GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – With several zoning requests considered for January, two saw increased opposition alongside some support from residents, neighbors, and members of Keep Gilmer Rural (KGR). The nearly three hour meeting on January 20, 2022, saw discussion stretch from public discussion to debate among the board members over issues.
The first debated application came for 128 Adventure Trail by Jonathan Graves to rezone from R-1 to A-1 in support of a Hobby Livestock Farm.
Those in opposition to the rezoning spoke against the location being surrounded by other Residential zoned lots. Some noted other allowances that could come to the site if sold. Additionally, concerns were raised over potential nuisances for close neighbors and references were made to Gilmer’s ordinances.
An opposition was also noted about the environment as the location tends to drain into the road in heavy storms and then into a creek which feeds into a pond and then on into the lower Cartecay River.
Both Graves and one speaker in support of the application noted that while no A-1 zones touched his property there are some large A-1 zones nearby. Graves noted that one of these farms already drains into the local creeks in a natural way. He said he may not know everything about the impact of that, but his intentions were not to build an intensive animal farm. Rather, a more hobby-livestock style of farming would mean less animals and drainage than many were thinking.
With board members debating about due diligences when buying properties, one noted that a lot doesn’t have to have A-1 touching it to be considered. Chairman Mooney stated, “I’m sympathetic to what Mr. Graves is trying to do but he stated he bought it with the intention to do agricultural type activity. The proper way to do it is to get it rezoned the way you want it before you purchase it.”
Ultimately, a motion and approval came with one opposed to deny the application.
The nights second major discussion came for a new 50 unit subdivision at 0 Boardtown, Cherry Log. A 66.37 acre tract comes in under the moratorium while maximizing the acreage. The applicant, Joe Sission of Sisson Corporation, stated, “We are requesting it to be zoned R-1 to build vacation homes.”
When asked about how many homes, Sission said he hadn’t done a preliminary yet. Though he estimated 50 homes considering space for roads, easements, water system, and driveways.
The property is looking to connect to different roads for ingress and egress including potential options of Boardtown Road, Lucius Road, Goose Island Road, and Whitepath Road.
With concerns raised over traffic and contamination of a spring, the major issue debated by public speakers came with speakers using Mooney’s own words saying that the rezoning should have been sought upon buying the land. Citizens pointed to Sission’s experience both as a developer and as a Planning and Zoning Board member that he should have sought the rezoning when he purchased the property.
The discussion became a major focal point with some calling it favoritism and unfair zoning that the board might consider this zoning minutes after telling another applicant that a major zoning change with major impact is subject to “due diligence” that should have been sought before completing a purchase.
Others also pointed to a lack of planning and information available during the meeting for both the board and citizens to consider. The stated that Sisson himself noted he hadn’t done a preliminary and was unable to give specifics on how many homes he was building.
Sisson replied saying, “As far as a plan stating exactly how many houses that would be put on this piece of property, it would be impossible to determine until we know if we’re able to get the zoning.”
One speaker spoke to how Sisson has improved and bettered areas of the county. Sisson himself later added that he would be aiding in tourism which has been one of the county’s greatest sources of income.
Board discussion spoke about the differences in the two applications and the involvement of animals and going from Agriculture to Residential and inversely. Mooney stated in response to the comparisons, “It is a different situation. But that was one of the factors that played in my decision. It wasn’t the only factor, it wasn’t the main factor. There were several factors that weighed in. I try to take in all the factors and weigh those.”
The board also noted several access points would allow the traffic disbursement to spread along different roads. Mooney also noted that it would be ideal for every citizen to be able to afford 100 acres to build on. He said it isn’t practical, though. He stated, “With the smaller tracts, you’re putting people in homes that probably couldn’t afford them if they were bigger tracts.”
However, several citizens noted after the meeting that Mooney was off-base in his comments as he was speaking of homes for people to live in that couldn’t afford larger homes while Sisson specifically noted in the beginning that he was building vacation homes and second homes and later noted he wanted to aid in tourism. Citizens were angered by the unanimous approval of the development in the meeting.
Kimberly Reckles, an attendee to the meeting, later commented on social media saying, “I still cannot wrap my head around why they denied a young family a zoning variance — from R-1 to Ag-1 — to build themselves a private hobby farm, but approved a variance from Ag1 to R-1 for Sisson to build a 50 lot subdivision in the middle of agriculturally zoned land.”