ELLIJAY, Ga. – “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” A sign say in front of the Gilmer County Courthouse’s Jury Assembly Room, brought by one of the supporters of the county’s Animal Shelter and an expansion plan alongside two major donations for the facility.
The plan actually includes both expansion and retrofitting of the facility. With encouragement from groups like FOGAS (Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter), Volunteers Helping the Gilmer County Animal Shelter, Paws Be Good, Homeward Bound, Furry Paws, and many others according to Jack Peyton of FOGAS, who spoke first in the Commissioners meeting on September 9, 2021.
The expansion and donations have been discussed before with questions arising over how the county will support the annual increase in budget for maintaining a larger facility.
Many of those who spoke at the meeting, including Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka, stated that the need for a larger facility is already here and more growth is coming. Laukka and others spoke about how animals have become so increased in number that they are being housed in areas like offices simply because their is not enough room elsewhere. With cages in his own office for cats, Laukka spoke of the benefits that the expansion and retrofit will provide in caring for the animals, and how some money could be saved in the annual costs.
Minor items like having to take animals to the vets office for spay/neuter appointments will be neutralized as the expansion has a small area for vets to come and perform the procedures in the animal shelter with equipment in the shelter.
Laukka said he already has 2 vets committed to coming to the shelter to do this. With volunteers continuing to help when possible, speakers in the meeting repeated the need that they have seen as they have helped and visited the shelter. He also noted that a local commercial laundry service has offered to service new laundry equipment designated in the retrofit for free. Also helping with some additional maintenance costs.
Additional discussion moved from what is needed to what has already been accomplished. Dr. William Mitchell, a veterinarian, walked to the podium and said, “I am here to speak in support of Daniel.”
Though the topic at hand was about plans to expand the animal shelter, many of the speakers spoke specifically to what Director Daniel Laukka has accomplished and the leadership he has provided. Dr. Mitchell went on to say he has worked with Animal Control facilities for several decades, “I have never seen a more dedicated and hard working individual than Daniel.”
Laukka himself said he could never do what he does without his staff and supporting groups. It is a collective of efforts from the community that support the shelter.
Programs from supporting groups have allowed for help in the community like low cost spays and neuters for those who need it and the capturing of feral cats in order to spay/neuter and then re-release.
All of these culminate in a department that citizens said has every county in North Georgia looking at Gilmer and how they handle this. One speaker went so far as to call it a “mecca” of the animal shelters in the area.
Laukka himself noted that in 2013, the shelter averaged around 1800 to 2000 animals a year. Laukka noted that close to 1100 of those animals were euthanized every year. WIth expansion first looked at four years ago, according to Laukka, the county instead went with a van that is used in partnership with other programs in other states in the north.
With this hard work towards becoming a “no kill” status, Laukka said in the meeting, “Ninety-nine percent of the animals that come into the shelter now, leave the shelter alive, adoptable, healthy. I get all the credit for it but I couldn’t do it without all the volunteers and the employees. The employees do way more than anybody could ever know.”
Almost 45 minutes of discussion saw every single person that did stand to speak on the topic discussing their support for accepting the donations and the expansion plans. After that, the commissioners moved to the agenda item on the plans.
A very emotional night saw several speakers fighting back tears, and so followed Chairman Paris as he said, “I understand. I can’t say a lot, but I’m going to make a motion to accept the money and build a shelter.”
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson later seconded the motion after clarifying and Paris’ amending his motion that the county fund an expansion with costs not to exceed the fund for the building from the donations. He explained the fund contains a little over $1.5 million. As such, the fund is specifically designated for the shelter. Paris said there is nothing else it can be used for.
According to a statement by FOGAS, “The input, planning, architectural work, and engineering have been completed for this expansion project.” Now, the county will take on the plans with the intent to bid and begin construction. The engineer was present at the meeting and relayed that with the work that’s been done, the county could be bidding the project by the end of the year with construction to begin in 2022.
Speaking on the expansion, Director Laukka said, “I could probably stand up here and talk for hours about what we’ve accomplished over the last few years but I want to accomplish more over the next few years as well. It’s definitely something we have to do together.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Over two hours of citizens speaking for and against a moratorium on large subdivisions saw some division on the Board of Commissioners with a 2-1 vote approving the moratorium.
