County Advertises Version 9 with a look to further changes later

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Gilmer County BOC, Intergovernmental Agreement, session, Meeting, Board

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After months of debate, revisits, revisions, and deliberations, the Board of Commissioners is advertising its Land Development Ordinance changes as proposed in Version 9 for the county. Citizens are now able to see what the final document could look like if approved in both May and June.

After the months of preparation and details surrounding other minor details like standardizing and limiting personal driveway slopes to maintain access for public safety vehicles and emergency services, the county almost hit a tenth version as discussion continued onto the subject of workforce housing returning to the subject brought up by the Greater Gilmer JDA (Joint Devel0pment Authority) in recent months and years.

The topic was broached with discussion of high density housing through apartments and similar structures to provide affordable housing to working citizens supporting the community. It was noted these structures would need to be closer to the cities as they would require water and sewer access. The subject touched on drastically reducing the restrictions on the highest density residential zonings to support such structures and relying on the need for water/sewer access rather than wells, septic tanks, and similar options used by more of the unincorporated areas of the county.

Ordinance

However, full details were not delved into and discussed as the board sought to broach this subject later and no longer delay the main changes to the Land Development Ordinance that has been in process for months.

The board spoke of discussing the subject with the Planning and Zoning board as well as others involved including developers.

Additionally, Kent Sanford, Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director, thanked the board this month as he spoke during the Citizens Wishing to Speak. He noted that demographics in Gilmer are continuing to show increasing retirement age citizens. However, Sanford said the county still needs more workforce housing and thanked the board for considering that.

One counterpoint came in the discussion saying that easing restrictions and allowing such density could still result in constructed “luxury apartments” that would still be unaffordable to many people working local jobs.

With more discussion to come and this topic not included in the current version, the board is looking at options to restrict or encourage affordable housing over luxury style.

The current version of the Land Development Ordinance is not in place yet, and even if final approval comes in June, the board is also looking to not implement these changes until at least 2022 or possibly one year from approval. No formal date has been set yet, but will be set before approvals come in May and June.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson also told citizens that this was not the only look into affordable housing as she shared she will be attending a meeting in the coming week on the topic looking for answers in the county.

As the “final version” of land development moves through its process, the board’s continued discussion is indicating that the current changes may complete soon, but it will not be the end of the discussions on housing in the county.

County returns to river ordinance in preparation of new season

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – As summer draws closer and some of the state’s COVID restrictions are loosening, Gilmer County is preparing for the coming summer with final notes and changes to the River Ordinance after their committee has completed its work.

The committee, consisting of Outfitters, property owners, Law Enforcement Officers, and county representatives, has presented changes to the ordinance and plans to improve the season while enforcing some of the ordinance laws that are already in place, such as no alcohol.

However, after the committee returned its proposals, the county has done more work on the ordinance as well. With plans to post signage and mark an area of no foot traffic to support buses entering and exiting and efforts in the Sheriff’s Office to post a deputy at take-out on Saturdays and Sundays, there is more changes coming as the county will be looking to use stamps instead of wristbands for people floating the river to show those utilizing an outfitter as well as help those floating match which buses they are to load on.

Board members have revisited the site location during their process and vowed to better clean the area of trash and debris in order to support some of the changes like having patrons stay behind a certain line, as previously stated in support of buses.

Additionally, the county is adding sequential number requirements to waivers to count the numbers of people on the river. Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has made several references and statements showcasing a desire to better understand the impact these businesses are having on the rivers. Though in opposition to swapping out wristbands for stamps, she agreed to move forward with the board’s plans with hopes that a revisit could come should the county deem the stamps to be insufficient. One of very few dissentions among the board, much of the changes came to unanimous agreement from the commissioners.

Now, the county is moving to its next step with a Public Comments meeting set for March 11, 2021, at 5:30 p.m., half an hour before their regular March Meeting at 6 p.m. That Regular Meeting will also host the First Reading of the ordinance after these new changes, a requirement before the county can return in April for the Final Reading and a possible motion to approve the changes.

With months of work set into the ordinance from its early conceptions amid committee to seeing its process through the BOC now, the final adoption will be coming just in time for River Outfitters to really pick up with the heavy part of their season. More details are still being discussed on implementation as outfitters are raising questions on some people wanting to float the river very soon and some involving more online reservations with digital signatures on waivers. However, full implementation cannot be undertaken until final approval comes for the ordinances changes, meaning that outfitters are still currently operating under the old ordinance until that can happen.

February will decide the moratorium, ordinance, and future of Gilmer’s large developments

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – As Gilmer’s Commissioners continue working on limiting and controlling growing sizes and numbers of developments in the county through its ordinance, they received the other side of the moratorium’s effects when a Special Called Meeting saw a large group of developers seeking information about the future of their work.

With lot size minimums looking to increase, current lots smaller than the minimum would be grandfathered in. Some comments in the meeting revolved around these increases with one speaker, Develle Frady, asking about a parent looking to split their land and give a piece to their child to build on. He said this would hurt some of those people working hard all their life to cut some land and leave it to kids.

Frady said the changes wouldn’t stop growth, but rather create more class division.

Crystal Chastain spoke in the meeting as well asking to support some more of the developments. While she said she the county needs to control growth and it does need to grow, she wanted the county to put off the vote for the ordinance changes advertisement to look deeper into the topic. She said the county needs “affordable workforce housing.” Something that could be accomplished through developments.

ordinance

Crystal Chastain speaks to the BOC about her opinions and requests for the county’s Land Use Ordinance in a meeting on January 29, 2021.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson agreed saying she has been thinking about the affordable housing. She said she and the board is trying to balance the issue and she was thinking on a half acre increase and what it would do to affordability. It is something she has worked on in previous positions as well. She promised Crystal that the board is considering the issues saying, “We’re working on it.”

