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South Hall cities come together to seek grant
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Four cities typically pushing their own agendas in South Hall have joined together to pursue a federal grant that would force them to look beyond their boundary lines.

Flowery Branch, Oakwood, Braselton and Buford are seeking a Sustainable Communities grant, which could produce as much as $1 million to fund a joint planning effort.

“I think there is still a healthy rivalry (among the cities), but I think we’re trying to make it more healthy for the community as a whole, where we are pulling together our resources,” Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew said.

“I think we realize that we’re stronger together than we would be apart. ... We’re all going to get more growth and we want to be getting all the growth we can handle rather than more growth than we can handle.”

Andrew heard about the grant opportunity through Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the Gainesville-Hall County Metropolitan Planning Organization, and started contacting neighboring cities.

The cities are working on the application with Suwanee’s McFarland and Dyer Associates, which has done some work on a community improvement district in Buford.

McFarland and Dyer has produced a detailed map of South Hall that shows major roads, key landmarks (such as Lake Lanier), city limits, education and job centers, recreation spots, existing and future greenways and low- to moderate-income housing areas.

The study area is a swath extending from Browns Bridge Road near Gainesville to Buford’s southernmost border. The map also shows parts of other counties — such as Gwinnett — where Buford and Braselton also have land.

“I was looking at a map on the wall one day and noticed if you draw a line from downtown Flowery Branch to old town Oakwood to Braselton to Buford, we’re all closer to those cities than we are to Gainesville,” Andrew said.

And for that reason, he added, “we feel like we have a different perspective.”

“We really feel that South Hall is looking at separate issues because of our growth and our proximity to the interstate system in Atlanta,” Andrew said. “We kind of look at growth on a different curve than, certainly, North Hall.”

If approved, grant money “would pay for very detailed planning that would drive, hopefully, the location of schools, roads, improvement of intersections, and location of water and sewer lines,” Andrew said.

“If we found a large tract or several large tracts that makes sense for an industrial park, we would know to start directing resources to that area, whether it’s fiber-optic lines, water or sewer or bike paths, schools or training centers.”

In essence, the effort “would be a way of folding in all our comprehensive plans where they make sense to work together on various infrastructure and job creation efforts.”

Part of the study also could include looking at mass transit.

“We’d probably be looking at doing something with Red Rabbit,” Andrew said, referring to Hall Area Transit’s buses.

The joint plan could serve as a resource when the economy rebounds.

“We’re really looking at all aspects of how you grow a community that is eventually going to be back on track,” Andrew said. “We’re using the down time to plan for more order and, hopefully, a higher quality of growth.”

Stan Brown, Oakwood’s city manager, said he believes “we’re in a period now where the cities are working close together overall, not just in South Hall.

“I think we realize it’s all about the overall community, not just one city versus another.”

He pointed to the massive growth in the region, much of which has occurred even with the economy in the tank.

For example, a new Publix-anchored shopping center has just opened off Spout Springs Road in Braselton. Also, a bank and a Walgreens pharmacy opened on Hog Mountain Road in Flowery Branch in the past year, and a second bank is about to open on that road.

“What we’re trying to do is look at land that’s still available, economic development opportunities and ... overall, how we can grow the smart way,” Brown said.

Braselton City Manager Jennifer Dees applauds the joint effort.

“It’s always good when governments work together to plan,” she said. “That’s the way to best serve all of our citizens. It just makes sense for all of us to coordinate our efforts and improve economic development, transportation and housing.”

Buford City Manager Bryan B. Kerlin couldn’t be reached for comment.