A “defining moment” is what citizen Tom Whatley called the August 23, 2021, meeting that was special called to discuss the moratorium. In it, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said that he wanted to better manage some growth. With Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson holding the dissenting vote against the moratorium, it came down to Post Commissioner Hubert Parker to second the motion for the moratorium and then provide the second vote for it.
The moratorium, according to the Board of Commissioners, will allow the county to partner with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission to implement studies across the county for growth, infrastructure, and traffic, among others. The board noted Ethan Calhoun would be there NWGRC contact during those studies. The debate between citizens saw fairly even discussion on those speaking for and against the moratorium. The same debate fell to the commissioners themselves with those for and those against.
Even Parker and Paris debated and adjusted the original motion before coming to a final vote. Paris started the meeting offering a preliminary idea to start the discussion, a 9 month moratorium on subdivisions exceeding 25 lots. However, the first citizen speaking during the night, Joene DePlancke, questioned aspects of the moratorium to clarify what the county was discussing. DePlancke countered Paris’ preliminary idea and said 50 lots would be better.
After 2 solid hours of discussion, Parker offered a second to the motion for 9 months and 50 lots as he said, he was seconding just so they could discuss it. That discussion saw Parker suggesting 6 months instead of 9 months. Parker said, “I know how you will push to get it done in six months.”
Paris acquiesced to the request for six months with the understanding that the board could extend another three months if really necessary.
Much debate centered originally on the growth in the county, and the common theme throughout the night included “affordable housing.” Many developers suggested that an abundance of homes and subdivisions could aid in that, while others argued against the concept saying that high priced subdivisions are not “affordable.”
Misty Dove spoke to the commissioners about that concern. Working in social services, she noted there is a two year backlog in Fannin, Gilmer, and Pickens for help finding affordable homes for people in local jobs.
Yet, others still voiced concerns against any government answer to the housing. From overlay districts to impact fees and subsidized housing, many ideas and thoughts went back and forth through speakers. Keith Nunn, owner of Appalachian Supply, noted that many of the subdivisions being built by local builders were smaller comparative to some of those being reported that contain thousands of acres.
Many supported the idea to have these studies in the county alongside NWGRC, but the pushback came on a moratorium stopping building. Several speakers called it a halt to growth and a halt to building in the county.
Develle Frady noted a similar boom in 2006 and noted over 638 permits pulled in that year. This year, 2021, he noted 226 permits this year as of August when the meeting was held. He went on to voice concerns against the moratorium and spoke about many of the lots developed over the years are still empty. He also pointed to panic in the early 2000’s and estimates that Gilmer would be 44,000 people by 2010. He said that now, in 2021, there still isn’t 44,000 people.
Frady said that he’s been in the county for 57 years since he was born here. However, he said that he was 30 before he could make a decent living here.
Many citizens pointed to the Comprehensive Plan in the county and areas. Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson noted that she put a lot of work into the plan and wants to see it used better.
Ferguson said that she believed the testing and the Regional Commission’s work could be done while continuing the growth and building in the county. She said, “I don’t think we need to stop growth, stop building, stop anything right now.”
She went on to add, “I think you’re going to be hurting us, by putting this moratorium on, on our chances for affordable housing because the prices will go up. And six months? Unfortunately, I know all too well now how quickly the government works, and it’s not fast… I don’t know how soon, now we have COVID coming back in, that will happen with this testing.”
Like many present, Ferguson agreed that the testing should be done. However, she said she was not for the moratorium.
With the 2-1 vote, Gilmer County is under this moratorium currently. Paris said the county has already engaged the NWGRC for testing and begun the process in recent days. Now, with the moratorium in place, the county is waiting for results and is likely to be looking at zoning and regulations on the larger subdivisions in the coming future.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Major crowds have been surging into Planning and Zoning Meetings recently for several different reasons from affordable housing to local zoning change requests.
August was no different as 12 people stood at the podium to speak during the Thursday, August 19, 2021, meeting to respond specifically to a campground. The campground, located on Laurel Trail, is 5.19 acres of land looking to establish geodesic domes under a campground with company for “glamping.”
According to Karen Henson, the application came under older rules with the A1 agriculture before the Gilmer BOC changed camping to an outdoor recreation designation.
Through investigation, it appears there may be covenants on the property, and attorneys have gotten involved at this time. County Attorney David Clark suggested waiting for a declaratory judgment on the binding nature of the covenants as they are older. He noted automatic renewals, but said a declaratory judgment would protect the county and allow the courts to offer their “decision.”
