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Proposed Gainesville annexation concerns Hall officials, residents
Subdivision plans would effectively create an island in subdivision near Lake Lanier
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Annexation vote
What: Vote on annexing about 70 acres for subdivision into city of Gainesville
When: 5:30 p.m. Oct. 14
Where: Municipal courtroom, Public Safety Complex, 701 Queen City Parkway, Gainesville

Plans to build a 219-lot upscale subdivision off Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville, near the shores of Lake Lanier, has pitted city and county officials in another conflict over “island” properties.

The proposed development also leaves residents along Watauga Drive to decide whether they want to be part of Gainesville or remain in unincorporated Hall County.

West Ahaluna LLC, a local developer with ties to America’s Home Place, is asking Gainesville to annex about 70 acres in order to proceed with building the subdivision.

But if the annexation occurs, it will leave the homes on Watauga Drive, and a few more along Ahaluna Drive, sandwiched between the city limits and the lakeshore. 

This would effectively, though not technically, create an island, which is an unincorporated county property encircled by the Gainesville city limits.

And that means Hall County would have to continue providing services to these residents, a prospect officials want to avoid.

County officials are still upset at Gainesville’s decision to annex unincorporated islands last year.

The city annexed more than 100 of these properties, encompassing mostly commercial businesses, saying it was necessary to clear up boundary lines and establish uniform zoning standards.

County officials, however, said the annexations were little more than a money grab by the city, and that Gainesville had created a situation where services are being duplicated or provided inefficiently.

“It becomes an issue when you look at something like the fire department,” Commissioner Craig Lutz said. “So you end up having overlapping services.”

With this in mind, the Hall County Board of Commissioners has authorized administration to review the proposed annexation plans for the subdivision and file an objection with the city, if necessary.

“That’s a struggle, I think, that counties and cities have,” Lutz said. “How do you maximize services for your constituency with the least amount of impact financially?”

But city officials said they hope the conflict will resolve itself.

“We would like to see these residents annex into the city, as well,” said Rusty Ligon, Gainesville Community Development director. “They are not included in the applicant’s proposal as the applicant could not include them without the property owner’s permission.”

Watauga Drive residents, however, expressed mixed feelings to The Times about whether to remain a part of Hall County or join the city.

Robert Johnson and his wife, Peggy, said they were undecided at this time, but recognize a few possible benefits of an annexation into the city.

Johnson said homes on Watauga, which has a bird’s-eye view of the lake, get their water from a well.

If annexed into Gainesville, Johnson said he hopes the city would lay water lines to service residents, a potential upside. 

Johnson also said being a part of the city would likely mean receiving curbside trash pickup.

Of course, Johnson acknowledged, the downside is that water and trash service provided by the city would mean more bills to pay.

Meanwhile, Diane Korzeniewski said she had no preference when asked whether living in Gainesville or unincorporated Hall County was a better option.

Instead, Korzeniewski said her real concern was the density of the proposed subdivision.

“I would like to see (it) downsized a little,” she said.

The homes and lots in the proposed Ahaluna Estates will be priced between $400,000 and $1.5 million, and will be built in three phases.

Minimum lot sizes are projected at 10,000 square feet, with minimum home sizes at 1,800 square feet.

Phases one and two will include building more than 100 boat slips, plus a gazebo and a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse.

But the relatively small lot sizes, minimum setback requirements and increased traffic resulting from the development have many residents wary. 

Korzeniewski’s husband, Gene, said he’s worried the neighborhood, which has a kind of secluded, country feel, will “lose that edge” if the new subdivision proceeds as proposed.

The Korzeniewskis, who have lived on Watauga for the past 10 years, said they have been meeting with their neighbors to discuss the proposed subdivision and plan to attend city hearings on the matter.

A traffic impact study reports no mitigation efforts are needed and traffic patterns will remain at acceptable levels during peak travel times at the intersection of Ahaluna Drive and Dawsonville Highway.

But the Korzeniewskis said they think city officials need to better address the traffic impacts the development would have as commercial shopping centers already bloom nearby.

Residents also insist Ahaluna Drive will need to be widened to allow emergency service vehicles, school buses and other traffic better access to Watauga Drive, and they also have cited environmental concerns.

The Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board will vote on the annexation request for the proposed subdivision when it meets at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 14 in the municipal courtroom of the Public Safety Complex, 701 Queen City Parkway.

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