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South Hall has many identities
Some of that reflected in recent legislative redistricting
Bea Snyder uses the many sidewalks in the Village at Deaton Creek community to get her daily walk exercise.

The bridge that connects one part of Village at Deaton Creek in South Hall is pretty special to residents of the retirement community.

Crossing a creek that flows through the neighborhood, it provides a scenic view from the clubhouse and otherwise is just a unique piece of infrastructure in the 750-home community.

It also has become a landmark for political and, to some extent, cultural division.

Through reapportionment in the state legislature, residents on one side of the bridge have been placed in a Hall-dominated House district while residents on the other side have been pushed in a Gwinnett district.

"I'm not happy that we are going to be part of Gwinnett (County)," said Deaton Creek resident Mary Smith. "... When I think of Gwinnett, to me it's all about making money. And Hall County seems to be more of a friendly type of community.

"Gwinnett crime is terrible. We don't find that or feel that in Hall County, although we have it."

A plan approved by the General Assembly, signed by Gov. Nathan Deal and now awaiting Justice Department approval shows South Hall's integration into Gwinnett House districts.

But South Hall's identity crisis began long before the U.S. Census-driven reapportionment.

At one time, the region had two cities, Flowery Branch and Oakwood, a community by Lake Lanier and acres upon acres of open land, hills and valleys.

Then, as metro Atlanta grew, it also expanded north into Hall. In the years before the Great Recession, subdivision growth filled pockets of South Hall.

Eventually, Buford and Braselton pushed into South Hall, annexing for commercial and residential developments.

Flowery Branch and Oakwood also grew in size and population. Home building at Sterling on the Lake, a 1,000-acre community off Spout Springs Road in Flowery Branch, slowed during the recession but now is on a solid uptick.

Sterling's growth has changed the political dynamic in Flowery Branch.

Over a couple of elections, the City Council went from a group of elected officials living strictly in the city's "Old Town," or between Atlanta Highway and McEver Road, to Sterling having majority representation.

Pat Zalewski, a 14-year Flowery Branch resident who lives in Old Town, said city officials had considered setting up political wards in the city.

"But, because of population at Sterling, it wouldn't work," she said. "(Sterling) would automatically get three votes and that would block out Old Town."

She believes Sterling "is going to keep growing ... and then, they would probably be like Sandy Springs and put in for being a city."

Sterling and Flowery Branch's downtown are separated by several miles physically, but stark differences exist between the two sides of town.

Old Town has narrow streets, a quaint railroad depot and downtown shops, and residents who have called Flowery Branch their home for life. Sterling has upscale homes, a village center featuring an amphitheater and residents who have fled metro Atlanta's hustle and bustle.

"People are people, but there's a difference (between the two). You can sense it," Zalewski said.

"I don't know that people talk about it, but you can feel it."

Annette D. Hendry, who moved to Sterling with her husband several years ago from England, said she sees herself as a Flowery Branch and South Hall resident.

But life revolves largely in that neighborhood and south to the Mall of Georgia in northern Gwinnett.

"I don't tend to go into Gainesville unless I really have to," Hendry said. "... We try very hard to be part of Flowery Branch, but we're still even separate from there. I don't go into Flowery Branch very much, either."

She doesn't believe that, because of the separation of the communities, "we think we are better or worse," she quickly adds. "It's just a geographical thing."

She said most of her neighbors have moved from some other place, with very few from Georgia, let alone South Hall.

"How that affects people's views (about where they live), I really have no idea," she said.

However, Hendry has worked, along with another couple, to try to bring some sense of community to the area by setting up a farmers market at the Spout Springs Library, which sits at the entrance of the subdivision and overlooks Spout Springs Road.

"We marketed that to include South Hall people. There was a need and a vacancy here for such a thing," she said.

Government has recognized that South Hall has many interests, as well.

Last year, Flowery Branch, Oakwood, Braselton and Buford tried unsuccessfully to get a federal grant that would have provided as much as $1 million to pay for a joint planning effort.

Grant money would have paid "for very detailed planning that would drive ... the location of schools, roads, improvement of intersections, and location of water and sewer lines," Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew had said.

Andrew told the City Council last week that the cities are looking to reapply for a $400,000 grant, which would involve a $20,000 match from each of the cities.

Through its South Hall Business Coalition, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce holds periodic meetings geared to attracting South Hall business leaders through the region, including one last week at Royal Lakes Golf & Country Club off Sloan Mill Road and Winder Highway.

But Kit Dunlap, chamber president and CEO, doesn't see a sharp divide between South Hall and the rest of the county.

"It's just that Hall County is so big. Gainesville is one big hub and then (southward) a lot of the growth has been from the Atlanta area," she said.

As far as the people who live or move to the area, "they are going to go where it's convenient and where they need to get the services," Dunlap said. "That's just a fact of life."


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