A number of local residents and land owners in the area of the location opposed the application in meeting. The gathering all stood at the podium at once as a show of opposition. Voicing traffic and the current quiet nature of the area, some points they made against the zoning change included the inclusion of a commercial site right in the middle of a large residential area.
The owners of the application spoke in rebuttal saying that they want the same quiet low impact area that the residents are asking for. They offered promises that they wanted to keep it with as little impact as they could and that they have managers to oversee the properties.
As the board members leaned away from their microphones to discuss privately, there eventually came a call for a motion.
But while the motion came to change the zoning to Agricultural. The board opted to deny the application in light of the legal issues wrapped up in the subject. This is, however, a recommendation an the Board of Commissioners will make the final determination.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is nearing the August Millage Rate approvals and citizens are hearing those rates advertised this week as required. Both the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education have approved the advertising and are now open to public input before the early August deadlines.
The BOC approved their advertisement yesterday with the calculated Rollback Rate of 6.222 mills.
With that, their estimated tax revenue sits at $10,390,546.
Additionally, the BOC also discussed their Bond Millage Rate. The commissioners have been discussing lowering that rate back from the added “half mill” since the days of former Post Commissioner Dallas Miller. Last year saw that Bond Millage lower by one quarter, going from 1.5 mills to 1.25 mills with indications and discussions that they would be looking at the other quarter of a mill later.
This weeks’ advertisements followed through with those indications as the second quarter was removed for a total Bond Millage Rate of 1.0 mills.
With that, their estimated Bond Rate sits at $1,683,091.
As for the Board of Education, their advertised millage rate is at it lowest point in recent years, according to Chief Financial Officer Trina Penland. Penland reported an increase in the digest of about 15 percent.
With their Rollback Rate, the board is advertising the millage at 12.624 mills. Slowly declining the rate since 2011, Penland said that values have continued increasing in our areas.
With that, their estimated tax revenue sits at $18,169,000.
All of these millage rates are in advertisement stages, allowing the public to comment and contact their elected officials on the millage rate before then.
From here, the Board of Education will hold a special called meeting on August 9 at 6 p.m according to statements made in their meeting. The Board of Commissioners will be holding their regular work session Wednesday morning, August 11, 2021, at 9 a.m. and then they will give final approval for their own rate as well as approval to collect the Board of Education’s Rate at 6 p.m during their Regular Meeting on August 12, 2021.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Board of Commissioners is reporting another round of advertisements for their ongoing pool project with no official bids.
Despite receiving no bids, the county has gotten interest in the project with contractors questioning and discussing the advertisement. Project Manager Loy Jarrett shared with the the board and the public that many of those showing interest declined to submit a bid as they are very busy with projects currently. He went on to add that the advertisement held a completion date by Memorial Day in 2022.
The board did debate whether they should rerun the advertisements with a completion date. However, the county is not rerunning the advertisement at this time. While this was considered and even thought to possibly have an effect on the bids, other considerations by the board pointed to current costs of supplies and continued fluctuations in those prices. Rerunning the advertisement without a completion date still might not get bids due to the instability of prices.
Chairman Charlie Paris also indicated he wants to see completion sooner rather than later. However, the board as a whole said they want to consider all options and possibilities.
A couple of those possible options on a path ahead could include the county operating as its own general contractor hiring each crew and overseeing the project by themselves. Another option is hiring a construction project manager.
From the public, a suggestion was made to scale back the project to a smaller scale so the county could have something and then added onto later.
Paris noted that a pool like this isn’t something you can put in and then just expand. The county also decided on the current size based on requested uses from swim teams utilizing lanes for competition and practice to some looking for classes like water aerobics. However, the county did discuss the subject as a possibility, whether it scaled back size or just features.
Rebidding could see a halt until at least next year if the county decides to follow other paths or simply wait until some of the contractors are not so backed up, but another possibility could see the county rebidding in the next couple of months.
The county did offer more news in the regular session to point them down the path toward rebidding the project sooner rather than later. Paris noted that the county had been in contact with a commercial pool builder that showed some interest. Paris said that talking further with the company and as they gain more information, the board could reconsider paying for one more round of bidding if given assurances that this company would bid. This way, the county would know they would be getting some kind of bid from at least one company.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – River Park in Ellijay has been uplifted and changed numerous times with upgrades over recent years, from the massive facelift to the playgrounds to upgrades to the walking path and ballfield relocations.
