LULA — Two members of an Austrian family filed an application Monday to rezone 1,477 acres in East Hall into a planned community with 1 million square feet of commercial space and 2,977 residences.
The development, Hagen Creek, is named for the waterway that runs through the center of the property, which is bordered by Ga. 52 and extends along Ga. 365 to just east of Belton Bridge Road.
The land is part of a larger tract that was purchased in 1979 by Franz Mayr-Meinhof, who was killed in an automobile accident several years ago. The proposed site is owned by his sons Ferdinand and Felix, who sought another use for the land, where timber harvesting has been the primary enterprise.
Carl Nichols of Athens, who represents the landowners, said that it is unlikely that any development would begin on the site for three to five years. And the full development of the site could take 15 years beyond that.
Nichols said his clients are not like many developers who are seeking a quick return on their investment. He said the two men see the project as a legacy project to honor their late father.
"The land is debt-free, so the owners can afford to take their time to plan the highest quality community," Nichols said.
The land extends for more than a mile from the intersection of Ga. 52 and Ga. 365. The red clay hilltops offer a view of the nearby mountains and extend down into the bottomland along the shores of Hagen Creek. In addition to harvesting timber, the site has been leased seasonally by deer hunters who have found an ample supply of prey on the land.
Because of the size of the development, an application has already been filed through the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Commission for a development of regional impact, which is required under state law.
With regional approval, the zoning request will likely come before the Hall County Planning Commission in December and go on to the county commission in January. The owners are seeking a change from the current AR-IV for agricultural and residential uses to a two-part zoning, Planned Development District to accommodate the commercial sites and Planned Unit Development for the residential space.
The Mayr-Meinhof brothers have hired Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan, a Florida-based planning and design firm to prepare initial plans for the site. The design includes a commercial business area as the gateway to a number of residential areas. The residences will range from multi-family to larger estate homes on the rolling hillsides.
John M. Fish, who is leading the design team for PBS&J, envisions the community as a place that offers not only a place to live, but to work, shop, recreate and learn. The preliminary master plan includes a site for a public school, an idea that has been discussed with officials with the Hall County school system.
The residential housing choices will range from moderate-price homes, larger estate homes and both loft and town houses in the town centers.
"We are creating a sustainable community for the future, not a single-generation subdivision," said Fish, vice president of planning and landscape architecture with PBS&J.
Jimmy Echols, an East Hall businessman and former Hall County commissioner, said the developers began making their case with residents in the Lula area before the application was filed.
"They had a community meeting up here and invited interested folks," Echols said. "It looks like a very interesting proposal. The density seems a little high, but they might be able to make it work."
Echols and his family grow peaches and apples and have a retail farm market on Ga. 365, just north of the proposed site. He said that the proposal would change the face of the area.
"If they do what they described, it would raise the bar in this area," Echols said, adding he was impressed that the owners were proposing to devote land within the development for a public school.
Echols said none of the estimated 20 people at the meeting he attended expressed any opposition to the project.
"I thought that was rather remarkable," he said, adding that the 20-year development period would give local residents enough time to embrace the concept.
Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce said talk of the project is not new to her.
"I’ve seen the whole project and known about it for years," Dunlap said. "You have owners of this land who have taken good care of it and want to do something extraordinary that most places don’t have an opportunity to do."
Dunlap, who has visited the homes and businesses of the Mayr-Meinhof family in Austria, said that it is hard to make a comparison to another community that is on par with the plans in East Hall.
"They have traveled around the U.S. and abroad to look at planned community developments and will incorporate the best of what they have seen in this project," she said.