Baldwin annexation opponents speak out to council

A months-long battle over a major planned commercial and housing development in southern Habersham County continues. People showed up at Tuesday night’s Baldwin City Council work session to voice their opposition to the plan. They hope to convince the city council to reject Lula Capital’s request to annex and rezone 145 acres of land for construction of a strip mall and more than 700 single-family and multi-family residences.

On Sept. 24, the Habersham County Commission¬†rejected a negotiated settlement with Baldwin and Lula Capital that would have, among other things, reduced the number of housing units from 736 to 580. Because the Arbitration Panel was unable to meet after the county’s objection, the property may now be annexed and developed at Baldwin’s discretion.

Many citizens are adamantly opposed to the proposed Baldwin Village development which would sit in what is now a sparsely populated rural area off Thompson and Wilbanks Roads. Over 1,100 people have signed a petition on Change.org expressing their opposition to the plan.

Kathleen Cook expressed her concerns regarding the annexation to the Baldwin City Council, which included her fear that the new development would “destroy” the community.

Kathleen Cook, a Baldwin citizen and sixth-generation cattle farmer, lives on property that “joins directly,” with the property Lula Capital wants to develop. Cook expressed concern about the safety of the development, specifically regarding flooding. “The floodwaters reach the top of [our] barbed wire fence when we just have a normal flood,” Cook said. “the land is not suitable for this use, it’s located on a flood plain. The water gets so deep on our property […] a calf could drown in it when it really, really rains.”

Cook and Baldwin resident Ronnie Franklin shared similar concerns with many citizens and the county commissioners regarding the impact of population growth in Habersham County. Franklin brought up concerns that the county didn’t have the infrastructure to support the rapid population growth the development could bring, specifically surrounding schools and road safety.

“We already know that there’s a possible hazard with the traffic, and [if] you go forward, there can be issues then with litigation,”¬† Franklin said. “Are you going to step up and take accountability when there [are] wrecks?”

City of Baldwin Mayor Joe Elam told the public that the council would take their concerns on the annexation into consideration in future decisions.

County commissioners have expressed their concerns about the availability of public safety and emergency services to Habersham residents if the county does experience rapid growth.

“The county commissioners were opposed to this. The size and volume [are] completely out of scale for our community and for Habersham County as a whole. And obviously, us, because we’re directly impacted by this,” Cook said. “We’re not ready for this. Nothing is ready for this. This is farmland, there are cows on it, and there have been for a long time.”

Cook asked the city to work with the community and county to “talk about healthy, reasonable growth,” she fears that the proposed development could “destroy our community, our lives, [and] our welfare.” Cook says that “a way of life will be completely gone that’s been passed down for generations.”

The property Lula Capital wants to develop sits off of Thompson and Wilbanks Roads in an area known as The Bottoms. Cattle roam the adjacent property and Yonah Mountain can be seen in the distance.

The council also received a letter from Phyliss Marshall of Cornelia, Georgia, urging the council to take the concerns of citizens, studies, and the Habersham County Commission seriously.

“As I know you are aware when the annexation takes place, it’s not like 700 houses are gonna happen that night. There are many, many, many steps to take place before that,” Baldwin Mayor Joe Elam said. “But the council will take into consideration everything that was mentioned tonight before we move forward.”

The Baldwin City Council will meet again on Monday, Oct. 12 at 6:30 pm for their regularly scheduled council meeting.

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