Those changes are continuing this summer as previously approved projects are continuing their progress towards completion. One of those projects includes Georgia Power updating the underground utilities. In February 2021, FYN reported that the county was discussing an easement for excavation and subsequent repairs to areas of the park to install underground utilities.
At that time, County Attorney David Clark noted the county would be making some minor changes to the agreement before returning it to Georgia Power for final approval.
Now, the easement returned to the Commissioners with a change requested. That change that has been going back and forth involves protections for the civil war memorial in front of the civic center. Chairman Charlie Paris said today that the plan does involve some above ground equipment. In the original plan, one of these spots was very close to the memorial. The new plan has the equipment moved. However, Paris said its not enough as he has requested that Georgia Power move it further away from the memorial in order to preserve the site.
Paris said that Georgia Power could have an answer by tomorrow’s meeting. It was originally reported as citizens could be seeing construction at the park and mistake it for construction on the pool. The pool project has seen constant delays and stoppages over the last year as the county officially halted the project early in the COVID-19 pandemic in order to reassess finances and the economic effect of the virus. In March of 2020, the pool project halted.
Then the Commissioners returned to the project in early 2021, but saw another delay as the engineering firm became quarantined in February. But after the short delay, with specifications set, the county approved advertising for bids on the project.
Now, the county is amid the advertising window and accepting bids. Members of the board are considering holding a Special Called meeting in the last week of May as another item may need attention as well. While the board did not officially set a date today, they did say they would be discussing dates.
With the pool construction back in full swing and Georgia Power also seeking to upgrade equipment on site, River Park is continuing its climb in upgrades and renovations through this summer as citizens are continuing to visit the park for sports, training, and personal healt
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.
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – An announcement today from Gilmer Chairman Charlie Paris informed the public of an additional large donation to the Gilmer County Animal Shelter.
The announcement came amid a special called meeting, but it is the first mention of the donation in public as Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said it happened yesterday, February 23, 2021. Paris said that the county is receiving $1 million in a donation to expand and improve the county’s Animal Shelter.
The county has received other donations recently. Two separate donations of $200,000 each set the county to expect to add in $100,000 in county funds to improve the Animal Shelter. Paris noted then and reiterated today that the county is looking at an increased need in the department.
These previous donations, when made, pushed the county to look at the shelter and the use for that money in improving and addressing the needs that were coming.
Paris suggested that the coming need to increase staff at the location is likely inevitable as he said that Gilmer’s Shelter is gaining a statewide reputation for its operations. The Director of the Animal Shelter is Daniel Laukka. Laukka has been praised numerous times through the community and through the county’s government during specific meetings addressing the department such as budget meetings.
The shelter has made allies both in and outside the county, working with other shelters to find homes for pets. Some of their efforts outside of the county include transporting animals north for support outside of the state of Georgia. These animals that have not found homes here in Gilmer are given more opportunities elsewhere. Just this week, the Animal Shelter posted information about transporting pets to Illinois.
However, these programs are made possible by community support and aid. One of the most well known partnerships comes from working with the public through the community driven support program, “Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter” (FOGAS).
According to their page, FOGAS is a Georgia, non-profit, tax exempt, 501(C)3, all volunteer organization that raises funds to save homeless pets at Gilmer County Animal Shelter.
The now $1.5 million project to expand the shelter is facing two separate issues that the county is discussing. The first being that such an expansion will undoubtedly increase expenses for the Animal Shelter, a department that is one of the county’s smaller budgets according to the board. Post Commissioner Hubert Parker urged the board as a whole to consider the increase that this project will bring, not only though increasing required staff for operations but also for the increase in utilities and supplies. Paris said at one point that he expects a need for one or two additional personal even before looking at plans to expand the facility.
The second issue comes not from the shelter itself, but rather from today’s economy. With the effects of the COVID-19 virus still being felt, Paris noted that building supplies and costs are still increasing. Though the county had an architect look at plans and consider the project last year, Paris said in today’s meeting, “What I was anticipating that we could get for that half million dollars, turns out, in today’s environment, to be just about what we can for that million-and-a-half dollars.”
Paris said that a lot of the increase seems to be coming from the COVID virus through materials and shortages.
