Aug. 13 update: The Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board approved the request from the city Aug. 13.
Board member Eddie Martin Sr. was absent, but all other board members approved the request.
Next, the request will go to the Gainesville City Council on Sept. 17. The Council will vote at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. at the city’s public safety complex, 701 Queen City Parkway.
The city of Gainesville is building a new business park off U.S. 129, and while the process is moving slowly, construction could start within a year.
Gainesville already owns the 1,300-acre site between U.S. 129 and Fullenwider Road, near the Allen Creek Soccer Complex. The city purchased it in 1990, when state and federal regulations required municipalities to use spray irrigation for sewer treatment plants. But the land has been sitting empty for years, and the city saw an opportunity to use it to draw more business to town.
City Manager Bryan Lackey said the city is running out of business park space to offer to new businesses looking to move in or existing ones wanting to expand.
“We said, there’s a lot of land on the south side of town off of (U.S.) 129, and 129 is being widened, so that seemed like the right time to be moving to create some inventory for some new sites in our community,” Lackey said.
The city is waiting on approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will review the impact to wetlands and streams. Lackey said a response is expected by the end of the year, and the design process for Gainesville 85 Business Park can start after that.
But the city is moving forward on rezoning almost 400 acres of the property from residential to heavy industrial, with a hearing set for the Aug. 13 Planning and Appeals Board meeting.
“We feel it is the right time to go ahead and rezone a piece of it, to spark some interest in it. … The entire 1,300 acres eventually will have to be rezoned, but we thought it would be best to take it in pieces,” Lackey said.
The 20-lot business park will also be developed as businesses purchase lots from the city. The city itself is the first one to sign on and will relocate equipment storage and fleet vehicle maintenance for Gainesville Water Resources and the public works department.
“Both of those two departments are in very old buildings throughout the city, Water Resources being out towards the Hancock Avenue area in multiple buildings over there, and our public works being on the back side of Alta Vista (Cemetery),” Lackey said. “… That is a two- to three-year project, getting them in to new facilities over there.”
The public works facility would be incorporated into Alta Vista, while the Water Resources buildings could be sold, he said.
The business park will likely have road access from U.S. 129, although Lackey said the city will need to acquire some properties to make the connection.
“Our property doesn’t quite adjoin 129. There’s just a small gap there,” he said.
Tim Evans, the vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said the area has about 25 business parks, but they are running out of space — none have any sites left that are more than 20 acres.
Evans said it’s not too early to start marketing the business park, though, and getting the infrastructure in place will be key to recruiting businesses. The Georgia Department of Transportation is in the process of widening U.S. 129, which is expected to bring more traffic down that route.
“A site that does not have road infrastructure, water and sewer is often eliminated. It represents too great a risk for a business to wait,” Evans said.
Businesses that plan to build a facility with a mix of manufacturing and administrative purposes tend to do well in business parks, Evans said.
“Our sweet spot for recruiting both expanding, existing industries and new businesses is really the business that needs an operations facility with advanced manufacturing and a headquarters or a division headquarters combined in the same facility,” he said.
But recently, business park construction has not matched up with demand or growth, Evans said.
“Over the last roughly 50 years, we’ve had quite a few business parks that have been established. As we continue to grow as a community, it’s important to have a place for business to grow, too,” he said.
The new business park could offer an option to businesses that may not be able to move to or expand in Hall County otherwise, Evans said.
“We want to address those needs before they become a crisis for an existing industry that needs to expand and suddenly doesn’t have a choice here in Hall County,” he said.
The property will be 1.6 miles from Interstate 985 and about 13 miles from Interstate 85.