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Campus housing women involved in sex trafficking rejected by Hall planning board
Hall County Planning Commission member Chris Braswell, center, speaks during Monday night’s meeting as the commission discusses an application by Straight Street Revolution Ministries for rezoning of a parcel of land on Weaver Road in southeast Hall County. Braswell and Don Smallwood, left, voted against the application while Johnny Varner, right, did not vote. - photo by SCOTT ROGERS / Gainesville Times

A Gainesville ministry’s plans to build a campus housing women involved in sex trafficking were rejected Monday night by the Hall County Planning Commission.

Straight Street Revolution Ministries’ proposal now goes to the Hall County Board of Commissioners for a Dec. 8 public hearing and final action.

“I commend Mr. (Todd) Robson for his ministries and all the people who support it, but at this time, I do not feel that this is the correct location for this ministry,” Planning Commissioner Bo Brooks said.

Commissioner Chris Braswell and Don Smallwood, the planning board’s chairman, also voiced similar support for Straight Street but said they also couldn’t support Straight Street’s plans.

Commissioner Johnny Varner didn’t vote on the matter.

“This is God’s will, so I’m going to leave it in his hands,” he said.

A large crowd filled the meeting room at the Hall County Government Center to hear Straight Street ask the planning board for rezoning that would allow the nonprofit organization to build the campus on 50 acres off Weaver Road, a hilly area off Poplar Springs Road in southeast Hall County.

“Obviously, there are those in the neighborhood that are concerned, and we truly understand that,” said Brian Rochester, a Gainesville engineer working with Straight Street on the project. “But we are also with you tonight to talk about something that has eternal significance.”

The organization is looking to eventually build 17 houses for the women, as well as an administrative building, barn, chapel, activity field, garden and meadow, according to the Hall County planning staff report describing the project.

The initial phase calls for one home that would house four people and one caretaker, the report says. Also, services that would be offered at the site include counseling, education programs and life skills training.

The ministry’s proposal also calls for a gated entrance and that no visitors will be allowed on site.

The residents would be women over 18 who are referred to Straight Street through a partner organization.

“The ministry and its partners are working to reduce human trafficking by providing services to victims,” the staff report states.

Several people spoke in favor of the proposal, including Chase Thomas, who lives two miles from the proposed site.

“I praise Jesus for people like (Straight Street) who want to love even when no one else will,” he said.

Another supporter, Lee Rogers, said, “I would be proud to see this development go in and I believe God will bless this.

“I understand people do not want this. But … I’m going to believe this is going to prosper not just (area residents) but Hall County, and regardless of what prices have to be paid, a human is priceless.”

Straight Street’s plans have met fierce opposition from neighbors, who have said they worry, among other things, that such a development would raise safety concerns.

The staff report “does not indicate security except (for) a gate,” Weaver Road resident Sherry Evans told the commission.

“Sirs, a gate will not stop someone from entering this facility when they can walk straight through the woods or straight through a pasture onto the facility. A gate will only stop a car … but not a person.”

Laura Klukaszewski told the planning board that Straight Street’s plans “in no way fits with our existing neighborhood.”

“Eighty paved parking spaces, a chapel, a food bank with 18-wheelers coming in and out of our neighborhood does not fit in with what we have currently,” she said.

“Straight Street Ministries is trying to move in on us and change every aspect of our lives for the worse.”

And Janet Buttram talked about property values plummeting.

“Buyers care what’s down the street from them — they don’t blindly submit contracts for purchase of a home without checking into the area around them,” she said.

Buttram, a real estate agent in Hall County for 10 years, said several real estate professionals have told residents the development would “devalue our properties by around 25 percent.”

She added that although the prospect of “taking that … hit in values worries me, it doesn’t scare me nearly as much as the thought that we may never see another buyer interested in purchasing a home in our neighborhood.”