Residents, Hall County fight warehouse plans on McEver Road

CA Ventures hopes to build office and warehouse space in southern Hall County if Buford allows the plans to move forward with an annexation and rezoning. (Courtesy City of Flowery Branch)
CA Ventures hopes to build office and warehouse space in southern Hall County if Buford allows the plans to move forward with an annexation and rezoning. (Courtesy City of Flowery Branch)

Ley Hathcock bought a home in the Lake Run subdivision off McEver Road almost 30 years ago, predicting the stretch of road in southern Hall County would remain a peaceful residential area.

Decades later, Hathcock, his neighbors and Hall County officials are resisting plans from Chicago-based CA Ventures to build almost 400,000 square feet of office and warehouse space on 34 acres at 6533 McEver Road.

The proposal isn’t new. It went before Hall County and later Flowery Branch, which considered annexing the land into its limits and rezoning it. Opposition erupted from nearby residents, worried about an influx of traffic and disturbances caused by a large industrial project so close to home.

Now, the small city of Buford will weigh incorporating the land and rezoning it for industrial use to move forward with the same plan. An online petition against it circulated by area residents had garnered more than 550 signatures by Friday afternoon.

“My property is about 345 feet from (the proposed site),” said Hathcock, principal at West Hall High School. “We’re across McEver Road from it. I’d be staring at it from my back door every day.”

Buford planning commissioners will consider the requests at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Buford Arena, located at 2795 Sawnee Avenue. Buford City Commissioners will likely cast the deciding vote in August.

The plans call for a $55 million distribution and industrial project that could create about 200 jobs. It would include office and warehouse space in two buildings — sized at 221,400 and 175,000 square feet each — though it’s unclear who would be the tenant.

A site plan for the office and warehouse space on McEver Road proposed by CA Ventures. (Courtesy City of Flowery Branch)
A site plan for the office and warehouse space on McEver Road proposed by CA Ventures. (Courtesy City of Flowery Branch)

Tuesday’s meeting won’t be the first time that Buford officials discuss the proposal. A formal objection from Hall County commissioners in March stopped the city’s planning commissioners from approving or denying the requests.

In their objection, county officials alleged the annexation would create an island of Buford land surrounded by other jurisdictions, which is prohibited by Georgia law. To be incorporated into city limits, the property would be adjoined on the city’s map to a Buford subdivision located across railroad tracks from the project site.

The objection also states that the project would increase traffic, raise infrastructure costs and be inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan and future land development map.

Although properties next to the site are zoned for commercial use, the 6533 McEver Road property is currently zoned for agriculture or single-family homes in an area designated by Hall County for residential use. Subdivisions full of young families surround the location of the project, Hathcock said.

“It’s disruptive to have tractor-trailers coming and going in a distribution center when you’ve got surrounding neighbors,” said Hall County Commissioner Kathy Cooper. “I always have to think, ‘Would I want that next door to me?’ ... I would say, ‘No, I would not.’”

Hall County and Buford went into arbitration over the matter. The city can move forward with the plan if it wishes, but a five-member panel recommended in June that the city notify nearby homeowners and give them a way to comment.

The panel noted that “higher levels of development” exist within 1 mile of the proposed project. McEver Road turns into Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, heavy with commercial and industry use, as it nears Buford.

In an emailed statement, a representative for CA Ventures said the project would likely be completed in late 2022 if approved. Drivers would enter the development from three separate entrances, spread along a curved portion of McEver Road.

According to the statement, the developer would fund the improvement of the curve, coined by some as “dead man’s curve.” This includes widening the road, increasing the line of sight and adding a middle turn lane and deceleration lanes.

The developer alleges that the development would not significantly increase traffic due to the road improvements and low weekend traffic from the project. The developer intends to build water and sewer along McEver Road and a 100-foot buffer with landscaping and trees, the statement said.

CA Ventures initially requested for Hall County to rezone the the property in October 2020, at which time the county’s planning commission recommended denial and the developer withdrew its application.

The developer then asked Flowery Branch officials to bring the property into its city limits and rezone it. City Council denied the annexation request at a December meeting, at which 20 residents spoke in opposition to the plan.

Farley and Susan Barge run a recovery center for women experiencing addiction next to the proposed development site. The Barges worry the development would ruin the private “serenity” of the center.

“Some of our women have been involved in the sex trade and drug trade,” said Susan Barge. “This would be like putting a trucking center next to a daycare. ... This would be a transient population of people coming in and out of our neighborhood.”

Farley Barge attended the March planning commission meeting in Buford, at which time the public was met with “combativeness” from planning commissioners, he said. The meeting room was filled to capacity with concerned residents, Hathcock said.

Most elected and appointed officials in Buford do not have contact information listed on the city’s website. Buford City Commission Chairman Phillip Beard and Planning Board Chairman Robert Perkins did not respond Friday to messages left by the AJC for comment on the site proposal.

“I walk out my front door, and on any given day, there are two or three families with kids playing in the street,” said Hathcock, who plans to attend Tuesday’s meeting. “... As Buford keeps encroaching north, it’s turning into something very different.”