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What both sides are saying about controversial South Hall subdivision proposal
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Residents are mobilizing against a developer’s plans to build a 279-home subdivision on this 121-acre site off Ponderosa Farm Road in South Hall. - photo by Jeff Gill

A heated debate over a developer’s plans for a 279-home subdivision in South Hall goes to the Hall County Board of Commissioners this week.

Residents of the Chestnut Mountain community have taken to social media and held community meetings in mobilizing for the vote, set for Thursday, Dec. 13, at the Hall County Government Center.

“This has the density of an Atlanta sprawl,” said Joe Savage, a 20-year resident of the area who lives about 100 yards from the Ponderosa Farm Road site.

Density has been raised as a key concern among residents, as the proposal calls for 2.3 units per acre on the 121-acre site at L J Martin Drive and Ponderosa Farm Road.

“It is out of character with the rural setting,” said Mark Skelton, another nearby resident. “It does not comply with the Hall County land use plan.”

The county’s staff report on the project also states as much, saying the Hall County Comprehensive Plan recommends a density of 2 units per acre if the development uses sanitary sewer.

“Despite the request being inconsistent with the comprehensive plan, the planned residential development zoning classification is intended to provide opportunities for a more flexible placement, arrangement and orientation of residential structures,” says the report.

The project’s applicant, Ponderosa Farms LLC, is seeking to rezone the property from an agricultural-resident category to planned residential development, which allows flexibility in the way homes are laid out.

In the report, planning staff recommends approval of the project with conditions, including that the minimum lot size is 4,400 square feet, or about one-tenth of an acre.

The report also shows a comparison of development standards of the proposed subdivision to other subdivisions within a 1-mile radius. 

At 2.3 units per acre, Ponderosa Farms is far denser than its neighbors. The next densest development is Pine Vale Estates, with 1.41 units per acre.

Plus, Skelton said, “there’s about 30 acres in this 121-acre tract that’s unusable.”

“If you take out the unusable portion of the land, you’re going to have a much higher density,” he added.

Brian Rochester of Rochester and Associates, a Gainesville civil engineering firm representing the applicant, said last week he was trying to meet with some of opponents “to see where we can find areas where we can work together to alleviate some of their concerns but still allow my client to exercise his right to develop this property.”

“We’re trying to find something that’s a win-win for everybody involved,” he said.

Concerns would include density and traffic issues, Rochester said.

Doug Magnus, who owns the property, said some of the criticism about the project has turned into personal attacks, leaving him “heartbroken.”

“I’m not doing this for me,” the South Hall native said of the project, which he believes will add value to the landscape. “I’m doing this for the entire community.”

Skelton said he’s also concerned about traffic impacts.

“You can project 900 cars additionally on LJ Martin and Ponderosa (Farm Road), overlaying what we have now,” he said. “What we’re advocating is … we need at least a second entrance to basically cut the subdivision into two halves.”

The project map shows one entrance off Ponderosa.

Bottom line, Skelton said, is “we’re not against progress. (The developer) can do whatever he wants with his property, as long as it doesn’t impinge on the values of the adjacent community’s houses. As it’s proposed now, it does.

“We would just like to try to work out concessions that would enhance the community, not tear it down.”

The project goes before the county commission with a recommendation for approval from the Hall County Planning Commission.

Some residents criticized the planning board members after the Nov. 5 vote, and a marshal asked the crowd to clear the room.

“For us to keep taking our land and making it (planned residential developments) is a misuse of what we have in the south end,” Gina Pilcher said at the meeting. “We need to start to slow that growth to the point where we can maintain some of our ruralness.”

Bradley Dunckel of Rochester, speaking at the meeting, said the houses would likely be priced in the mid- to high-$200,000s. The neighborhood could be either age-restricted or a traditional subdivision.

Hall County Commission

What: rezoning to allow 279-home subdivision at LJ Martin Drive and Ponderosa Farm Road.

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville