Steve Slowick is OK with growth in South Hall County, but he favors the kind that meets, and doesn’t exceed, residents’ needs.
“Our area needs restaurants and hotels. Those things have come and flourished,” he said. “If we don’t control it, then we just become another overpopulated, overgrown metro Atlanta city.”
As head of the homeowners association in his neighborhood, Grandview Estates, Slowick took up the unsuccessful fight last week to stop a rezoning off nearby Spout Springs Road for the development of a new apartment complex.
With development or talk of growth starting to percolate after five years of economic downturn, other residents as well are starting to stiffen up, or at least cast a wary eye to what might be coming to their backyard.
Janice Stever has lived off Jim Crow Road, which runs from Flowery Branch to Lake Lanier, for about 13 years. She got a big taste of overwhelming growth when she lived for three years in Hall’s busy neighbor to the south, Gwinnett County.
“We need to control the growth. Eventually someone is going to come in here and force it if we don’t grow under more careful planning,” she said. “Eventually, growth will happen, whether it is something we like or not.”
Before the economic woes, South Hall was rapidly becoming a bedroom community, with subdivisions dotting the landscape between Gwinnett and Oakwood.
The population surged, marked by mega-neighborhoods such as Sterling on the Lake and Reunion. Mundy Mill subdivision loomed as another large residential development on the southern tip of Gainesville at the Oakwood border.
Retail started to take shape in some corners, particularly with Stonebridge Village off Spout Springs at Interstate 985 in Flowery Branch.
As the economy foundered, both retail and residential development halted. Some officials have said that wasn’t an entirely bad thing, giving governments a chance to catch their breath and set policy to help dictate future “smart” growth.
Also, road projects began to move forward, to the dismay of some residents on Ga. 347/Friendship Road.
The Georgia Department of Transportation’s widening of Ga. 347/Friendship Road between I-985 and Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway meant the removal of homes, some of them historic, in the Friendship community. And then came a vote to eventually change the road’s name to Lanier Island Parkway.
Chris and Pam Puckett, 40-year Friendship residents and staunch opponents of the name change, believe development along the road is sure to come.
“Nobody around here wants it, nobody has asked for it,” Chris said. “A lot of this land around here is owned by families. People say they’re not going to sell, but who knows if the price gets right?”
Said Pam: “The unknown is sort of scary. You don’t know what is going to happen on (Ga. 347) after it’s finished being built.”
Stever also is following plans to widen Spout Springs Road, as someone who attends Holy Trinity Anglican Church, which sits off Spout Springs near fast-growing Braselton.
But she isn’t averse to development being stuck in neutral, either.
“In my opinion, if you don’t grow, then (the area) gets stale and people don’t want to come in, unless you’re looking for a retirement place or someplace really quiet,” she said.
Karron Denaple, owner of Lakeview Art Center off Main Street in Flowery Branch, said she particularly supports the strides Flowery Branch has taken to revive the downtown area, or “Old Town,” through a redevelopment plan.
“I think there are a lot of areas that need to be redeveloped,” Denaple said.
As for South Hall at large, “I’d like to see more development but kept in a user-friendly manner, with a lot of green space, and more homes but not crammed in together so you can reach out and touch your neighbor.
“It would be nice if they left some space.”
Joyce Healy is hoping for “planned growth” when the economy gets churning again, especially as she and her husband, Don, have retired to South Hall after moving from Tampa, Fla.
As a resident of one of South Hall’s largest subdivisions, Sterling on the Lake, she’s already seen a housing surge in her neighborhood, which sits between Spout Springs and Blackjack Road.
Like Slowick, she protested the apartment complex, seeing it as a burden on traffic and schools. She wasn’t opposed to the complex itself, just the location, saying other areas would be a better fit for such a large development.
“We know there’s going to be change, but we’re hoping it will be planned with the community in mind,” Healy said.