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Posted: Monday, November 19th 2012 at 9:09pm

Scaled down Price Road development approved

By Marc Eggers Staff
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GAINESVILLE – After 90-minutes of discussion and citizen input, the Hall County Planning Commission on Monday evening approved by a 4-to-1 vote a rezoning request that neither party asked for.

What began in 2006 as an approved plan to build 45 upscale townhomes on an 82-acre tract of land at the intersection of Thompson Bridge and Price Roads, evolved into a rezoning request to construct a 288-unit apartment complex that was tabled last month.

The recent economic downturn has seen the sale of townhomes plummet, according to Gainesville Attorney Steve Gilliam who represented Riverbrook Village Development Partners, and the need for apartments has risen.

"In 2007 we had a different economy. Look around Gainesville at all these townhome developments that have gone through foreclosure, because nobody wants townhomes," Gilliam argued. "Look at new apartments: they’re 100-percent occupied."

Once the request was made to go from 45 townhomes to 288 apartments the residents of Walnut Grove Subdivision began their protest. Redrawn site plans for the change-in-use proposal now placed the main entrance to Riverbrook directly opposite the only entrance for 153-home Walnut Grove.

"That wouldn’t work," homeowners argued at the October 1st rezoning request.

The rezoning request was tabled as Commission Chairman Don Smallwood suggested Riverbrook developers Robbie Robison and Steve McKibbon of Murrayville meet with the Walnut Grove Homeowners Association and work out a solution.

That meeting happened October 23 but only produced minimal agreement between the parties.

Riverbrook agreed to increase buffer setback to 100-feet, to create a right-turn-only entrance on Thompson Bridge road to alleviate traffic at the Walnut Grove entrance, and to reduce the number of apartment units to 240.

That was still unacceptable to the Walnut Grove homeowners who lined up to address the Commission in opposition to the rezoning.

"But we would love the developers to go back to the original plan; we were all very excited about the original plan for 45 townhomes," one Walnut Grove resident said.

"We was hoping that this would be worked out before it come to us," Chairman Smallwood said.

Commissioners asked Gilliam what was the least number of apartment units the developers could construct and still be profitable.

"Mr. McKibbon said that 220 is the bottom number (of units) to support the package," Gilliam told the Commission.

Discussion continued among commission members; the audience groaned or cheered depending upon what each Commissioner said. Chairman Smallwood found it necessary to quiet the audience on several occasions.

When discussion ended Smallwood asked for a motion.

Commissioners sat silent for a moment, looked at one another, and finally broke an awkward silence.

"I move that we change the number of units to 200," District 2 Commissioner Chris Braswell ventured. (The property is located in Braswell’s district.)

The motion was seconded and passed four-to-one as Commissioner Bo Brooks dissented.

"This has been approved for up to 200 units. It will be up to the developer if he wants to do that," Smallwood said.

"This will go to the Hall County Commission for further action on December 13th. That would be a good place for all the neighbors to be on December 13, and for the builders, too."

A smattering of applause, a roomful of bewildered expressions, and shaking heads seemed to say that the matter still had not been settled.

"What happened here?" one Walnut Grove resident said as she passed by.

"We’ve heard from the developer and we’ve heard from the neighborhood. The problem here is we can’t find some common ground to meet on," Smallwood said.

"The developer has rights and the homeowners have rights and the neighbors have rights. I don’t know how this Board could guarantee that you wouldn’t have traffic issues."

The matter how goes to the Hall County Commission and, if approved, the developers will have to decide if they wish to venture their capital.

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Gainesville, GA 30501
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