Cherokee County officials have postponed continuation on the public input portion of a recently begun Hickory Flat area plan study.

When the county put together its comprehensive plan in 2018, six geographic areas were identified for future studies to analyze in greater depth. The first area study took a look at the southwest portion of the county, while it was decided that the Hickory Flat community would be ideal for the second study.

The first public input meeting for the study was held in January, with county officials saying the turnout far exceeded what was expected, leading county officials to look for larger facilities to hold two future meetings.

Given the reactions voiced by some of those in attendance at the meeting, county officials said those in attendance were more adversarial than anticipated in a meeting designed to gather input. Board members said some of the information given to the public about the meeting could have been misunderstood.

During the discussion, Commissioner Corey Ragsdale said he felt the Southwest Cherokee study was a success and believed the intent of the Hickory Flat study was to understand better what people in the community want. He also said that stressing the fact that this study is to gain a better understanding of what is there already and not the county saying this is what will be happening in the area in the future.

Commission Chairman Harry Johnston said he understood that residents in Hickory Flat were interested in seeing growth restricted rather than accelerated.

Commissioner Ray Gunnin said some of the things he has heard is that some people want more walkability in the area, while others might want nicer restaurants, such as Olive Garden, Red Lobster or Longhorn Steakhouse, to set up shop in the community.

Principal Planner Margaret Stallings said in the commissioners’ Feb. 4 work session that the emphasis of the study was to understand current trends in the area, create a shared vision with everyone involved and develop executable action items. She also echoed what the commissioners said, stressing that this study was not to expand or change land uses already in effect in the area, nor was it to try and push anything on the community.

Following all of the discussion on the matter, the board unanimously approved a motion to postpone moving forward on the study for the time being, resuming it potentially later in the year.

Although it was determined to put the public input portion of the study on hold for the time being, the board concurred it would be best to have the Bleakly Advisory Group, which has worked with the county on similar projects and was already gathering data as part of the project, continue gathering information and complete its portion of the study. The commissioners also noted that additional information could be coming soon from the Georgia Department of Transportation regarding infrastructure in the area, and felt it prudent to see what this might tell them as well. By doing this, the county will be able to have better and more complete information from those who have collected a great deal of statistical data, thus helping better guide discussion when the public input portion of the study begins again.

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