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North Hall development tied up in court
Lawsuit challenges rezoning for apartments
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An 83-acre development in North Hall County that includes plans for a large apartment complex sits in limbo as the parties await a judge’s ruling on whether a lawsuit challenging a rezoning decision by the Hall County Board of Commissioners will be dismissed or allowed to move forward.

Jeffrey and Hart Payne, whose property is adjacent to the site near the intersection of Price and Thompson Bridge roads, filed the lawsuit in Hall County Superior Court in March. Defendants include the county government, the commissioners, county Planning Director Srikanth Yamala and Riverbrook Village Partners LLC.

Before the economic downturn, the developers planned to build 45 townhomes, which had neighborhood support. When the plan was changed last year to allow more than 200 apartments in the same area, opposition was immediate and vocal.

A hearing was held Aug. 5 on a motion by the defendants. The defendants asked that the Paynes’ lawsuit be dismissed due to the fact it wasn’t filed within the required 30 days of the commission’s decision in January. The Paynes argued that they met the requirement in that they filed within 30 days of the commission’s approving the minutes of the meeting, on Feb. 14.

The case is in front of Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin.

The Paynes argued in their original court filing that the approved rezoning was a major departure from what had been established for the property in 2006, and that it violated the county’s comprehensive plan and future land use plan. The lawsuit also alleged the rezoning application was not complete and the decision didn’t follow state guidelines.

Commissioners approved the request from developers Steve McKibbon and Robbie Robison of Riverbrook Village Partners on Jan. 24. The vote was 3-1, with Commissioner Billy Powell recusing himself and Commissioner Scott Gibbs voting against.

The development was controversial from the time the rezoning request and revised plan was submitted on Aug. 7, 2012, with many neighbors and residents opposed to the apartment complex. The developers asked the land be rezoned from a planned residential development to planned commercial development. McKibbon and Robison plan to create a mixed-use area with retail shopping, restaurants and a gated apartment community.

Residents complained the apartment complex would result in too many people living in the residential area, which would violate the county’s comprehensive plan. They also voiced concerns about crime, traffic and a decline in neighboring property values.

“As a parent with two young children, I am concerned for the safety of my daughters,” Hart Payne said in the January hearing, according to the meeting minutes.

In 2006, the commission approved the property for 45 town homes, which had neighborhood support. The developers last year applied to build an apartment complex instead with 288 units, which was later reduced to 220, or 10 units an acre for the residential portion of the development.

Board Chairman Richard Mecum said after the January meeting the county couldn’t go by the comprehensive plan after allowing Lanier Village Estates, a nearby senior living community, to build.

Lanier Village Estates had about 5 units an acre, Yamala said at the time.

“The comprehensive plan is null and void,” Mecum said at the time. “It goes back to property rights; it goes back to the Constitution of the United States.”

Attempts to reach the Paynes, their attorneys and Hall County’s attorneys were unsuccessful. County officials declined to comment, citing the active litigation. Robbie Robison also declined to comment.

Riverbrook Village is being represented by Gainesville City Attorney Bubba Palmour.

The proposal had been expected to create more than 100 temporary construction jobs and was hailed as a needed economic development.

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