Last month, a suggestion from Hall County Commissioner Bobby Banks that the county place a 90-day moratorium on residential development concerned members of the area’s real estate and construction industries.
Banks’ suggestion came out of a discussion on how the commission would deal with the area’s drought.
Members of the real estate community counter that a moratorium would do more harm than good. Many say they want to make sure the commission does not have a knee-jerk reaction to Lake Lanier’s record low levels.
After hearing about Banks’ suggestion, Frank Norton Jr., owner of the Norton Agency, sent a letter to Hall County commissioners on Nov. 12. In it, he detailed the negative consequences of a moratorium on residential development. Norton, who owns one of the largest real estate companies in North Georgia, said he gets about 30 percent of his business from sales of newly constructed homes.
"Moratoriums No Matter How Sympathetic Are Bad For Hall County Business," Norton stated in the letter.
Al Webster, president of the Hall County Board of Realtors, also took action after hearing about Banks’ suggestion. Webster sent an e-mail to some 45 people and encouraged Realtors, builders and bankers to attend Thursday’s meeting.
"As Realtors it is our duty to stand up for private property rights," Webster stated in the e-mail. "By a show of force, we can send a clear message to the commission members."
But Hall County Commissioner Steve Gailey said he has no plans to vote for a moratorium on building permits in Hall County. Gailey says a temporary moratorium is
unnecessary, and it would cause the county to lose control of property and affect county growth negatively.
"I don’t think we need to mention the ‘M word,’" Gailey said.
Gailey said building permits in the county already are down by 50 percent, and the county issued 39 building permits last month.
"It’s not like we’re bursting at the seams from rezonings, and bursting at the seams from new buildings," Gailey said. "The industry has a self-imposed moratorium."
Webster says negative media about a slump in the housing market has imposed a de facto moratorium on building. He said builders now are more concerned with selling the houses they already have built instead of constructing new ones.
"A moratorium is not needed because there is not that much growth," Webster said. "Besides, construction does not create a need for that much water."
If the county did impose a moratorium on residential construction, and cities within the county did not impose similar moratoriums, developers may annex their property into those cities, Gailey said.
"We’d lose total control," he said.
He added that a moratorium could also halt county growth.
"I think it would hurt us ... in the long run," Gailey said. "It would keep commercial retail development from coming, and we need that."
Norton agrees. He says a moratorium in Hall County would be a "death blow for major retail and economic development" for a county trying to recruit major industry and retail business,
A previous residential building moratorium in Forsyth County made attracting retail developments difficult for the county a few years ago, Norton said. The Forsyth moratorium was the best thing that could have happened to Dawson County development, he said.
"(Businesses) skipped Forsyth County, saying Forsyth couldn’t handle themselves," Norton said.
Norton will not be at the commission meeting Thursday. Webster said he will be there and is encouraging Realtors to attend the meeting in case there is a motion to impose a moratorium on residential development.
"I plan on being there as a kind of show of solidarity in case they bring it up," Webster said. "But I hope its just something that was just casually mentioned, and there’s really no substance to it."
Banks says the moratorium will not be on the commission’s agenda, but he may bring it up during the "commission time" portion of the meeting.
He said right now he still plans to support a moratorium, but he has not decided if he will bring it up at Thursday’s meeting.
"I’m still debating on whether to bring it up or not," Banks said. "The people of Hall County are for it 100 percent."
Banks said he has received between 30 and 40 e-mails since he mentioned the moratorium at the Nov. 8 work session, and he is still trying to determine if a moratorium would benefit the county.
"Probably in the short-term, it wouldn’t help a whole lot," Banks said. "But we’ve got to do something to preserve our water supply, and that’s probably the easiest, fastest way to approach it.
"The only people questioning a moratorium in Hall County are developers and homebuilders."