The Board of Commissioners is taking extra time on the project. Considering the new donation, changes are coming to increase the plans and to address the new donation. One idea to address came in today’s discussion as Parker asked if the board might consider asking the donor if part of the funds might be set aside for operations. Parker explained that the concept might include setting aside $200,000 or $300,000 and to use the earnings off of that to help support the animal shelter operations. However, he offered the thoughts as an example that the county could discuss with those who gave the donation.
Paris did note that any project or plan for the facility still has a lot of unanswered questions. Having just received the donation, the county is looking at possibilities and their impacts on the county and the Shelter going forward.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Addressing suggestions from outfitters, law enforcement, and citizens on the county’s River Committee, Gilmer is looking to move forward with changes to the river ordinance for regulations.
Much of the conversation amongst members of the Board of Commissioners involved marking areas of the take-out for loading and changing from required wristbands for people on the river to requiring a stamp on people’s hands.
The county is looking to further cleaning efforts in the take out location in order to open more space as they are hoping to mark a line that people should not cross, allowing the vehicles unblocked access to pull in and out. Additionally, the outfitters would use sequentially numbered forms with signatures to match to the stamps. The county tracks those numbers to keep track of the number of people on the river in order to keep track of the dollar per person used in funding projects for the river.
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson disagreed with changing the wristbands saying that she felt they worked well. However, the board decided to try the stamps out for this year saying that they could return and change back or change to something else if need be.
The county is also reserving the right to be on premises at the take out location to observe operations on the county property. Along with this, the BOC said that current understanding was that a sheriff’s deputy would be on location on the weekends of the season to monitor and help with situations like alcohol consumption and trespassers.
Though discussions continued over details of the ordinance change, the board is ultimately waiting for a Special Called Meeting later in February to approve the changes for advertisement as they await County Attorney David Clark to add in more changes addressed during the county’s work session meeting.
Some additional details are also going into the final copy that the commissioners are expected to adopt later this month as they all indicated to be supportive of the most of the changes. FYN will be adding new information when the final version is adopted for advertisement and when this meeting is scheduled.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Engineering reports are completed and in the hands of the Commissioners for their pool project.
The project saw a delay early this month when COVID hit the engineering firm causing a major quarantine. However, with the specs and the firm working alongside Project Leader Loy Jarrett and County Attorney David Clark, reports indicate that Gilmer could be bidding out the project as early as mid-March.
Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said that the advertisement will have to be open for four weeks as it is a public works project, which means bidding would last into May. Citizens could see the county awarding the bid in their May Regular Meeting.
One change to previous designs came with modifications to move the diving well to the right side, from the center. That is moved to the right hand side when viewed from the civic center.
One point of note that Post Commissioner Hubert Parker put forth was to inform citizens that the progress is underway and while the designs are in, the finalization of the bid package is being undertaken as a part of the same project with the firm.
With that, citizens could be seeing physical progress on construction in May or June after that bid process is completed, awarded, and the contracted company begins the project.
The county was looking to a special called meeting towards the end of February to look at final approval for advertising the project for bids and a few other items. However, with optimistic news coming on the day of the Regular Meeting, the Commissioners did move forward with approving advertisement of the bid package upon completion.
With that approval, the next step is to wait for the advertisement period and bid openings before citizens will know which company will be actually building the new pool.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Once again returning to conversations of an election board in Gilmer County, the Board of Commissioners is putting the agenda item to create a board on hold.
According to Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, the BOC will not host the agenda item on every meeting as previously planned. The decision came among the board’s agreement after Paris reported that he thought it best to seek an alternative path due to his investigations and considerations of the board’s make-up.
Paris said, “When I got to looking around some at Elections Boards, what I found is that yeah almost all counties have them, but a lot of counties are having a lot of problems with them.”
Paris noted Fulton County specifically whose election board is denying legal requests for documents. He also noted reported problems in Fannin County where board members won’t speak to each other.
Paris said, “I don’t believe the two parties can hold civil conversation between themselves nowadays.” Though he noted that he previously believed Gilmer might be one of the few places it could occur, he no longer felt that way.
Acknowledging that elections have grown, Paris said he understood that elections are so minutely watched and that the work is substantially larger than it used to be.
The discussion continued with Post Commissioner Hubert Parker saying he agreed with not moving forward on an election board until the alternative has been studied.
That alternative that the Board of Commissioners agreed to pursue and the Probate Judge Scott Chastain is currently looking into, involves reconfiguring the Probate Office to possibly include some extra staff to “offload” some of that work.
