Folks in the area are spending some time thinking about what we want to be when we grow up.

They do that in a “summit” – Barrow County – and retreats – Braselton, Jefferson and Commerce.

Common things are heard at most of them.

Perhaps the most common is housing. The debate often is about what is available and what is affordable.

“Affordable” housing is everything from $200,000 to more than $400,000, depending on who is doing the talking.

Generally agreed upon is no one seems to want apartments. Although some “high end” units – called variously apartments, condos or townhomes – get a bit of attraction. Most seem to be rented for about $1,500 a month.

For those of us who have house payments substantially less, that seems out of the world, but we are told that retirees and millennials are willing to pay in that range.

A fellow who was helping lead the Barrow County “summit 2.0” last week is from Atlanta. He does not live in the same housing universe that I do. He said a person cannot buy, even a “fixer upper” for less than $400,000 in Buckhead.

No doubt, housing in Buckhead is considerably more expensive than I want. He likes life in a big city. I don’t.

I’m reminded of folks in Banks County I heard last year complain about plans for an apartment complex across the street from the main entrance to Chimney Oaks golf course. They said it would degenerate – they did not use that term – to low rent apartments. There was even a mention of Section 8 housing.

I doubt they were correct, but a couple of people strongly said they moved to Banks County to get away from conditions like Atlanta. My immediate thought was that they did not move far enough or to the correct place. Somewhere in the mountains would have been more appropriate. The mountains are becoming more and more expensive.

Now, at least two large apartment complexes are being talked about near Banks Crossing.

Similarly, Commerce officials have indicated a strong preference for a limit on rentals if condos or townhomes are proposed.

In Barrow County, the economic developer talked with enthusiasm about a 55+ development that is rentals – above what a decent house would cost here – that is near downtown.

He talked a bit about the attractiveness of small town squares for high-end rental units. He said young professionals and retirees are looking for such. Jefferson, Winder and Commerce might be naturals for that.

We quickly get into a chicken-and-egg debate of whether those kinds of housing units also attract restaurants or whether restaurants attract them.

Winder has one “fancy” restaurant and several typical ones. Jefferson has a brewery and food truck downtown and Commerce has two or three downtown eateries, none “upscale.” Dracula has a brewery that is doing well, according to the planner. A brewery is planned for Commerce.

Another comment heard a lot lately is “growth is coming.” That is usually followed by “we need to control it” or “smart growth is needed” or “we need the ‘right’ kind of growth.”

The other issue that pops up is traffic.

As might be expected, that is more of an issue in Winder or Braselton than in Commerce or Homer.

Traffic in downtown Winder is bumper-to-bumper much of the day, especially early and late. It often takes longer to go from the Hardee’s restaurant on the east side to the school office (I cover the schools) than it does to go from Jefferson to Hardee’s.

Go on Hwy. 211 outside Chateau Elan from Interstate 85 to beyond Friendship Rd. early in the morning or afternoon rush hour. It often is bumper-to-bumper.

Road construction can be found nearly everywhere. Hwy. 129 to Gainesville has been being widened to four lanes for the past three years. A bypass has started in Winder, an overpass on Hwy. 316 at Winder is underway. I-85 is being widened near Braselton and plans call for continuing that to the state line.

Hwy. 316 from near Atlanta to Athens was built to interstate standards, but officials in Barrow County see it as an industrial and commercial corridor, which means more traffic and more traffic lights.

Continued conversations will be necessary and can be helpful. Ignoring future years – and growing pains – is not likely to “fix” anything.

Ron Bridgeman is a reporter for Mainstreet Newspapers. Send email to


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