — that’s a positive for us,” he said. “And for convenience's sake, for our membership and our ministry, we would have those (commercial) things closer to us.”