County gears up for growth surge
Groundbreaking for the new Northeast Georgia Medical Center-Lumpkin at the intersection of GA 400 and Highway 60 is still about a year-and-a-half away, but the county is already preparing to deal with the growth it will bring.
The Board of Commissioners (BOC) began talking about making changes to its existing Corridor Development Regulations several months ago. Last month it signed a contract with Carl Vinson Institute of Government to rewrite those regs.
“We weren’t blindsided. We knew growth was coming at that intersection. We just didn’t know when,” said Board Chairman Chris Dockery. “We already have corridor regulations in place, but when they were developed we envisioned retail being there. Now, the focus will be health care. Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) is making a large commitment to Lumpkin County, and we need to help protect that, make sure our regulations support businesses that compliment the health care industry.”
The Lumpkin County Development Authority is also looking forward to the growth that is coming and how it can help facilitate the county’s goals for the kind of growth it wants to see—growth that will maintain the county’s rural aspect as much as possible. It held a retreat several months ago that included members of the BOC, Water & Sewerage Authority, county Planning & Public Works departments, NGHS representatives and others.
“It was important to me to bring these folks together to gather ideas, discuss concerns, and unify efforts, specifically along the 400 corridor with the announcement of Northeast Georgia Medical Center–Lumpkin,” said Development Authority Executive Director Rebecca Shirley. “Nothing in economic development can be accomplished single-handedly. There is a natural opportunity for collaboration between the Development Authority of Lumpkin County and the agencies that attended the board’s planning retreat. Each of these partners have a particular expertise to help advance the goals of our community.”
NGHS’s President of Acute and Post-acute Operations Louis Smith agrees that change is on the way.
“This type of investment does cause changes,” she said.
LOOKING TO BRASELTON
Someone who knows about the kind of growth a new hospital brings is Tony Funari, local realty company owner and member of the Braselton Town Council where NGHS built a new hospital four years ago.
Even before Northeast Georgia Health System Braselton broke ground it “created an explosion of economic development in the Georgia Highway 211 and Sprout Springs area,” he said. “Since it was announced there’s been interest in the area, both residential and commercial. Chateau Elan has started a new phase; a 40,000-square-foot event center has been built; a large number of medical support and speciality businesses have opened; restaurants, both fast food and sit down; there’s even new businesses downtown. Everything’s been expanding in a very positive way. The hospital is an economic driver. It’s the best driver that ever could have happened for us.”
NGHS invited Dockery and others from Lumpkin to tour the Braselton facility and meet its staff.
“We talked about how we worked with the community to create a destination for wellness—which has paid dividends for the local economy,” Smith said.
Dockery said he was surprised by the design of the facility.
“It’s a different atmosphere than what you’d expect from a hospital. It doesn’t have an institutional feel at all,” he said. “It was designed with the idea of it being a centerpiece for the community. They have an outstanding cafeteria, in the back there is a garden and a waterfall, picnic tables. It is actually attached to Chateau Elan by golf cart trails.”
Lumpkin, of course, doesn’t have a Chateau Elan near where NGMC Lumpkin will be built, but Smith said “We’re excited to work with this community to create an innovative healthcare destination that is as special as Lumpkin County itself.”
ENVISIONING THE INTERSECTION
Rope Roberts, Economic Development Manager for Georgia Power who was also at the meeting, urged those in attendance to “try to envision what could be there every time you go by that intersection. How do you want it to look?”
“I don’t think we want to see a 3,000 car parking lot with a strip mall. That’s not what we want,” Dockery said. “I think we’d like to see the businesses to the front and parking behind. I don’t think DOT [Department of Transportaion] is going to allow a lot of curb cuts, so that means access roads. And it wouldn’t necessarily be just businesses. I think we’d like to create walkability and affordable housing to attract young people. That’s how you turn the digest around.”
The area around NGMC Braselton did something similar.
Officials seemed to agree there are lessons to be learned from Braselton.
“We’ve been careful in land use and zoning so that the area remains as residential-friendly as possible and all the new growth blends in the the surrounding community,” Funari said.
AVOIDING THE TRAFFIC TANGLE
Another aspect of the increased development is increased traffic. Both Highway 211 and Sprout Springs Road have become four-lane since NGHS Braselton was built four years ago. Funari said Georgia DOT worked quickly to help the area accommodate the new traffic.
In Lumpkin, creating another entrance into Dahlonega from GA 400 has also been discussed. The most likely route, and one that has been debated about for years, would be Burnt Stand/Auraria roads. That, however, would be up to DOT, which needs to be another partner in this endeavor, Roberts said.
With much to be considered and discussed, there will be opportunities for stakeholder input as Carl Vincent Institute develops the new Corridor regulations, Dockery said.
In addition to the Carl Vinson planning, the Development Authority has also committed to provide graphics to illustrate the new regulations once they are complete. That way, Shirley said, developers and businesses will know what is expected. The Water & Sewerage Authority is working on a plan to provide redundancy to the water system.
NGHS is also partnering with the county.
A VISION FOR SUCCESS
“We’re consistently talking with leaders in Lumpkin County, and they’ve shared their vision to attract medical office space and other types of high-end development similar to what popped up around NGMC Braselton,” Smith said. ‘Fostering those relationships between our health system, county leadership and the community early in the planning process is key to developing the type of hospital the county truly needs and will support. The leadership in Lumpkin County has been very positive and helpful, and the people in that community are blessed to have leaders with the wisdom to think about how to chart the course for long-term economic success.”
“There are a lot of opportunities on the horizon for Lumpkin County,” Shirley said.
“The new hospital will give a good positive anchor for economic development along the Highway 400 corridor,” he said. “The future is very exciting for all of us.”