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Braselton council approves townhome development, denies two other projects

Over objections voiced by residents last week, the Braselton Town Council narrowly approved an annexation and rezone request to allow for the construction of 110 townhomes on Beaver Dam Rd. in Barrow County.

The council voted in support of the request 3-2 Monday (Dec. 13) following a Dec. 9 public hearing during which eight residents spoke out against the project.

Council members Becky Richardson, Peggy Slappey and Hardy Johnson voted in favor of the application with conditions while councilman Jim Joedecke and Mayor Bill Orr voted against it.

Residents who opposed the request from applicant Pine Grove Partners LP feared the townhome project would lower property values along Beaver Dam Rd. and overrun it with traffic and increase crime. Opponents also argued that a townhome development didn’t fit with the rural community around the proposed site.

The proposal failed to earn the recommendation of the Braselton Planning Commission, which voted on Nov. 29 to deny the application based on a proposed 1,200 square-foot minimum for units, which didn’t meet the 1,600 heated square foot requirement of the town.

Pine Grove, however, later agreed to a condition requiring a minimum of 1,800 heated square feet for all units.

A condition was also added limiting rentals. According to documentation, the homeowners’ association (HOA) must include “a rental restriction with a maximum of 20% of all residential units” and must require a written leasing permit to allow the HOA board to monitor the number of leases within the development.

The council also included a condition stipulating that no building permits will be issued prior to Oct. 1, 2023.

While the council approved the townhome project, it rejected a much larger development, denying an annexation request from Abernathy Development Company, LLC, for a proposed 246-home development of detached single-family lots on 91 acres between Hwy. 53 and Curk Roberts Rd.

Abernathy also sought an R-3 zoning for the project.

The request failed when no council member made a motion to accept it. An initial motion was made for denial, but that vote ended in a 2-2 deadlock. Slappey and Johnson voted against denial while Richardson and Orr voted in approval of the denial. Joedecke recused himself from the vote. 

When no subsequent motion was made for approval, the council moved to the next agenda item. 

No one spoke against Abernathy's proposal during Thursday’s public hearing, but it drew opposition from the public during the Braselton Planning Commission public hearing on Nov. 29. Traffic impact on Hwy. 53 and New Cut Rd was cited as a concern of nearby property owners who spoke against Abernathy’s application.

The planning commission unanimously recommended denial of Abernathy’s application, however, based on its inconsistency with the town’s comprehensive plan for the area, which designates half of the property for commercial use and the other half for medium density residential use for smaller dwellings such as townhomes, duplexes or cottages.

The council, on Monday, also denied a rezoning request from Landbridge Development, LLC, for a proposed 40-unit age-restricted rental development located on approximately five acres on Thompson Mill Rd. The property is owned by Oaks Senior Living, LLC. Landbridge sought a multi-family zoning for the development.

The council voted 4-1 to deny the request with Slappey casting the lone "no" vote. 

The denial came after Landbridge lost an appeal in November seeking to use the original conditional use granted to Oaks Senior Living for the property in 2009. This would have allowed Landbridge to build without any rezoning.

Landbridge hosted a public forum over this project back in August, during which it received pushback from citizens who opposed the addition of more apartments along Thompson Mill Rd.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the council:

•approved alcoholic beverage licenses for Jose Castillo for Circle K locations at 1975 Hwy. 211 and 983 Hwy. 124; Adnan Meghani for Circle K at 7342 Spout Springs Rd.; Jeffrey Hansen for Chateau Elan Golf Club; Eric Robertson for Pilot Travel Center; and Sloane Meyer for the Braselton Civic Center. Meyer is the director of the Braselton Civic Center.

•provided final approval for the town’s capital improvements element and short-term work plan.

•approved Braselton’s Art Master plan.

•approved a second amendment for a sewer line agreement with Fountainhead subdivision.

•approved the final PUD site plan submittal for Claret Village.


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Pushback to Pirkle: Hoschton residents raise concerns about plans for large industrial, residential development

The proposed development of a near 400-acre tract of land off Josh Pirkle Rd. was met with public backlash back in 2018, and there’s similar angst again.

