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Residents looking for compromise on Ahaluna development
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Gainesville City Council meeting

What: Vote on annexation and rezoning for Ahaluna subdivision
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Municipal courtroom of the Public Safety Complex, 701 Queen City Parkway

What about that proposed bridge?

Gainesville’s long-range plan calls for the construction of a bridge spanning Lake Lanier to connect Thompson Bridge Road with Dawsonville Highway.

This route, while still in the conceptual stages, could include joining existing roads, such as Ahaluna Drive and Mountain View Drive, and is listed as a tier two project to be constructed in the 2020s.

It is unclear how this project might coexist with the subdivision development.

City officials said there is no existing funding for the proposed bridge and that it remains a low priority.

Residents said they fear the bridge will lead to more commercial development in their neighborhood, which would be allowed under the Planned Unit Development zoning designation.

Joshua Silavent

Residents fighting the development of a 219-lot upscale subdivision off Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville, near the shores of Lake Lanier, are readying for compromise as the City Council prepares to vote on the matter next week.

West Ahaluna LLC, a local developer with ties to America’s Home Place, is asking Gainesville to annex about 70 acres and rezone another 32 acres in order to proceed with building the Ahaluna Estates subdivision.

But the large-scale development, proposed for build-out in three phases over 15 years, has stirred opposition from area residents who say it is too dense and Hall County officials who say they believe it will effectively create an “island” property where duplicate services are delivered.

Residents protest the development on many grounds.

There are concerns that not enough environmental controls are in place to mitigate runoff from construction sites polluting Lake Lanier.

Residents also warn that the current proposal doesn’t adequately address the increases in traffic at the Ahaluna Drive/Dawsonville Highway intersection.

But the biggest objection is the sheer size of the proposed subdivision.

Phase one, which could take five years or more to complete, will include 60 homes, plus 38 boat slips, a gazebo and parking lot. Phase two includes 85 homes, a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse and additional boat slips.

At a council work session Thursday morning, Planning Manager Matt Tate said the proposed development meets the city’s comprehensive plan and will have about two homes per acre.

He added that most homes in the city limits are built on about 1/3 of an acre.

Residents said they do not oppose the development outright, but would like to see it downsized in order to retain the quiet, wooded character of the area.

If approved as proposed, the subdivision would be zoned as a Planned Unit Development, or PUD.

This designation gives developers more leeway and flexibility, as opposed to an R-1 zoning, which has more stringent requirements for residential developments.

“It is less strict, and it’s less strict in a way that would probably be a detriment to the community,” said Gene Korzeniewski, a resident who lives at the entrance of Watauga Drive.

Residents met with City Council members this week to address their concerns, and hope to negotiate a compromise with the developer prior to a council vote on Tuesday.

“In general, I would be hopeful that the developer would be able to make some compromises so it can be a win-win for everybody,” said Councilwoman Ruth Bruner.

Gainesville attorney James Walters, who represents the developer, said earlier this month the subdivision would benefit the city by expanding the local tax base and improving property values for all residents in the area.

Residents, however, said they fear that if the development is approved without some reduction in the density and other guarantees, plans might change over the life of the project.

West Ahaluna is not committed to developing all three phases over the span of 15 years, and residents wonder if a new developer might come in at some point, seek changes to the current plans and get a City Council with a new makeup to approve the addition of cluster homes, duplexes or townhomes.

“How do you protect against the future?” Pat Horgan, one local resident, asked rhetorically.

Hall County officials also object to the development as now planned.

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.

County officials said this would effectively create an island, which is an unincorporated property in the county that is encircled by the Gainesville city limits.

In its proposal, the developer has carved out a small plot of land so it technically doesn’t run afoul of the island scenario.

But county officials are proceeding with their objection, anyway.

“The formal process afforded to us by the state of Georgia is through arbitration, and we are pursuing that process,” Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said in an email to The Times.

Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said the state Department of Community Affairs will hold a one-day hearing on the matter, but that day could be months off.

In the meantime, Ligon said if the council votes to approve the annexation on Tuesday, it will hold off on a second and final vote needed for that part of the development to proceed until after the dispute between the city and county is resolved.

“I think there are probably upsides and downsides,” said Councilman George Wangemann. “I understand that anytime you have a rezoning (or annexation) it’s going to be controversial.”

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