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.

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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.

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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).

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

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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.

Zoning request for Hastings Development tabled

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Blue Ridge, Ga. – A development that has drawn the attention of many in Fannin County has once again come to a temporary halt as the developer seeks to have land rezoned in the City of Blue Ridge to accommodate the plans.

What has become known locally as the Hastings Development is a residential development set in the City of Blue Ridge with access points to Highway 515 and College Street. The 14 acre property sits adjacent to Overlook Subdivision.

The proposed development itself has seen a number of changes based on community feedback and most recently the city zoning board gave approval for an 83 town-home high density site. The Blue Ridge City Council has final say on whether zoning of the land will be changed for the development to take place.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Zoning, Hastings, Development, College Street, Highway 515, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, James Balli, Utility Director, Rebecca Harkins, Integrity Development Group LLC

Developer Johnnie Hastings addresses concerns of the citizens and presents a revitalized plan for the development.

The Hastings Development has been met with concerns ranging from the possibility of high volume traffic on narrow College Street to whether the city’s infrastructure can handle the additional stress of the new units.

A vote was expected to take place at the Jan. 12 Blue Ridge City Council meeting but with last minute changes to the proposed plans, a motion was made to table the decision until next month’s meeting.

“We listened,” Johnnie Hastings, the developer of the property, spoke to the council and citizens, “What is the need in the community? What is it that you guys need in terms of housing?”

Hastings explained that the original concept for the development dating back to Jan. 2020 was for affordable housing in the $250,000 range, but after gathering further community input the design was changed to upscale town-homes in the $450-500,000 range.

“I want to do something…that’s good for the community, that we can all get around,” Hastings said as he revealed the revised plan based on community push back to the suggested 83 town-homes, “Believe it or not but that’s my heart.”

Hastings’ new plan consists of 56 freestanding family homes at 4 homes per acre. The price will still be in the range $500,000 per home.

“We’re here to compromise and bring a little unity to this project,” Hastings said, adding, “At the end of the day you’ll be very pleased with what I did up there.”

Citizens who had come to the meeting to speak in opposition or at least express concerns over the development were taken off guard with the proposed changes to the site.

The main concerns echoed by the citizens present was the need for the new changes to be approved by the planning commission or flow through proper channels, whether the city’s infrastructure could handle the added usage and traffic coming onto College Street.

“It concerns me that you would vote on this when the planning commission has not,” one citizen spoke.

“The sewer system won’t handle it. The water system won’t handle it,” another citizen voiced.

Utility Director Rebecca Harkins addressed the concerns of city infrastructure stating that the city has more than enough capacity remaining in their system to handle the proposed development.

“I don’t have a position on this development,” Harkins stated adding that she simply wanted to present the public with the facts.

Harkins confirmed that the city did have capacity to handle the additional units to the system and that there are issues that need to be fixed and updated throughout the city’s infrastructure, but that those issues would have to be addressed regardless of the development adding on.

“I agree that it needs to be worked on and it needs to be worked on diligently,” Harkins said of the city’s current infrastructure and reassured residents that the development would cost nothing to the city: “The city does not fund any portion of the water and sewer system for a new development.” 

Harkins also pointed out that the developer would be financially responsible for any impacts on the system from the development to the plant caused directly by their connection.

Mayor Donna Whitener confirmed that City Attorney James Balli had sent in writing that council could vote on the rezoning if Hastings had lowered density but that it would need to go through proper channels before coming to council if the density had increased.

Council member Mike Panter made a motion to table the vote until the next regular meeting in Feb. giving the council more time to look over the proposed changes. 

All council members voted in favor of tabling the vote with the exception of Council member Rhonda Haight who stated her reason as “I think we’ve kept people waiting long enough”.

Preserving Dahlonega’s charm; concerned residents with rezoning project in Dahlonega

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A crowd of residents in Dahlonega's Parks & Rec. building for rezoning discussion.

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Residents flooded the Dahlonega City Council meeting, on Nov. 16, to stress their concerns for a future development in the region on rezoning. The development up for discussion being student housing. There is land – over 10 acres – right across from the Dahlonega Baptist Church that Signet Real Estate Group wants to utilize for such plans.

Major concerns with Dahlonega natives include traffic, impact on infrastructure, preservation of natural resources and noise/behavior of residents.

The breakdown brought by the Signet Group presented their plan of proposed use: a 92 unit – 298 bed – apartment house. With 217 parking spots. The plan was laid out for affordable housing for the college-aged demographic.

George Butler, attorney and resident of Lumpkin County, presented the alternative side which also seemed to be the community’s consensus. Butler spoke in defense of the Baptist church.

The area that the apartment organization desires to build on is registered on the national registrar of historic districts, according to Butler. It is known as the Hawkins Street Historic District.

Man in blazer presenting at city council about rezoning student apartments.

The demographic for the historic district is mostly single-family homes. Since the rise of COVID-19, Butler said that real estate values are going up exponentially. People are moving out of Atlanta, relocating to work remotely and there is need elsewhere; not student housing.

