Developers clamor to fill county housing needs – Atlanta Business Chronicle
The numbers don’t lie. Hall County’s housing market is sizzling.
The U.S. Census Bureau identified the Gainesville-Hall County Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) among the fastest growing metro areas in the United States, with a population increase of 16,953 and a growth rate of 9.4 percent from 2010 to 2016.
In 2017, Hall County governments issued more than 1,000 new single-family home permits, and the number of single-family home sales was up 3.4 percent in 2017 from a year earlier.
It wasn’t always this way. Hall County experienced the Great Recession like most communities. But before that period, the groundwork was laid to help propel the county’s current prosperity.
Hall County’s growth is “the continuation of a trend that really started before the Recession and was a result of these communities being very intentional about planning and investing in themselves,” said Dave Loeffel, principal of Affordable Housing Investments for Walton Communities. After the Recession, he added, “they picked up where they left off.”
In addition to the cities of Gainesville and Flowery Branch, Hall County includes Oakwood, Clermont and several smaller communities. Gainesville is the largest, with a population of approximately 40,000.
Steve McKibbon, owner/manager along with Robert (Robbie) Robison of McKinnon/Robison developers, said there are a variety of reasons for the growth in Gainesville, including: its medical community; educational opportunities; the series of multi-use trails known as the Greenway; and a vibrant arts community.
McKibbon also noted people want to live near where they work, and, in the Gainesville-Hall County area, there are many businesses with more than 1,000 employees, such as Kubota Manufacturing of America and ZF Gainesville, an automotive and wind turbine component operation.
Frank Norton, Jr., CEO and chairman of The Norton Agency in Gainesville, is a major investor in Hall County. His family-owned agency has several ongoing investments in the area, including a large multi-office medical clinic. The Norton Agency also is partnering to build a small village of 10 free-standing rental homes that will resemble those in a farm village and, according to Norton, “will be used as a blueprint for quality rental housing.”
Affordable housing has been one of the focus areas for Gainesville. Spurred by the Georgia’s Housing Tax Credit program, McKibbon/Robison built Enclave, an apartment community in Gainesville’s midtown.
“There was a lot of substandard housing in Midtown” said McKibbon, who was one of the first to recognize the potential of the area. As a result, he purchased an entire block with some of those types of buildings on it, property, he said, “I wouldn’t let my dog live in.”
After tearing down the old structures, Enclave was built as an apartment complex with all units facing out to the streets around the block, and with an amenity space in the middle. The homes are three-bedroom, 2 ½-bath units that rent for approximately $1,200 per month.
Loeffel’s firm, Affordable Housing Investments, has also developed the Walton Summit property in Gainesville’s Midtown area. The complex was created as a partnership between the Gainesville Housing Authority and Walton Communities, headquartered in Marietta. They consist of 252 units in various stages of completion, 90 of which will be age-restricted to renters 55 and older.
Jennifer Landers, vice president of operations for Newland Communities, developers of Sterling on the Lake in Flowery Branch, said road improvements along I-985, and at the interchange of I-985 and I-85, are key reasons why Hall County has become popular. Amenities such as Lake Lanier Islands and Chateau Elan, and proximity to shopping, have also aided residential growth, she said.
The Sterling on the Lake development is still under construction, with 1,000 families already living in a community that will top out at 2,000. Prices range from approximately $250,000 to over $700,000.
Another major community under construction is Mundy Mill Homes, consisting of 1,100 future single-family residences in the city limits of Gainesville.
Housing growth is also on track in Oakwood. Stan Brown, Oakwood’s city manager, said for many years, the community’s focus was on industrial and commercial development, which ate up most of the sewer capacity in the city.
“For years we had to turn down residential development applications because we didn’t have enough waste water treatment infrastructure,” he said.
Over the past decade, the city, in conjunction with Gainesville, Flowery Branch and Braselton, has increased the infrastructure of their joint sewer plant from a capacity of 450,000 gallons to over 1.2 million gallons, which means room for residential development.
Oakwood has already approved two new developments with a total of 250 units, said Brown, and other applications are in the zoning approval process, including a 33-acre townhouse development. Also in the works is the development of a downtown area, which Oakwood currently does not have.
Looking into the future, Norton Jr., who also does annual housing forecasts for the region, said he sees growth continuing in Hall County. Hall is receiving a population spillover from Gwinnett, he added, while offering similar quality housing, education and other amenities. He said the new industrial corridor up I-985 is the other area which will grow steadily over the next five years.
HALL COUNTY HOUSING BY THE NUMBERS
9.4 percent: 2010-2016 growth rate16,953: 2010-2016 population increase1,000: 2017 approximate number of single family home permits425: 2017 single-family home permits for Gainesville (a new record)8 percent: increase in home prices 2017 over 20163.4 percent: single family home sales 2017 over 2016$266,747: 2017 average single home price in Gainesville-Hall County
Source: Hall County economic development report