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880-home community gets Gainesville board’s OK
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Clyde Morris speaks about the negatives the plans for the community off Ahaluna Drive and Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 might create during the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board meeting Tuesday night. About 125 people showed up in opposition to Oak Hall’s plans. - photo by Erin O. Smith/The Times

HALL COUNTY -- An 880-home active-adult community off Ahaluna Drive was recommended for approval Tuesday night by the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board.

The board gave its OK quickly and without discussion. Board member Jane Fleming briefly questioned Tad Braswell of Oak Hall Companies, the developer, about the company studying traffic 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.

“I know there’s a lot of traffic later, after 6 p.m., for restaurants, shopping and just normal stuff,” Fleming said.

She and Carmen Delgado didn’t raise their hands when the vote was called, basically equating to a no vote, said Chairman Doug Carter, who was one of five in favor of the proposal.

After the vote, there were a few groans from the large group — 125 or more — who showed in opposition to Oak Hall’s plans for the community off Ahaluna Drive and heavily traveled Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53.

Conversations continued outside the meeting room as opponents met up with Oak Hall representatives.

There was plenty of displeasure among residents during the 1-hour public meeting.

“You’re looking at a total of what we think will be an additional 9,000-10,000 vehicle trips per day, which on this corridor ... is going to be catastrophic,” said Clyde Morris, a local resident who has become a vocal advocate for Ga. 53 improvements.

He asked residents “welcome (traffic) studies, because we think they are needed, but we believe they need to be completed and recommendations that come from these studies implemented before any approval of additional development in this corridor.”

Gary Lawrence, representing Harbour Point subdivision, which is off Ga. 53 near the Hall-Forsyth County line, said Ga. 53 traffic is already rough, with “some of our residents avoiding Gainesville by turning west and shopping and dining in Dawsonville.”

Braswell said he understands traffic concerns, “but we are bringing to the table a lot of money to improve the traffic situation that would not happen if (the property) is developed as it is currently zoned.”

In addition to road improvements at the development, Oak Hall has agreed to contribute $425,000 for other Ga. 53 fixes, said Ethan Underwood, a Cumming lawyer representing Oak Hall.

“Oak Hall is taking responsibility for that traffic,” Underwood said. “One, Tad and his company want to be good neighbors. Two, he wants to sell houses, and you can’t sell houses to angry neighbors. So, we’re all in this together.”

Oak Hall is seeking to annex and rezone 185 acres for the community, including 178 acres for 790 homes. The total number of homes includes an assisted living center.

Seven acres would be for other uses, including 3 acres donated for a fire station.

Also, plans call for another 24 acres for commercial development off Dawsonville Highway and 26 acres for an additional 90-unit townhome project off Strickland Drive.

The developer will have to work with the Georgia Department of Transportation on access points along Dawsonville Highway.

“We are working with GDOT and the city to see if traffic lights are warranted and (if so) at what points,” Underwood said. “We anticipate there’ll be at least one traffic light.”

City planning officials are recommending approval of the requests based on several conditions being met, including several related to traffic.

Oak Hall’s requests now go before the Gainesville City Council, with a public hearing set for June 6.