A crowd of over 40 people filled the Hoschton depot Monday (Dec. 13) for a public forum over a proposal to annex the land — known as the Pirkle Farm, which dates back to the 1850s — into Hoschton to build 1.36 million square feet of light industrial space and a large subdivision. The project proposed by Pirkle Farms, LLC, seeks an M-1 zoning for the industrial development and a planned urban development (PUD) zoning for the residential component.

The Hoschton City Council will hold a public hearing Dec. 20 (5:30 p.m.) over the requests and potentially take action. Shane Lanham, an attorney representing Pirkle Farms, LLC, said city staff has recommended approval of the project with conditions.

A number of residents who attended Monday’s one-and-a-half-hour forum used the platform to voice their objections to the project, citing concerns about the project’s impact on city infrastructure, water and sewer and the county school system. Other points of contention were water runoff and how the sizable development would impact the city’s already-problematic traffic issues.

“We’re the silent investors who get no return on the investment for this project by paying higher school bonds, higher school maintenance and operation taxes, higher sewer fees,” resident Scott Butler said. “We get no return on our investment except sitting for three to five minutes at intersections, our kids are in trailers (at schools).”

Another developer attempted to annex the property into Braselton and rezone it for multiple warehouses in early 2018 but was met with citizen backlash and a unanimous rejection by the Braselton Town Council. An attempt later in 2018 to request a land use change in Jackson County for the warehouses — which was met with similar public resistance — was also denied unanimously.

Over three years later, plans for the property now differ, with a residential component in addition to light-industrial use. Pirkle Farms, LLC, proposes a development of 499 residences (down from 538 on an earlier site plan), comprising a mix of 168 townhomes and 331 detached homes. Amenities would include a clubhouse, pool, pickleball courts and pocket parks.

The project will feature 90 acres of open space and include four-to-five miles of public-access trails. Pirkle Farms also plans to donate 15 acres of green space to the city. Ken Wood, an engineer representing Pirkle Farms, said an industrial building has been flipped from the original site plan to position its loading dock toward the inside of the industrial development instead of to the outside. Industrial structures and residences have also been positioned further away from the property than shown on the original site plan, according to Wood. Additionally, Pirkle Farms plans to rebuild Josh Pirkle Rd. to accommodate the development.

But many in the audience were not sold on these plans. One woman pointed to the amount of industrial square footage.

“I don’t see much past that,” she said. “And I’m sorry if that sounds rude, but I look at this and that’s what I see, and it kind of sucks.”

Another woman, who expressed infrastructure concerns, echoed those comments.

“As my neighbor said, I’d don’t like what I see,” she said.

Butler asked that developers invest more into communities in which they build.

“I think it’s not too much to ask out of $200 million that the developers kick in something for our school system, for our waste water treatment plant debt,” Butler said. “I just don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Bryan Muslof — from InLine Communities who is the developer representing Pirkle Farms — defended the project, pointing to the mix of industrial and residential use, the parkland proposed within the project, the land to be donated to the city and the improvements planned for Josh Pirkle Rd. as well as the road’s intersection with Hwy. 124. The city will also be granted rights to draw water from wells on the property at no cost, though it has not yet been determined how much water those wells would produce.

Muslof said Pirkle Farms “is bringing a lot to the table.”

“We want to make things better,” he said. “We’re not just here to take, so we totally get it.”


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Braselton Civic Center opening delayed until Feb. 1

The Braselton Civic Center opening has been delayed again due to a familiar problem — supply issues.

The front doors are not yet available for the $6.28 million, 40,000 square-foot facility.

As a result, the opening has been pushed back to Feb. 1, according to town manager Jennifer Scott. Scott passed along the information during an informal meeting Thursday (Dec. 9) of those who will serve on the Braselton Town Council in 2022.

The project was originally slated for a July finish, but the timetable was first pushed back to October and then January before this latest setback.

The biggest delay came when the company responsible for constructing the building’s pre-engineered frame was forced to take a three-month hiatus due to COVID.

When the building is complete, the final price tag should come in under the allotted $6.28 million. Any surplus will be applied to needed furniture purchases, according to Scott.

Mayor-elect Kurt Ward praised town leaders for making the facility a reality.

“What we get to walk into with that civic center is just really amazing,” he said.


Ayden Bowen, 2, is pictured with Sabrina Bowen while getting a face painting from Joann Holcombe Friday (Dec. 10) at the Hoschton Jingle Mingle. 


