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Oakwood ushers in an age of expansion
Construction annoyances may have big payoffs
Industrial parks spring up in south end. - photo by Tom Reed


Hear Stan Brown, Oakwood city manager, discuss the city’s plans for more commercial and industrial business.

Oakwood residents have been scrambling around orange construction barrels for months, but officials said roads and sewer lines being built now pave the way for the city’s bright future.

Stan Brown, Oakwood city manager, said by the year 2030, city officials aim to transform Oakwood from the small timber town it once was to a walkable city thriving with retail and industrial businesses.

"For us there’s a lot of construction going on, but we’re still very much in the planning phase of build-out for our community," Brown said.

"2030 is our target year. With the growth in South Hall, we believe by 2030 we’re going to be what we’re going to be," Brown said. "We’re trying to plan for that horizon. We’re trying to be proactive rather than reactive."

Brown said the city is in the early stages of planning and securing funding for five miles of sidewalks extending from the Gainesville State College campus to Ga. 211.

And sewer projects wrapped up late last year on Winder Highway and Martin Road to accommodate incoming commercial development, including the Kroger shopping center on Winder Highway slated to open in August.

Another sewer line was finished last year along the railroad parallel to McEver Road. That line could serve new industries near its southern limits.

In addition, the city’s planning department is preparing to move in to new offices at City Hall that should be finished by September.

The department aims to secure nearly 4 million gallons of collective sewer capacity from Gainesville, Flowery Branch and Braselton by 2030 for anticipated development in the industrial parks, as well as for commercial development along Martin Road and Winder Highway.

Plans are also under way for Thurmon Tanner Parkway to connect Mundy Mill Road to Spout Springs Road. That project, along with the revamped Exit 16, will create a straight drive from Atlanta Highway to Spout Springs Road. Brown said the parkway extension will open up more Oakwood land for hotels, shopping and perhaps a convention center.

Brown said the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Exit 16 project, which also widened Mundy Mill Road and created turning lanes, should be completed in early 2010. He said the Thurmon Tanner Parkway extension should be finished at about that same time.

"I think you’re going to see a transformation along Mundy Mill Road over the next five years, and I think you’ll see some of it start as early as next year as Exit 16 and Thurmon Tanner near completion," he said.

Brown said the city is joining with the Georgia DOT on the parkway extension. Project costs will be finalized in September, when DOT will award the contract and start construction.

The four-lane Thurmon Tanner Parkway extension could also augment industrial roadways near the proposed Exit 14 off I-985, allowing trucks easy access to the interstate from Oakwood’s newest industrial complex, Oakwood South Industrial Park East off McEver Road.

Brown said the 70-acre industrial park is only about 30 percent developed, with one unoccupied building now finished. He said the city could net $1 million as the park fills in.

The city’s tax base is currently about 75 percent commercial and industrial business, with the remaining 25 percent residential — a ratio Brown said he hopes the city can maintain over the next 22 years. He said the city now has a population of just less than 4,000 people, but boasts nearly 400 businesses.

"Our general fund revenue has increased by 50 percent over the last five years because of commercial growth, annexations and property value reassessments," Brown said. "We really are an economic engine for the Hall County tax base and school board."

Although road construction has been ongoing since she opened her boutique Nest Feathers on Mundy Mill Road in October, Debbie McGee said she doesn’t mind.

"I think it’s going to be a great thing when it’s all over and done with," McGee said of the multiple road projects. "I think it’s going to be great for Oakwood businesses, including us."

She said the road construction on Mundy Mill Road hasn’t impeded business at the Shoney’s restaurant she morphed into a clothing and home furnishings boutique.

"For a new business in this economy, we’ve been very blessed," she said.

Warren and Polly Bower have lived next the Nest Feathers site on Mundy Mill Drive since the 1960s, and are embracing the changing landscape of Oakwood.

"This is home, and it has been for 44 years," Polly Bower said. "We’re in the middle of all the road construction and all the new development out here. But I like the convenience — that’s a plus for us."

She said she enjoys the relocated Sam’s Club on Mundy Mill Road that opened in mid-May, and would like to see more clothing stores in the area.

Bower recalled the days her husband went quail hunting in the field across the street where a hotel now stands. She also said there was a field adjacent to their property in which her daughter learned to drive. That field is now paved and is home to Oak Crest Apartments.

Brown said although the city is moving forward with commercial and industrial developments, city officials are also focusing on providing sewer to the old residential part of town, which relies on septic tanks.

"We know there are failing septic tanks in the old part of town," Brown said.

He said the city aims in particular to provide sewer service to the Quail Run and Vista Brook subdivisions, which have recently had septic tank problems. Brown said the city will try to obtain funding for the residential sewer project from a portion of anticipated Hall County sales tax revenues.

"I’d love to have sewer up here," Polly Bower said.

The new projects springing up around the Bowers, who are in their 70s, haven’t ruffled their feathers.

"We have to have growth or everything will get stale," Polly Bower said. "I know when they get the roads all open, we’ll be a lot happier, and so will everyone that travels Mundy Mill."

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