The grass-roots movement against a proposed Dollar General store in west Hall County claimed victory on Thursday night at the Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting.
By a vote of 3-1, Hall County commissioners rejected a zoning proposal that, if approved, would have paved the way for the retail store to go up at the intersection of Lake Ranch Drive and Dawsonville Highway. That's in front of the Lake Ranch Estates neighborhood.
"I won Occupy Dollar General," proclaimed Lake Ranch Estates resident Lynneve Ramsey after the meeting.
Ramsey was one of many neighborhood residents who turned out in opposition to the proposed store because of fears it would affect traffic safety.
Commissioner Craig Lutz was the lone dissenter. He said he was voting for the rights of the property owner.
Brian Rochester, executive vice president of Rochester and Associates, said a vote against the plan would send a bad message to businesses looking to develop in Hall County.
"We need to create an environment in Hall County that encourages businesses to invest (here)," said Rochester, whose firm was representing the zoning applicant, Brian Sullivan.
The proposal for consideration called for a Dollar General to be located off Dawsonville Highway, with the entrance and exit to the store on Lake Ranch Drive.
Residents of the neighborhood criticized that plan as a safety issue because it's the only road in or out of the neighborhood of about 150 homes behind it.
Lutz told The Times before the meeting that he was concerned about the ability of a tractor trailer to be able to turn into the proposed store's entrance without disrupting traffic.
Rochester, who was representing the applicant of the proposal SW Gainesville LLC, said representatives from Dollar General had thoroughly studied the proposed entrance to allow room for trucks.
Beyond the proposed entrance is a steep hill accompanied with a sharp turn. Residents in the neighborhood said that part of the road is already a site for frequent traffic accidents.
Linda Brady, who became a leader and spokeswoman for the movement against the rezoning, called the proposal "a bad idea and a bad plan."
Brady said one of the biggest fears of residents was that traffic from the proposed store would cause an accident and block traffic in and out of the neighborhood. She said that could be deadly if there were a
medical emergency in the neighborhood.
"This plan is an accident waiting to happen," she said.
In response, Rochester reminded commissioners the county's existing comprehensive plan calls for commercial development on this stretch of Dawsonville Highway. He maintained the proposed store would meet those requirements.
Despite safety concerns from residents, Rochester said the property was given approval by county staff, as well as the Hall County Planning Commission, which conditionally approved the zoning request in November.
"We are meeting all of the county criteria," he said.
Additionally, a letter citing "constitutional objections" to opposition of the proposal was sent to the county by the applicant. In it the letter states that "a denial of this application would constitute an arbitrary and capricious act by the Hall County Board of Commissioners without any rational basis" and would be violation of the U.S. and state constitutions — a signal legal implications could follow the commissioners' vote.
However, it was the residents, turning out in force, who won the night.
Most of the Lake Ranch residents wore yellow, diamond-shaped badges — like traffic signs — on their shirts that read "Keep Lake Ranch Safe."
Jean Jordan, Brady's mother, sat on her walker before the meeting, offering the emblems to whoever entered.
With the combined numbers of the Hall County residents who came to speak about the proposed Oakwood annexation, the Hall Commission meeting room was so crowded that Georgia Mountains Center staff had to open up an additional section of the ballroom and add more chairs.
The attendance made some impression on the commissioners, though none acknowledged it changed their vote.
"It helps," Commissioner Scott Gibbs said. "We're here to listen."
Explaining his vote to The Times, Gibbs said, "I'm pro-business. You've also got to weigh the needs of the community."
The property in question would likely be rezoned for some private enterprise in the future, Gibbs said. "It needs a better fit for the lot."
Before making a motion to deny the request, Commissioner Billy Powell, who represents the property in question, told residents, "I really appreciate and admire people that get involved with their government."