A West Hall church got the initial OK from the Flowery Branch City Council on Thursday, July 18 to relocate to a Flowery Branch property, over the recommendation of some city officials who wanted to preserve the property for commercial uses.
The members of the McEver Road United Methodist Church who crowded into City Hall for the issue applauded as the council voted 3-1 to rezone the 11.3-acre site off McEver Road and Gainesville Street, across from Jim Crow Road, from agricultural to institutional to enable the new campus.
A fifth council member, Leslie Jarchow, abstained from the vote.
“I think there are other areas right around that corridor that can be developed for neighborhood shopping to serve the community,” Councilwoman Amy Farah said. “And I think the residential development that is coming will create a demand for that.”
Farah was joined by councilmen Joe Anglin and Chris Mundy in supporting the rezoning. Councilman Ed Asbridge sided with the staff recommendation to oppose it. A final vote will come later.
“Just as the (church) has a vision, the city has a vision (for the property) in our plans,” he said. “It seems like we’re losing a lot of commercial opportunities. … I think we need to stand by the residents we have and give them the services they deserve.”
The city’s land-use plan “calls for this site to be neighborhood commercial,” says a staff report, citing area subdivisions under construction. “It should be a commercial development that serves nearby neighborhoods and the city as a whole.”
“We still feel that with all the residential (development) that’s going on around us … that the best use (of the property) is commercial,” city planner Rich Atkinson told the council at the July 18 meeting.
The issue first came up at the council’s June 27 public hearing.
The church’s attorney, David Dickerson, said at that meeting he had presented a letter to Mayor Mike Miller “raising a few constitutional objections.”
“We feel like current zoning is a detriment to us in keeping us from being able to use the property as we’d like to,” he said. “Under Georgia law, the Georgia courts and the Georgia legislature have indicated that churches get special consideration in zoning matters.”
Flowery Branch also raised concerns about traffic.
The busy intersection, which serves as a main gateway to downtown Flowery Branch, includes a subdivision being built, a gas station, restaurants and other retail. Hall County and Flowery Branch rebuilt the intersection a couple of years ago, adding turn lanes.
“McEver Road itself has issues that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later,” says the city’s staff report.
City Council voted at the time to put off a vote until July 18.
“This is a very tender subject and we want to make sure we get it right,” Mundy said at the time.