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Orr reflects on his time as Braselton mayor as he prepares to leave office

Bill Orr’s 12-year run as Braselton mayor grew out of what he initially thought was a joke. 

The third-term — and soon-to-be retired — mayor spoke Thursday (Dec. 9) to the Rotary Club of Braselton Thursday (Dec. 9) about his time in office, including how it all began. 

“(Former) Mayor Pat Graham said, ‘Bill, will you run for mayor?’ I just laughed at her. I thought she was kidding,” Orr recalled.  

Orr laughed, but Graham asked again a week later and he arrived at a major decision with relative ease. 

“It was stupidly simple,” Orr said. “I asked, while we were sitting at the table, I asked my daughters ‘Should I run for mayor?’ … My daughters both said, ‘Dad, do you know what you would tell us if we asked you that question?’ I just started smiling. They said, ‘You’d tell us to run.’”

Orr remembers that first campaign, which included earning the support of some members of the town’s influential Braselton family and his daughter enlisting her Mill Creek High School classmates to distribute campaign materials. 

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was a really good civics lesson for the kids.”

Orr, who said he believes in a limit of two terms, ended up winning a second term and reluctantly ran and won a third term (unopposed) before announcing earlier this year that he would not seek re-election. 

“I really enjoyed all 12 years,” Orr said. “I really did. It’s time now for new leadership for the town.”

Orr credited a town council that worked well together, he said, despite not always agreeing. 

“The concept for me is get all the ideas on the table, get everybody’s perspective on the table,” he said.  “If everybody can learn from everybody else, then every single person is going to make a better decision.”  

Orr pointed to some of the town’s watershed moments over the past dozen years, including the initiative to save the iconic Braselton Brothers Store building despite some clamoring to tear it down. The late Mark Moore, an engineer and Braselton resident, who worked to rebuild the Minneapolis Metro Dome roof after its 2010 collapse, assessed the structure at no cost to the town. Braselton decided to keep and renovate the building, and the historic structure now houses several businesses and multiple restaurants. Along with the adjacent town green, it serves as the center of Braselton’s vibrant downtown. 

“I really am very appreciative of Mark helping us to find a way to preserve our history in the Town of Braselton … we have to have a place to come together to have a town,” Orr said. 

Orr also pointed to a downtown district that now features diversified shopping and dining options. 

“We have a French restaurant in Braselton,” he said. “Go figure.”

More space will be available for downtown businesses, Orr said, noting the recent purchase of the former West Jackson Primary School campus. 

“That is a real opportunity for our downtown,” Orr said. 

Another crucial point in Orr’s tenure came when Northeast Georgia Medical Center opted to locate its Braselton hospital branch just outside the town despite pressure for the facility to be constructed inside the town’s limits. 

During those discussions, Orr contended that such a move would require Braselton to provide a host of services to a non tax-paying entity. And had NGMC located inside of Braselton, Hall County planned to pull the financing bonds. 

“I don’t know if a lot of people know that,” Orr said. 

As a result, NGMC located the campus just outside the town limits on Hwy. 347. It’s an arrangement that Orr said has worked out well. 

“All the business that have developed around that hospital — a lot of them — are in Braselton and a lot of them are tax-paying entities,” he said. “So that was a very interesting sort of negotiation. You may not know that all was going on behind the scenes of the hospital.”

Promoting a walkable community has also been meaningful to Orr. His tenure included the creation of a multi-purpose path — the LifePath — aimed to help link together a town divided by four counties and four school systems. 

“People weren’t walking out of their homes and meeting each other as much as I was used to in other communities,” Orr said. “So, that actually spawned the whole idea of the LifePath.”

Orr added that plans are in the works to help pedestrians cross Hwy. 211 safely. 

As he leaves office, Orr said one of his biggest frustrations in working in government is the timetable from ideas to implementation, pointing to a widening project on Hwy. 211 as an example. The project requires involvement from three different county governments.

“It’s been on the docket for, I don’t know, 10 years,” Orr said. 

But, as he departs, Orr said he hopes future administrations enjoy an experience similar to his of the past 12 years. 

“I think it’s been a real blessing,” he said. “It is a lot of work, and it does take a lot of time but from my standpoint, I would do it all over again, and I appreciate every for allowing me to be your mayor.”


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