Commissioners revamp Land Use changes again

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Land Use

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.

Land Use

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson

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.

Elections, Density, Land Use

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

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.

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

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ordinance

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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Elections, Density

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.

Gilmer looks at developments, subdivisions, and it’s future as rural or metro

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ordinance

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.

Public Works Director Jim Smith

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.

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