Dozens of opponents - most dressed in green - showed up at Thursday night's Hall County Commission meeting for a public hearing on a rezoning that would have paved the way for a 350-unit apartment complex off Thompson Mill Road in the Braselton area. There were so many residents, in fact, that they filled three rooms at the Hall County Government Center on Brown's Bridge Road, and to maintain social distance per health guidelines, others sat on the lawn of the building.
Ultimately, Hall County commissioners sided with the opposition and unanimously turned down the request to rezone the 30.66-acre tract. The denial came despite impassioned arguments from the developer.
"[This] is really a resort community...we're presenting," said Brian Rochester of Rochester & Associates of Hall County, speaking on behalf of TPA Residential. He said the proposed community would provide an ideal living location for the growing workforce at Northeast Georgia Medical Center-Braselton.
"We understand that this has become a major employment corridor. Northeast Georgia Health System is the largest employer in Hall County with over 8,000 employees...we also know there's a major presence here for The Longstreet Clinic, as well as the Diagnostic Clinic and a lot of other practices that are there, so there is a definite need for housing for those workers," Rochester said.
Two University of North Georgia students, along with one potential student, told the commission they, too, would need a safe rental community as a living space.
The opposition to the apartment community, however, far outweighed those who supported the project. Spokespersons for surrounding communities - Del Webb Chateau Elan, Reunion, Clearwater Plantation - each raised concerns about traffic, environmental issues and density they feared the development would bring to the area.
Heath West, representing the Clearwater Plantation Homeowners Association and the Reflections and Clearwater Springs neighborhoods, told commissioners he and opponents attending the public hearing were just a fraction of those who did not want to see the apartment community become a reality.
"I believe that you've received an email - or you should have - from a link to a petition against this development [where] we've received in a short time already or close to 2,500 signatures asking that you deny this rezoning request," West said. "This is not something that is needed in our overcrowded area."
Rochester, in his rebuttal to the opposing arguments, pointed out to commissioners that those who were speaking against the apartment community live in communities that also received opposition during the planning stages.
"I've heard and heard and heard how this is going to destroy our property values...and I've never seen the property values go down in South Hall as this growth has happened," Rochester said. "I was actually here when it was done, presenting before this commission, [when] Chateau Elan came to fight against Reunion...'those smaller homes, they're going to destroy our property values'...and then, Reunion came out in full force when the Village at Deaton Creek [was presented]."
Rochester argued the apartment community met all requirements set forth by the Hall County Planning Commission, and when he tried again to emphasize the need for quality apartment housing for the medical community, many in the room booed his comments.
Following the public hearing, District 1 Commissioner Kathy Cooper, who represents the district where the project was proposed, made the motion to deny the request. With no discussion, her fellow commissioners voted unanimously to deny.