What the Probate Office would use this staff for in off years without elections is yet to be discussed. However, the concept is in very early stages as both entities continue to look for a path forward.
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I think that’s fantastic because that group has done a fantastic job with our elections.”
Paris echoed the sentiment saying Gilmer is among the few counties, in his opinion, that had a flawless election.
With a solid path forward for the commissioners, Paris made a final note that he told Judge Chastain that if there was a push in state legislation to force a Board of Elections, Gilmer would “fight it tooth and nail.”
However, Paris was also quick to note that while he shared this with Judge Chastain, it was not as a threat. Rather he wanted him to know the county’s stance. Paris said the conversation was “not contentious.” He went on to add that Chastain has been very civil in all conversations considering the county’s path forward for elections.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners took another meeting this week to revisit changes to the Land Use Ordinance considering density, Residential, and Agricultural Zonings.
This time, the board met alongside the Planning Commission to inquire and discuss changes with them as well. While much of the focus recently has been on R-1 and R-2 zones and the lot size for those zones, the commissioners ultimately focused on Agricultural for most of its changes as proposed by the end of the meeting.
After the nearly two-and-a-half-hour meeting, these changes included backing off of lot-size changes in R-1 and R-2 as Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he spoke with “a representative from the regional commission and the Department of Community Affairs last week.”
Paris said his discussion with the regional commissioner representative suggested that the high-density growth would follow the sewer lines through the county. Paris did say he wants to keep an eye on the topic so as to address it if this is not the issue.
Paris said of his discussion, “Without sewer lines, septic systems themselves will be something of a restriction because the health department will not approve so many of them that it endangers our groundwater supply.”
Along that idea, Paris said he contacted the Water-Sewer Authority to inquire of plans to expand the sewer system. He reported that he was told there were no plans.
Paris noted that the county also hosts a comprehensive plan to indicate regions to support agriculture in the county while designating areas for residential and density housing.
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson agreed with the concept as well referencing a need for “affordable housing” in the county. A topic discussed over recent years in the Chamber, County Plans, and other agencies looking to increase workforce housing.
Ferguson did say that her concerns come from R-2 developments in isolated parts of the county. These become islands of high-density housing in the county.
Ultimately, however, changes to Residential Zone in the Land Use Ordinance changes were left behind in support of the theory that these projects will follow sewer lines and the idea that the board may revisit the idea when sewer lines expand or density does become a larger issue. One change that looks like it will remain for residential is the hobby livestock coverage. Instead of supporting large animals, the new change will likely only allow chickens and possibly small animals like goats in residential. Most of the meeting considered only allowing chickens until a comment brought up the idea of goats specifically. With the board’s efforts focused on larger animals including cows and horses, the main focus is likely to allow for a limited number of smaller animals for personal use.
The board instead is going forward with increasing lot size minimums from 3 acres to 5 acres for Agricultural zones. Also, they will move forward with separating campgrounds into their own Agricultural Recreation (AR) Zone, though the name is probably going to change before approval. This zone will require 25 acres and a 300-foot buffer for the campgrounds and RV grounds to be built in the county.
Lessening the restrictions among lot sizes in the county comes after a packed meeting and many developers loudly opposing the restrictions saying the county is hurting their businesses.
However, the county also saw a meeting last month considering the changes with many supporting the changes to keep Gilmer a rural county.
Additionally, Paris himself opened this meeting saying he has received numerous emails both for and against the Land Use changes.
The third major discussion of the meeting focused on roads in the county and maintaining the quality of those roads throughout the county. As one of the driving forces, not much changed in the roads changes, however, consideration was given to shoulder widths in the county as thoughts were given to burying utility cables and the possibility of fiber optics stretching through the county.
The changes discussed were handed off to County Attorney David Clark who will be scribing the changes into the resolution to amend the Land Use Ordinance. The county is looking at these changes and could be seeing further discussion Thursday night at their Regular Meeting. However, the Board is also considering another Special Called Meeting towards the end of the month to discuss it then along with other topics.
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.”
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Land Ordinance could push our county into a metro city rather than our rural agricultural based feel. A comment from County Attorney David Clark offered his professional opinion on what could happen with releasing density restrictions on land use ordinances.
