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What commissioners changed in approving controversial Ponderosa Farm subdivision
Controversial subdivision OK’d, but density, number of lots reduced
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Attendees against the proposed development of a subdivision on Ponderosa Farms Road wear red to show their opposition during a Hall County Commission meeting on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

With some changes to the design, a hotly contested subdivision in South Hall was reduced in density and number of homes Thursday night by the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

The commission voted unanimously Dec. 13 to approve the development on 121 acres at L J Martin Drive and Ponderosa Farm Road in the Chestnut Mountain community.

Tweaks pushed by Commissioner Kathy Cooper included cutting out a rear part of the subdivision and adding another entrance. They took the number of homes down to 230 from 279 and the density to 1.89 homes per acre from 2.3 homes per acre.

“Is that acceptable?” Commission Chairman Richard Higgins asked Brian Rochester, a Gainesville engineer representing the property owner, Doug Magnus.

“Yes,” Rochester said.

After the meeting, Mark Skelton, one of the vocal opponents to the project, said, “It’s not everything we wanted — we were hoping for larger setbacks between houses — but we did achieve some concessions and are thankful to the commission for that.”

Another resident had a different takeaway.

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Brian Rochester of Rochester & Associates argues for the development of a subdivision on Ponderosa Farms Road during a Hall County Commission meeting on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

“Nobody happy,” Mike McConnell said in an email. “Magnus lost profit from 49 houses and we still get a very high-density subdivision.”

Residents — many of whom wore bright red shirts as a show of unity — gave a litany of concerns in comments to the commission, but a couple of the main issues were density and that the development didn’t seem to fit the character of otherwise rural area.

“We’re in one of the most rural parts that’s left,” said Jane Range, a Gainesville lawyer retained by some homeowners in the area. “I refer to Hall County as my home and formerly rural county, because it is changing. But it doesn’t need to change this much, this abruptly.”

The county’s staff report on the project states that the Hall County Comprehensive Plan recommends a density of 2 units per acre if the development uses sanitary sewer — and Hall County sewer is planned for the project.

“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.

Planning staff had recommended approval of the project with conditions, including that the minimum lot size is 4,400 square feet, or about one-tenth of an acre.

In pushing for the development, Rochester told the commission, “We need to continue to balance our county. We need balanced growth. We don’t want to become a bedroom county, but we also have to have workers for our industry.”

Rochester said he was speaking recently to “one of our largest employers (who) said one of his greatest concerns is lack of housing stock in Hall County.”

According to the staff report, the project will feature several amenities, including a swimming pool, tennis or pickleball courts and a covered cabana with restrooms. 

Homes will be valued in the mid-$300,000 range, Rochester said.

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Jane Range of Husley, Oliver & Mahar Law Offices representing a group of people against the proposed development of a subdivision on Ponderosa Farms Road presents her argument during a Hall County Commission meeting on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele
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