“Student apartments is not consistent with the visioning that Dahlonega is noted for its single-family, small town charm and whatever else you can say about student housing, it’s not charming,” Butler said.

Ethan Underwood, attorney for Signet Real Estate Group, said the plan for the development was submitted in the late summer. The organization, though, has been interested in the project for well over a year, according to Underwood.

Via communication with the University of North Georgia, they have identified a need for “high-quality student housing.” Underwood said there’s a lack of student housing and they are hoping to fix that, while also maintaining the charm of Dahlonega.

Signet Group went straight to establishing their plan with Planned Unit Development District also known PUD. Underwood said the current R1- single-family residential district plan would not work.

“The current zoning property is unconstitutional,” Underwood said. “It cannot be developed in an economically feasible manner. We’re trying to emphasize this use will satisfy the need for student housing but also would be a good fit for the community.”

A decision and vote still has yet to be made by council members. Discussion will continue at the next city council meeting on Dec. 7.

Preserving Dahlonega’s charm; concerned residents with rezoning project in Dahlonega

Community, News, Police & Government
A crowd of residents in Dahlonega's Parks & Rec. building for rezoning discussion.

rezoning

Residents flooded the Dahlonega City Council meeting, on Nov. 16, to stress their concerns for a future development in the region on rezoning. The development up for discussion being student housing. There is land – over 10 acres – right across from the Dahlonega Baptist Church that Signet Real Estate Group wants to utilize for such plans.

Major concerns with Dahlonega natives include traffic, impact on infrastructure, preservation of natural resources and noise/behavior of residents.

The breakdown brought by the Signet Group presented their plan of proposed use: a 92 unit – 298 bed – apartment house. With 217 parking spots. The plan was laid out for affordable housing for the college-aged demographic.

George Butler, attorney and resident of Lumpkin County, presented the alternative side which also seemed to be the community’s consensus. Butler spoke in defense of the Baptist church.

The area that the apartment organization desires to build on is registered on the national registrar of historic districts, according to Butler. It is known as the Hawkins Street Historic District.

Man in blazer presenting at city council about rezoning student apartments.

The demographic for the historic district is mostly single-family homes. Since the rise of COVID-19, Butler said that real estate values are going up exponentially. People are moving out of Atlanta, relocating to work remotely and there is need elsewhere; not student housing.

“Student apartments is not consistent with the visioning that Dahlonega is noted for its single-family, small town charm and whatever else you can say about student housing, it’s not charming,” Butler said.

Ethan Underwood, attorney for Signet Real Estate Group, said the plan for the development was submitted in the late summer. The organization, though, has been interested in the project for well over a year, according to Underwood.

Via communication with the University of North Georgia, they have identified a need for “high-quality student housing.” Underwood said there’s a lack of student housing and they are hoping to fix that, while also maintaining the charm of Dahlonega.

Signet Group went straight to establishing their plan with Planned Unit Development District also known PUD. Underwood said the current R1- single-family residential district plan would not work.

“The current zoning property is unconstitutional,” Underwood said. “It cannot be developed in an economically feasible manner. We’re trying to emphasize this use will satisfy the need for student housing but also would be a good fit for the community.”

A decision and vote still has yet to be made by council members. Discussion will continue at the next city council meeting on Dec. 7.

Commissioners adopt Moratorium on Greenspace subdivision roads

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Originally considered for Class D and Class E roads, Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners is placing a moratorium on green space subdivisions as they work on details before planning to release the moratorium with a modified ordinance in early 2021.

According to Planning and Zoning Director Karen Henson, Gilmer has a couple subdivision projects currently approved in R2 that are abiding by lot sizes. However, the concern is if these lots are sold and then divided and resold. Class E Roads are only allowed to have 10 lots on them. The county will be looking at options to prevent such a process that would ultimately result in an larger number or lots on roads that cannot support them.

Discussion of the agenda item saw more focus on the moniker of “inferior roads” and right of ways than specific Class E roads. However, Henson indicated in the meeting that all Class E designated roads would be considered a part of the moratorium and later clarified as such.

As approved in the meeting, Henson herself clarified in an email that the Moratorium will be for:

  1. The suspension of Class E roads.

  2. The suspension of subdivisions of land along inferior County roads, which are roads with less than 40 foot right of way and 20 foot surface width with 3 foot shoulders (except for the 2 annual splits).

  3. The suspension of greenspace developments.

During the meeting, with advice from Henson and County Attorney David Clark, the Board is setting the moratorium to take effect later, and will begin the process of the ordinance change that will take several months to complete through advertising, First Reading, a Public Hearing, and a Second Reading with Final Adoption.

As contractors move into the moratorium, it will not shut down developments in areas as it was stated that they can continue developments with upgraded road systems. It will not affect Class D roads in general unless they fall into the county termed “inferior roads.”

 

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