Posted: Thursday, January 24th 2013 at 9:32pm
North Hall development given rezoning okay
By Marc Eggers Staff
GAINESVILLE – The Hall County Commission gave a split-vote approval Thursday night to Riverbrook Village Development Partners for a rezoning request that has lingered for months before the Hall County Planning Commission, the County Commission, and in the media.
"We started this idea a year ago," said Murrayville developer Steve McKibbon, standing alongside his partner, Robbie Robison, also of Murrayville. "And here we are just getting it approved today. It’s hard to get to the starting line."
The reason for the extended delay has been challenges made by neighboring property owners over the developers’ plan to build apartment units rather than town homes. That change-of-use request for the 83-acre site at the intersection of Thompson Bridge and Price Roads has generated a lot of strong sentiment.
While unrelated, the fact that the Commission had invited the state champion Gainesville Red Elephant football team to the meeting for a special recognition could have given a casual observer the impression that the crowd attending the meeting was just boisterous football fans.
The crowd of over 100 may have united to cheer the Red Elephants as they were honored, but that same crowd quickly became polarized once the rezoning request was introduced.
Each side of the issue had their supporters.
Johnny Vardeman, Gainesville resident and President of Morton, Vardeman & Carlson, an area marketing firm, spoke in support of the developers.
Saying he has known McKibbon and Robison for over a quarter century, Vardeman added that he also has close friends who oppose their rezoning approval. "There really are no bad people, or villains, on either side of this issue," Vardeman said.
Among those arguing for rezoning denial were Jeremy Griffey, President of the Homeowners’ Association of neighboring Walnut Grove Subdivision, and Milton Osborn, President of the Residents' Association of Lanier Village Estates, located across Thompson Bridge Road.
Lanier Village Estates describes itself as a retirement community; Osborn’s concern was traffic safety in light of Riverbrook Village’s intention to market their apartments to young professionals.
"The developer actually came to Lanier Village and told our residents that one of his target markets for tenants was the 19-31 year old market," Osborn said. "This is not compatible with the average 80 year-old drivers coming out of L-V-E."
After nearly an hour of citizen comment and Commissioner questioning, Chairman Dick Mecum joined Commissioners Jeff Stowe and Craig Lutz in voting for the rezoning request.
Commissioner Scott Gibbs was the lone dissenting vote as Commissioner Billy Powell recused himself from the decision.
"Hopefully in May we’ll start construction of the project," McKibbon said with a sigh (probably of relief) as he left the crowded meeting room.
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