The topic was ultimately pushed to a later meeting, however, that decision came after a lengthy discussion on the proposed changes. Revisits to the ordinance have come after a Gilmer has experienced record setting numbers and sizes of developments in the county. In July of 2020, there were nine multi-lot developments with plans filed. An overabundance of developments like this could and is changing the face of Gilmer County. For better or worse is a split response among some citizens and developers.
Even the County Attorney David Clark warned the Board on the possible outcomes of the new ordinance as it appears. Commenting on the high number of developments, Clark said part of the need for a response was due to “the high demand that was being placed on the infrastructure that simply wasn’t there.”
Clark went on to offer the board his thoughts on increasing population density saying, “Density is not a friend to an agricultural community. In my opinion, it’s the enemy.”
With notes referencing the county’s own emblem, he pointed out the major agricultural influence the county has through its poultry, apple orchards, and the mountain rural life. He also offered other counties as evidence including North Cobb and Paulding Counties when he was much younger.
Clark said, “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.”
The continuing density growth and concerns have been echoed through citizens comments on recent topics such as the Flint Mountain Holdings’ 305 lot major subdivision on Highway 282.
More recently, September saw a major moratorium on certain subdivisions, greenspace developments, and Class E Roads. These large developments are now continuing to push for a return to work since that moratorium. However, discussions on the Land Use Ordinance are continuing after minor confusion on some of the recommendations from the Planning Boards and the needs of what the Commissioners and the people of the county desire for the ordinance and for developments in the future.
Clark called Gilmer County’s future a “bedroom-subdivision of Atlanta” if the major density increase is allowed to support increasing numbers of people working from home. The allowance of unrestricted developments could lead to this outcome. However, he said it ultimately comes down to what the Commissioners want Gilmer to look like “30 years down the road.”
He reiterated that this is a major part of shaping that future.
Speaking with Public Works Director Jim Smith, the Commissioners heard more concern for loopholes within the ordinance and fixes that Smith wants requiring rezoning from R2 high density in situations that do not meet certain requirements. Smith also spoke about county roads needing support in the face of these developments. Especially since these roads were not built to handle the traffic and wear due to the adverse impact.
Smith went on to add that he believed a solution for roads be that the developer need pay for the improvements that the roads require rather than setting that burden on taxpayers who must have the Road Department go out and improve, fix, and upgrade the roads.
Echoing similar sentiments, Planning and Zoning Director Karen Henson said that zoning should match road requirements and capabilities.
The county is ultimately trying to balance its growth with density, developers, roads, and citizens needs. Yet, no final action has been taken. Instead, the commissioners are looking to address this either next month or in a special called meeting before then.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Reports during a special called meeting of the Gilmer Board of Commissioners (BOC) indicate that the county’s pool project hit another delay this month.
Loy Jarret reported to the board that the engineering firm the county is using has been hit by the COVID virus. Due to this, at least a two week delay is coming to the pool construction project.
According to Jarrett, a large portion of the project is finished but the firm is now awaiting recovery and quarantine periods to end and for the firm to reconvene in order to finish the project. This means Gilmer will also see a delay in the promised 3 weeks originally promised. This could come closer to 6 weeks now.
The board is hoping to have the engineering finalized in February before returning to scheduling on the project which has been plagued with delays and issues including many from the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak and resurgence.
The pool project is attempting to continue under conditions after a major delay saw the Commissioners halt the project completely after demolition of the old pool last year. The commissioners, at that time, wanted to wait and see what the virus outbreak, quarantines, and self isolations would do to the county’s economy.
In the same area of the county, at River Park, the commissioners also approved an easement for Georgia Power to begin excavation and subsequent repairs to areas of the park to install underground utilities. According to County Attorney David Clark, the county will be making some minor changes to the agreement before returning it to Georgia Power for final approval.
With that, citizens could be seeing more immediate construction work in the area of River Park stretching through different areas. This construction work is not a part of the pool project, but rather Georgia Power performing this installation.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the continuing process of such a “major change” for Gilmer County on the horizon, the Board of Commissioners have continued questioning the need, process, make-up, and representation for an Elections Board outside of the Probate Office for the county.
Continuing the discussion this month, Probate Judge Scott Chastain spoke with Commissioners about the board again. However, he had also been answering commissioners questions outside of meetings, too. Delving into the idea, Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker had issued questions to Chastain via email in order to garner more information.
Parker asked three questions of the Probate Judge. Upon request, the Board of Commissioners have provided that email to the public. The following are Chastain’s answers for the Board of Elections, in his own words.
