FLOWERY BRANCH – The vision of Flowery Branch city leaders and what some local residents envision as a worsening problem “bumped-heads” Thursday evening during an online city council work session and voting meeting.
The disagreement involves a vacant 11.34-acre site at the southwest corner of McEver Road and Gainesville Street. It is currently designated as a “Neighborhood Commercial” area under the city’s Comprehensive Plan, but according to documents attached by the city to the rezoning application of local developer Bret Clark, the city’s vision for that site has changed slightly.
According to those documents: “Staff feels under the current economic climate and the state of retail/commercial building it is unrealistic to envision an 11-acre small scale commercial project on this site.”
Clark’s application provides some commercial space (primarily along McEver Road) but adds the construction of 68-townhomes (primarily to the rear of the site), and that residential component apparently appeals to city leaders.
Flowery Branch Director of Planning and Community Development Rich Atkinson said during the virtual meeting, “The project includes a commercial component that meets the intent of this character area, but adds a townhome component to it.”
“This property is a gateway to our downtown and adding a mixed-use project to this corner will help the continued development of downtown while providing services to the McEver Road corridor.”
Atkinson continued, “The city likes the concept of the mixed use project at its gateway entrance point along Gainesville Street at McEver Road.”
City staff officially recommended: “The concept of a mixed-use works for this parcel as it provides an attractive gateway project.”
But according to nine area residents who stayed with the online meeting for over an hour before having an opportunity to comment on this agenda item, congestion and over-development along the McEver Road corridor remain their primary objection.
This nonet said that rezoning the property from Agriculture (A) to Highway Business (HB) and multi-family residential (R-3) would only worsen the current traffic congestion on the two-lane roadways bordering the parcel and put more strain on existing infrastructure, something some felt was already at a breaking point.
Flowery Branch resident Kathy Morris said, “The traffic will be horrendous, and I can’t imagine that Hall County has not addressed the City of Flowery Branch with their growth because of the over-loading of the schools.”
Resident George McIlroy told city council, “Sixty-eight homes, multi-family, on eleven acres in this area is a horrible use of this space; very inappropriate. The density is unacceptable.”
Flowery Branch resident Sean McAdams opposed the addition of townhomes to the plan, saying parking within the development is unrealistic. “If you have two cars per unit…where are you going to park a hundred automobiles here? They don’t park their cars in their garage, they use that for storage.”
“There’s not enough length in the driveway…or width in the street. This is way too dense.” McAdams said for accommodating resident vehicles in locations other than the attached garages.
McEver Road neighbor Coleman Chambers expressed concern about recent stormwater management problems in the immediate area. “There has already been significant flooding on this property, once when the intersection was developed and another time when the property across the street…the little subdivision…was built.”
But city leaders seem to like the idea of combining residential with commercial on the site to such a degree that they brought in architectural and land planning consultant Adam Williams of TSW, a company that has worked with the city on numerous projects in the past, to suggest an alternate design to Clark’s initial proposal.
“As you recall,” Atkinson told city council members, “we’ve used them (TSW) several times for some help in layout and we’ve all been working together to come up with some possible layouts.”
Williams’ alternate design, which increases the number of proposed townhouses from 68 to 72 while reducing the commercial square-footage from 34,800 to 26,400 square feet, found favor with Clark, as well as city staff, and the city is now recommending approval of Clark’s rezoning application.
Councilman Ed Asbridge also endorsed the project, saying, “I don’t know what it will wind up being, but this is the type of service that the residents in this whole area really need. They need more of this type.”
According to the Executive Summary submitted during Thursday’s online meeting: “Staff is in full support of the project and is confident a final design will be agreed upon prior to the final read and vote of this ordinance.”
That final reading and vote is planned for the March 18th city council meeting; first reading on the rezoning application is scheduled for February 18th. Public comment will be taken at both meetings.