Residents furious after Buford planners ignore objections over controversial warehouse

Farley Barge hands out flyers on Tuesday, July 20 after a Buford Planning Commissioners meeting to residents against proposed warehouse and office space on McEver Road. Barge runs an addiction recovery center for women next to the site of the proposed development. (Tyler Wilkins / tyler.wilkins@ajc.com)
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Farley Barge hands out flyers on Tuesday, July 20 after a Buford Planning Commissioners meeting to residents against proposed warehouse and office space on McEver Road. Barge runs an addiction recovery center for women next to the site of the proposed development. (Tyler Wilkins / tyler.wilkins@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyler Wilkins

Credit: Tyler Wilkins

City Commissioners will cast final vote in August

A meeting dissolved into chaos Tuesday as vexed Hall County residents booed and stomped out of Buford Arena after planning commissioners supported annexing property on McEver Road for a controversial warehouse plan.

The plan for nearly 400,000 square feet of office and warehouse space was previously rejected by Flowery Branch and Hall County officials. Buford is the developer’s third attempt for approval.

After hearing from only six of about 50 residents who stood in opposition to the plans, the planners hastily ended the public hearing. Planning commissioners unanimously cast their votes in favor of annexing and rezoning the 34-acre property, even as residents continued to voice their objections.

“We were cut off,” said Cherie Hathcock, whose Lake Run subdivision home would be about 345 feet from the site. “They were abrasive, combative and would not let us hear their individual votes.”

Residents shouted from the stadium’s stands, demanding that the commissioners state their names and why they voted for the annexation.

“I think we’re finished,” said Planning Commissioner Homer Whiting, as a resident tried to approach the podium.

Buford City Commissioners will cast the deciding vote at 7 p.m. August 2 at Buford Arena. At that meeting, residents will have one last chance to formally resist the plans. An online petition against the plans had garnered more than 600 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

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

Chicago-based CA Ventures wants to construct two buildings that could house multiple tenants: one 221,400 square feet and the other 175,000 square feet. If approved by Buford City Commissioners, the developer expects to complete the project by late 2022.

The development would have three entrances on McEver Road on a curve, referred to by some as “dead man’s curve.” CA Ventures has said it would add a 100-foot buffer to the property, widen the road, increase the road’s visibility line and add a middle turn lane and deceleration lane by the property.

But residents who live in nearby subdivisions don’t believe the improvements would make up for the disturbance caused by a large distribution facility.

“I’ve got two years left on my mortgage. My home value will be toast to sell it,” Hathcock said.

The proposal previously went before Hall County and Flowery Branch. County planning commissioners recommended denial last year. Flowery Branch City Council denied the developer’s annexation request after 20 residents spoke in opposition to it.

Buford planning commissioners initially heard the proposal in March, but a formal objection by Hall County commissioners put the developer’s application on hold. The two jurisdictions went into arbitration over the matter, in which a panel voted in Buford’s favor.

The property would be linked to Buford’s city limits by a subdivision located across railroad tracks from the project site, which concerned Hall County commissioners. Nearby homeowners would remain in Flowery Branch or unincorporated Hall.

Hall County Commissioner Kathy Cooper, whose district includes the property, was among those speaking to the commissioners on Tuesday. She said the residents most impacted by the development don’t have a voice in Buford.

“They do not have the ability to vote for the commission. ... This annexation is a prime example of what is wrong with the annexation process,” said Cooper, adding that state law should change.

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

Cooper said the plan would be out of character for the area. There are nearby sites designated for warehouse and industrial use with appropriate road improvements and infrastructure, she said.

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.

After the meeting, the AJC asked Planning Commissioner Whiting why the board voted in favor of the annexation. He said commercial properties exist on McEver Road only a few minutes north and south of the development.

The development would be a “good neighbor” to nearby residents, Whiting said, given the developer’s accommodations.

Farley and Susan Barge, who run an addiction recovery center for women next to the property, corralled much of the public opposition to the plans. Farley Barge, who handed out flyers against the plans after the meeting, said he felt “unappreciated, unheard and disregarded” by the planning commissioners’ decision.

“Most land-use decisions are not moral ones, but this one is,” said Cantrell, a former Gwinnett County planning commissioner who owns the property on which the recovery center sits. “It is unethical, immoral and just plain wrong to gain wealth and quality of life for Buford citizens at the expense of your Hall County neighbors.”