What is the problem or situation we are attempting to solve?
One of the problems I am facing is the amount of work that I have to do in my office as the Probate Judge. As the numbers increase here in Gilmer County, the more volume of work I will see in my office. Another problem I face is as an elected official that Is over elections, when I am on the ballot, I cannot have any involvement with the elections. I have to appoint three people and pay them to monitor the elections in my absence but ultimately, if something goes wrong, I am still the Election Superintendent and would be responsible for the outcome. I do not like that nor believe it to be fair. They tell me that I cannot have anything to do with the election but then hold me accountable if something goes wrong. I am attempting to fix a couple of things by requesting a Board of Registration and Elections. I am trying to assure the citizens of Gilmer County that they have someone or a board that can focus entirely on the registration and elections here in Gilmer County. I feel as though my other responsibilities and duties are keeping me from being able to do that. I am trying to restore confidence in our election process by removing the administration of elections by an elected official that appears on the ballot. I am also trying to preserve the right of Gilmer County to create this board on their own without the intervention from the State of Georgia. As I previously stated, it is just a matter of time before every county in Georgia has a board. With 31 Probate Judges left as Election Superintendents and 29 of those Judges wanting it removed from their office now, it is only a matter of time before Gilmer County will be forced to create one and I would rather us have the flexibility to create it now instead of like they tell us to.
How are elections handled now? What is your role and what is Tammy’s role?
I am not sure if you mean specifically or just generally. Right now, Tammy Watkins is in charge of registration and all early voting, including absentee ballots. My role is to over see the election side of it. Most of that will happen the day of election. I am also in charge of all qualifying and filing of the elected officials reports. Tammy does a large portion of that now. Tammy and I proof all ballots, order the ballots, order election supplies, Logistic and Accuracy testing of the election equipment, notifications in the news paper, sample ballot in the news paper, recruit poll workers, train poll workers, secure polling places, deliver all election equipment to polling places, Election Day support for poll workers, election results, upload election results, email election results to the state, pick up equipment from polling places, consolidate the election results, etc. Of course, Tammy and I have a wonderful team of folks to help us do all of this because there is no way one person could do it all. I also prepare a budget each year for elections and I am required to attend several hours of training in elections. Tammy also attends this training. I am also in charge of changing and/or consolidating precincts.
Generally, boards serve as an oversight function and do not handle the daily operations. What role do you think they would play in this situation?
I know that Tammy has several connections with nearby counties that have created boards in the past and I know that there are a few of them that have active working boards. Tammy would not be in favor of just an oversight board. This board would need to be active in the workings of an election. Tammy would have more insight into that than I would. I understand your concern and I respect it. I do not want to create a problem or burden for the county and that is why I am advocating for this board. With the increase of the workload in my office, if the elections remain, I will be forced to add staff in the coming years or worse, I will make a mistake because I am trying to do to much at one time. Both of these outcomes will cost the county more money. Tammy and I are already doing duplicate work at times. Because we are both trying to be sure that elections are ran the best they can be, we sometimes do the same task when it only needs to be done once. We both are responding to emails and phones calls at the same time, we both are trying to fix the same problem at the same time. We both attend training and we both have budgets related to elections. As you know, I have a Probate Judge budget and an Election budget. If there was a board appointed, Tammy could combine her Registrar budget with the Election budget and therefore eliminate one?
Chastain also offered a final paragraph in response. He stated,
I truly want what is best for Gilmer County. If I didn’t I would have just ask the Commissioners for additional compensation or additional staff. I feel the best thing that could be done right now is to form a board of registration and elections and put people in place to protect our elections by having people able to provide supervision 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Thank you again for seriously considering this proposal. If you have any follow up questions, please feel free to let me know. I look forward to hearing the discussion tomorrow morning.
As previously reported, the Board of Commissioners have yet to make an official resolution, but have been actively discussing and debating the make-up and the way they would like to create a board, indicating that they are likely to move forward with the establishing of such an entity. The coming months will see more details fleshed out on the topic and should provide a clearer picture on specifically how the county will move forward with this item.
Additionally, the Probate Office is set to finish out this year following up on the most recent elections, should anything arise. Chastain agreed with Commissioners about taking time to create the new Election Board. He did request, however, to have the board in place before the beginning preparations of the 2022 Governor’s race are needed.