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Planning commission likes idea, but not location, of proposed disabled adult community
Hall County Government Center

A community for developmentally and intellectually disabled adults in North Hall was unanimously denied by the Hall County Planning Commission Monday, with residents and commission members saying they supported the goal, but not the location, of the effort.

Adventures in Missions, a Christian group that coordinates mission trips, wanted to rezone about 12 acres of land from agricultural residential to planned residential to build the community. The land is on Bogus Road near Claude Peck Road in Gainesville, next to Adventures in Missions’ offices.

Seth Barnes Jr. of Adventures in Missions said Monday that for his family, the community is personal — his youngest sister Leah is disabled, and the family has always wanted her to live in a community where she could feel welcomed and safe.

“Our question as a family has always been, what does it look like for Leah to find a place where she can really flourish, where she feels like she has a connection with others and she feels like she has a meaningful contribution to make to the world?” Barnes said.

The community, named the Flourish Community, would eventually have up to four homes, which would house 12 people each. Care families would live with residents full-time.

The Flourish Community would be its own registered nonprofit, Barnes said. The Brookwood community in Texas, which Barnes has visited, was used as a model for the community structure and culture, although that development is larger than the proposed community in Hall.

Barnes said the first house would likely have been finished next year, and the community would start with just four residents to help people adjust to the new environment. Then, new residents would move in every other month, and new houses would be added gradually.

However, several residents who live near the site said they were concerned about the density of the project and how it could change the rural character of North Hall.

“What can this lead to in the future? I’ve seen things like this happen,” neighbor Ken Torbett said. “They start small and they explode, and I’m concerned about it changing the character of this neighborhood. … It just feels very wrong for the community.”

Bryan Jackson said his family chose to move to the area for its lower density, but the Flourish Community being built could make their home feel like the more urban areas they wanted to escape.

“Our concern is that our property values will suffer to the point where we could even possibly wind up underwater and our dream home becomes a trap,” he said.

His wife, Anna Jackson, said she was also worried about drivers speeding down curves in Bogus Road, endangering residents trying to get out of their homes. Additional traffic from the Flourish Community could make the problem worse, she said.

Sheila Connell said she understands residents’ concerns about urban sprawl and uncontrolled growth, but she did not think the Flourish Community would be an issue because the plan was to start small. Connell said she was in support of the community because she has a disabled son and is a special education coordinator for Hall County Schools, so she knows firsthand how disabled adults can struggle to find a sense of belonging.

“Once they exit the school system at age 22, there is nothing for them,” Connell said. “Everything drops off. … Most of them sit at home, not doing anything, not having any social interaction with peers their age or older, and they flounder.”

Connell said there is a shortage of places like the proposed Flourish Community.

“There is really nothing out there, beyond a few places, for our children to reside in a loving, supportive community where they will have a sense of companionship with their peers, where they will have oversight from loving people who will make sure that they are taken care of and they’re safe,” Connell said.

The planning commission unanimously denied the request from Adventures in Missions, with members saying they supported the group’s goal of helping disabled adults but did not think that site was the right choice after hearing from residents.

After the meeting, Barnes said Adventures in Missions had looked at other sites for the community, but because Adventures in Missions already owns the land for the currently proposed site, that spot is the best option financially.

“A piece of property that is flat enough to accommodate this kind of thing could be $2 to 5 million,” he said.

The planning commission’s recommendation will now go to the Hall County Board of Commissioners for a vote on Oct. 25.

Hall County Board of Commissioners

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville