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Proposed disability community in South Hall has many foes
Groups, individuals express concerns over home values
This is the site of the proposed 21-acre community for developmentally disabled adults off Radford and McEver Roads near Flowery Branch.

Rezoning vote

What: Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

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

Opposition, including an online petition with hundreds of names, is growing to plans for a 21-acre South Hall County community serving developmentally disabled adults.

“Flowery Branch homeowners need to stand and defend their property rights,” states the petition against Roswell-based Beckel Inc., which is seeking to develop a mixed-use complex with 158 housing units off McEver and Radford roads.

“It’s not the highest and best use of that property,” said Mary Thompson of Lanier Appraisal Service in Flowery Branch. “On that side of the lake, you’ve got million-plus-dollar properties really close to where this is (planned). It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Over the opposition of several area residents, the Hall County Planning Commission gave its OK earlier this month to changing the zoning designation for the property off McEver Road from agricultural residential to planned residential development.

The matter is set to go before the Hall County Board of Commissioners for a vote at 6 p.m. Thursday. It is on the agenda for the board’s work session, which is set for 3 p.m. today.

In recommending the rezoning to the Board of Commissioners, which has the final say, planning board chairman Don Smallwood said, “We all don’t like change and we certainly don’t like somebody building something behind us, but it’s going to be done at some point.

“I can support this (proposal) the way it’s written up.”

Beckel, which is affiliated with “Just” People Inc., a nonprofit organization that works with developmentally disabled adults, is seeking to develop the community in a busy part of South Hall.

The community would be bordered by Pine Wood, Blossom Farm and White Horse Creek subdivisions, and Flowery Branch Elementary School is nearby.

In addition to residential space, plans also call for up to 10,000 square feet of commercial development that would include a cafe, snack bar, personal care salons and sports training areas.

“The individuals we serve are aging, but an assisted living center is not an appropriate placement for them,” said Kelli Salyer, vice president of “Just” People. “Many of them are 55 (years old) — they don’t require that kind of help, but they do require someone to keep a better eye on them.”

Several area residents have protested Beckel’s plans for a variety of reasons, including concerns about traffic that would be generated on already-busy McEver Road, a main artery running from Buford to Gainesville, and safety.

“Every day, you turn on the TV and hear about mentally ill people shooting people, and there’s a school (nearby),” said nearby resident Neil Clark. “I don’t think anybody would want to live close to that.”

Loretta Hodge-Morales, who lives behind the property, said in a letter to commissioners that her neighborhood “has struggled to regain its value since the crash and a blow like this will definitely impact property values negatively.”

“I can see the need for housing for this type of program, but it clearly should be in a developed commercial area intended for apartment living, not a rural single-family community.”

David L. Whittenton, who spoke on behalf of Beckel at the planning board meeting, said last week some misinformation is spreading about the proposed development.

One of the chief errors is that the development receives government low-income subsidies.

“There’s no state or federal low-income funds, grants, loans, subsidies, rental programs or credits on the building or operation of residential housing,” Whittenton said.

Privately paid rents run between $1,440 and $1,500 per month for a two-bedroom unit with a roommate.

“Each new resident is pre-screened and must apply for a national background check,” Whittenton said, adding that “all new residents must go through a three-month orientation period and evaluation.”

“There’s no rehabilitation in the program,” he said. “Any person needing rehab treatment with substance abuse must seek help outside of ‘Just’ People.”

Concerning property values, Whittenton cited a similar development in Roswell where “there’s been no negative impact to residential (values) in the immediate or surrounding areas.”

Regional events