Much of the discussion centered on lot size changes and the effect the changes will have on citizens and the county. Other commenters repeated asking the commissioners to delay and look closer at what consequences and effects the changes may cause.

The meeting also saw minor confusion on the exact changes as the county continues to work on the issue. It has yet to formally approve anything on the Land Use Ordinance, and, in fact, it remains in unfinished business on their agendas as the county once again pushed back approving advertisement of the changes in favor of continuing talks with the community. Some of the confusion in the community has come from exactly this reason, the county has had two separate meetings with numerous speakers both for and against the changes being discussed. As new changes and adjustments are made at every meeting, the county is constantly changing the proposed ordinances to keep pace with citizens comments.

ordinance

Keith Sumner, a local builder in Gilmer, debates the Land Use Ordinance and its effects on citizens.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said during the meeting that if they were to have voted on something that day, it would only have been to advertise changes.

To make these changes, the county must go first approve an official advertisement of the changes, hold an official public comments meeting, then approve the changes once during a monthly meeting, then approve changes a second time during the following meeting for final adoption of those changes. After all of January with its work session, regular meeting, and a special called meeting, the county has yet to take its first official step in making these changes to the ordinance.

Instead, with some commenters in the meeting asking the county to look again and one asking to wait and see if the market changes soon, they are once again tabling the discussion to possibly adjust the changes once more and consider advertising again in February. Pushing the item back is creating an issue with the county’s moratorium in place and set to expire in a few months. The County Attorney David Clark suggested the board consider this alongside their motion to table the discussion. He asked that if the commissioner continue pushing the vote back, they discuss lifting the moratorium. He said it could be unfair to developers to continue the moratorium indefinitely if the ordinance change discussions continued too much longer.

Clark said, “I’d encourage you not to extend the moratorium.”

ordinanceClark also warned that he felt like much of the current discussion focused on lot sizes, but there could be more “nuts and bolts” in the changes that could come to light after the lot sizes.

Other issues the county is considering includes road quality and zoning labels among others.

Ferguson requested a joint meeting between the Board of Commissioners and the Planning Commission to further discuss the Land Ordinance. Paris agreed saying that he also wanted some representation from the Builders Association and a few other associations at the meeting to include their input as well.

That joint meeting has officially been published for Monday, February 8, 2021, at 2:30 p.m. in the Jury Assembly Room of the Gilmer County Courthouse. It will prove to be a busy week for the county as this meeting comes only two days before their February Work Session on February 10, 2021, at 9 a.m. and the Regular Meeting on February 11, 2021, at 6 p.m., both at the same location.

The county is also going to obtain information from other neighboring counties on the topic from the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC).

Chairman assures citizens that changes are to limit density

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last week’s meeting and discussions addressing Gilmer’s growth and density concerns. The Chairman of the Board of Commissioners as responded to clarify the county’s current actions on the Land Use Ordinance.

Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris said to FYN, “I think many, many people have taken your article the wrong way. They believe that we are trying to increase the density for the sake of growth. In fact, we are trying to hold the density down by making changes to the land use ordinance that will provide less density, rather than more.”

In truth, three major comments were voiced in the Commissioners’ January Work Session offering concerns over the Land Ordinance as it stands now. The county is looking at its future becoming far more densely populated through if major projects are allowed to continue to grow. However, Paris assured citizens in his response that part of what they are looking at is ways to decrease the county’s density growth. One note of discussion from January’s meeting came over lot sizes. In his response, Chairman Paris stated, “We are trying to ensure that Gilmer County stays a rural, agricultural community and not the opposite. We do this primarily by increasing the minimum lot sizes for building. I know that this will make it more expensive for people to build – although they will have the advantage of more land – but it is the only workable way to reduce density as Gilmer grows.”

Indeed, growth has continued coming to the county, even despite the national pandemic of COVID-19. Just looking at SPLOST Numbers from June and July of 2020, as reported in an August 2020 Article on FYN, saw major economic increases despite widespread closures and shelter-in-place orders at that time. Yet, economic growth also includes the County’s Tourism, which is a major impact. However, the county also noted nine multi-lot developments in July of 2020. A number that showed major changes to parts of Gilmer County’s mostly rural make-up.

With the major increases and continuing uptick in developments like this, concerns have been raised like those noted from County Attorney David Clark. Paris states, “David was warning about what would happen if we did not make the changes – he wasn’t warning us about what will happen if we do make the changes.”

Density

Planning and Zoning Director Karen Henson speaks to the Board of Commissioners about the Land Use Ordinance changes and recommendations.

As previously reported, County Attorney David Clark stated in the meeting, “Gilmer is known and is an agricultural community. The density that is allowed, the size of the lots that are allowed at this current time, is going to change that.”

It is a statement echoed by Paris in his response today as he stated, “Right now, the land use ordinance in Gilmer will allow for a very high density future. The proposed changes will actually reduce the prospects for such a high density future and protect our rural, agricultural status as Gilmer grows.”

The board as whole and the commissioners individually are continuing to look at the density growth and at citizen comments urging them to stop the increasing density in the county as they are currently considering changes to the Land Use Ordinance. According to Paris, these changes are now and have been looking to plug up loopholes and protect certain rural aspects of the county that both the citizens and he want to keep.

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