The large amount of growth hitting the West Jackson area has created a lot of push-back by area residents, especially those living in the Traditions of Braselton development.
That community recently populated 120 or so “red shirts” who came out in force at a meeting of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to oppose a planned apartment development on Hwy. 124 near its intersection with Hwy. 60. (For those who don’t know, “red shirts” are those in the community who don red shirts and attend public zoning hearings to oppose a proposed development.) Some of the same red shirts from Traditions were in attendance last week at a meeting of the Jackson County Planning Commission to question a senior citizens housing subdivision to be located across from their development. (Much of their concern was apparently driven by some misinformation being spread around the community on social media. Read this newspaper and check the county website for real information. Social media is mostly rumors, not always fact.)
And some of the red shirts from Traditions have vowed to come out to an upcoming July BOC meeting to oppose plans for a 130-acre subdivision on Gum Springs Church Rd. near Traditions.
It’s pretty clear that homeowners in Traditions intend to red shirt any proposed development that is close to their community.
That’s their right, of course. It’s why there are multiple public hearings on proposed rezoning so that citizens can voice their opinions, pro or con.
But it will probably shock most of those living in Traditions that what they’re saying today at these zoning meetings is an echo from the past — their past.
The fact is, the zoning of the property that is now the home of Traditions of Braselton was one of the most contentious, bellicose chapters in Jackson County’s zoning history. A lot of people, including some county leaders, were bitterly opposed to the subdivision.
Let’s go back 21 years to the summer of 1998. A large front page story on June 3, 1998, announced plans for what was then known as “Mulberry Plantation” in West Jackson. A front-page aerial photo showed the pastures that would become the development.
Developer Doug Elam of Buckhead International was the force behind the project, which at the time called for two golf courses, 1,650 homes and a retirement community on 1,142 acres.
The news hit like wildfire. It was the by far the largest residential project ever planned in Jackson County and one of the largest in Northeast Georgia. Public interest was intense.
By the time the planning commission heard the proposal for a planned unit development (PUD) for the project, opposition had formed. One woman circulated flyers in the area opposing the project.
“It will end up like Gwinnett, overcrowded where the traffic is a problem and where we are not living in the country any more and schools can’t keep up,” she said in one news article.
A regional impact study didn’t oppose the project and only made general, generic recommendations.
Finally, in late July 1998, the planning commission held a hearing on the project. A huge crowd turned out and 14 people spoke in opposition.
“We don’t have the fire services, the police services, ambulance services or road conditions to handle this type of magnitude of building,” said one man. “... I moved here from Gwinnett for the rural environment. I want to preserve the rural environment of this county.”
That was the common theme at that meeting. This writer wrote in response:
”To hear some people talk about the project, you’d think it was a trash dump rather than a place for aging baby-boomers to settle during the prime years of their life.”
And I went on to poke at all those who had recently moved to Jackson County, then wanted to slam the door behind them:
”No one wants to preserve our rural character like those who have discovered it for the first time.”
In the end, the planning board voted 7-0 to recommend denial of Mulberry Plantation.
When the project came before the BOC in August 1998, five people spoke in opposition.
“I think we should not cater to carpetbaggers who are based outside the county,” said one speaker.
Developer Elam asked the BOC for an extension so he could make some changes to the project before it came to the board for a vote.
A week later, when the BOC was set to vote on the extension, a motion to grant Elam 30 days to change his plans died for the lack of a second and the project was left hanging in limbo for another month.
As August rolled into September, opposition grew. People who didn’t live anywhere close to the project led part of the pushback.
“We’re deeply concerned about the impact this project, because it is so massive, will have on the community,” said one woman who lived in downtown Jefferson.
A vote on the project was delayed in September 1998 because one of the county’s three commissioners (which was the size of the board at the time) was absent. But the BOC did impose a 3-month moratorium on subdivisions in the county, in part to appease those who had been so vocal against the Mulberry Plantation idea.
By early October, Elam was making it clear that if he was denied a rezoning, he would sue the county.
“If he takes us to court, he will win,” observed one commissioner.
One person opposed to the project played the nativist card at a BOC meeting:
“We need to think about the future and the people who have lived here all their lives,” she said.
In the end, Elam cut 100 proposed cluster homes from the project and the BOC voted to approve it despite the huge public outcry.
But it was ugly. An unruly crowd disrupted the meeting and the police had to be called to help restore order.
This writer called the scene a “public temper-tantrum.”
While approved, the controversy wasn’t over.
In 1999, Elam came back to the BOC to request some homes in the development be put on 1/4 acre lots around the golf course. The BOC turned him down and Elam sued the county.
In January 2000, the BOC backed down and allowed Elam to alter lot sizes, but not increase the overall number of homes. One commissioner was opposed to that, but was out-voted.
Eventually, the name was changed to Traditions of Braselton, the project was built and the rest is history.
I doubt that anyone who lives in Traditions knows that history, or believes their development has been detrimental to Jackson County as critics argued it would be in 1998. Today, it is considered one of the county’s outstanding subdivisions.
But the past is instructive.
Many of the same things homeowners in Traditions are saying today about other proposed developments are identical to what was said 20 years ago about their community — too much traffic, school overcrowding, lack of sufficient county resources, etc.
And for those of us who have watched this dance between developers and community critics over the decades, it seems like deja vu all over again — same comments, different players.
Funny how perspectives change depending on where you are standing at the moment.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com.