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Small battles emerge as development returns
Ahaluna residents worry traffic study doesnt match areas growth
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Residents in the Ahaluna Drive community are not only upset about the new subdivision coming to their neighborhood, but also about a nearby development about to break ground wasn’t included in a traffic study.

First, there are the traffic studies and plan reviews and recommendations. Then comes the inevitable backlash, the protest of residents fearing a hit to their quality of life.

In many cases, an approval is handed down despite concerns, perhaps a few compromises are made, and a large, strategic property is rezoned for commercial development.

It’s a familiar pattern across Hall County.

But what happens after the votes are counted and the fuss subsides? In recent years, the answer has been: Not very much.

The proposed apartments remained in the design stage. The developer had trouble getting a commitment from a retailer.

So residents were left wondering what would come of that property next door.

There are signs, however, that a new trend is emerging.

Slight but stable economic growth across many industries is perhaps best represented in commercial retail projects, which sat undeveloped for so long but now are coming to fruition.

And with more property rezoning taking place, more shovel-ready jobs are in the works.

While big-box retailers are leading the charge —the emergence of new chain grocery stores and restaurants being prime examples — residential development stands to benefit as well. And that presents even more challenges.

Local government, for its part, is sometimes brokering deals or disputes about how to provide services for new development, such as sewers and roads.

And so fights between residents and developers linger, with government trying to play peacemaker while sometimes coming off as the biggest villain of all.

Exhibit A in this trend: Ahaluna Drive.

Down a hill or two and around a few curves, in what feels like a hundred miles from anything but is actually minutes from a Home Depot, residents of Ahaluna Drive live in an endangered enclave along the shores of Lake Lanier.

More people want in.

That much was settled when the Gainesville City Council approved the development of a 199-lot subdivision off Ahaluna a few months ago.

For all the objections, and even a brief intergovernmental conflict between Hall County and the city, the final effort to limit the scale and scope of the subdivision hinged on a traffic study.

Dispute over that traffic study — which determined that while the subdivision would generate 2,121 additional weekday trips at the Ahaluna and Dawsonville Highway intersection, no improvements or mitigations were necessary — remains unresolved.

Residents in the area had wanted some changes, such as a new entrance to the subdivision and turn lanes at the intersection. But a new traffic study isn’t due for several years.

Meanwhile, activity is picking up again nearby, where a major retail development may soon take off.

The land, tucked between Ahaluna Drive and the Home Depot on Dawsonville Highway, was rezoned in 2013 and is believed to be the future home of Academy Sports, an anchor store for other major labels.

An entrance to the development will be constructed off Dawsonville Highway with a traffic light there.

An access road to the stores will also connect with Ahaluna.

Some residents in the area now wonder if the subdivision traffic study included the increase in cars on this road brought by the Academy Sports development.

The access road appears likely to run through or along the Happy Pappy’s Storage property, which may be acquired by the developer, Dallas-based Turcotte Development Group.

“Are they saying the load on Ahaluna has not changed since the original traffic study?” resident Gene Korzeniewski asked.

City planning officials said they discussed the issue with traffic study engineers and that the traffic light at the entrance to the retail development off Dawsonville Highway was taken into account.

It may be a small battle when all is said and done, but it’s such small battles that now characterize the fight pitting developers versus residents in Hall County.

Like residents along Thompson Bridge monitoring water quality in a stream feeding Lake Lanier as a Wal-Mart is constructed nearby, residents of Ahaluna are watching with hawkish eyes as groundbreakings approach.

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