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This week's Commerce News

This week's Commerce News

This week's Commerce News


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Weekend Project

Boley Brown, left, and Doug Haynie, right, were two of the volunteers working Saturday on the Habitat for Humanity house on Cabin Creek Drive. Built with volunteer labor and with some donated materials, the house is essentially a weekend project. Habitat for Humanity continues to seek donations of time, money and materials for its ongoing mission to alleviate substandard housing in Jackson County. For information or to volunteer, call 335-9787.


Mobile Home Parks At Center Of Nicholson Zoning Debate
City Council, Citizens, Reaching Agreement On Shape Of Future Zoning Districts
NICHOLSON -- The shape of zoning in Nicholson is slowly taking shape.
In two Tuesday night work sessions, few decisions have been made about changes in a draft zoning ordinance prepared by the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center.
But in three hours of sometimes-contentious discussions, council members are coming to an understanding of where each stands on key zoning issues and of how differences might be resolved.
For example, the draft prepared by the RDC contains only four zoning districts, one each for residential, commercial, agriculture and government. By the end of the second meeting, the council seemed to be in agreement that there will be at least two residential zoning districts, one for site-built single family houses, and the other to accommodate manufactured homes, duplexes and even apartments.
The council and pro-zoning citizens also appear to have reached a meeting of the minds on zoning for mobile homes ­ a recognition that mobile homes must be accommodated in whatever plan the council eventually approves.
The first and most contentious work session was held Tuesday, Jan. 11, and it ended with Mayor Steve Wilbanks declaring it closed after it evolved into an argument among citizens and council members over how mobile homes and mobile home parks should be treated.
Prior to that session, none of the governing officials had read the ordinance. Lee Carmen, a zoning specialist with the RDC, presented it, explained the process by which the draft would turn into a finished ordinance and served as referee during discussions of what could or could not be accomplished through zoning.
Once the city agrees on the zoning districts, Carmen will map the city, placing each parcel according to its use or according to how the city council wants it zoned. Copies of the maps will be posted so citizens can find out how their land is zoned and seek changes.
Zoning advocate Scherry Jackson was the first to propose that there be two residential zoning districts.
"Can we zone those existing (mobile home subdivisions) as manufactured housing districts and let that be our manufactured housing district?" she asked Jan. 11. "Any other residential areas would be for the other (houses)."
Councilman Thomas Gary disagreed, calling such zoning "discrimination" against manufactured housing.
Roger Cosby proposed a compromise ­ requiring mobile homes to have permanent foundations, sloped roofs and underpinning, and maybe limiting them to doublewides, but not otherwise attempting to regulate them. The draft copy of the ordinance requires paved streets with curbs and gutters for new developments.
Carmen backed Cosby's sentiments.
"You have to treat mobile homes the same as you do site-built homes," she said. "Whatever is your minimum lot size for houses, that is your minimum lot size for manufactured homes."
But last (Tuesday) night, when all members had read the ordinance, Councilmember Margaret Ward proposed an R-1 district for houses, R-2 for manufactured homes and possibly other residential districts.
"What area of Nicholson do you want to put houses only?" challenged Councilman Daniel Sailors.
"My area, down Stapler Drive. I haven't thought it out," Ward responded. "I have an ulterior motive. I'm backed up by 100 trailers. I don't want to be surrounded by a mobile home park."
Wilbanks proposed that the ordinance have four zoning districts, R-1, R-2, commercial and agricultural.
Citizens attended both work sessions, seven at the first and five at the second, and while there was a free exchange of ideas among all parties, Wilbanks served notice that at the next meeting ­ which has yet to be scheduled ­ he will accept no comments from the floor.
"I will not open the floor. I want the council to get this thing going," he said. "If we're mixing heads, we can't get nothing going, because we're always bickering."
Much of the "bickering" was over the nature of existing manufactured housing subdivisions.
At the Jan. 11 meeting, Jenny Guest queried Carmen about the enforcement of the zoning ordinance. She complained that someone has occupied a shack with no running water in Quail Ridge subdivision and that some residents allow "filth, trash, junk and paper" to accumulate. At the Jan. 18 meeting, another resident said he experienced a "constant battle to keep people (from adjacent mobile home subdivisions) off my property."
Wilbanks proposed requiring and enforcing strict covenants.
"We're just going to have to stand our ground and enforce them real good...I don't have anything against mobile homes, but I don't want junked cars and trash."


Education Proposal Has Good, Bad Parts, Superintendent Says
Smaller classrooms and more teachers and an extra layer of bureaucracy at the local level are all part of Gov. Roy Barnes' new education proposal. The man who runs the Commerce School System sees both good and bad in the initiative made public last week.
"I guess we'll wait and see how it all shakes out," commented Larry White, superintendent.
What's good about the proposal?
"The most positive thing is the reduced class size in grades one through three," White said, "although I don't fully agree with the way the governor wants to do it."
Barnes would have a maximum class size in those grades of 20 students. When the 21st arrives, the class would have to be split or another teacher added in the same room.
That can pose a burden, White says.
"The funding is to be based on a 1:17 ratio. If you barely go over the minimum size, it will be a little more expensive to handle that class. Numbers just don't shake out perfectly."
White would like to see systems able to use a paraprofessional to assist a teacher in situations where classes are just barely over the maximum size.
If the legislation passes and the General Assembly funds it, Commerce stands to gain some $263,000 in additional state funds. But it will be required to spend that and more.
"That's more than offset by the number of extra teachers you've got to hire. It's kind of misleading," White said.
The governor would also put a maximum class size of 11 for SIA (special instructional assistance) students ­ those who are a grade or more below where they should be and who are targeted for special assistance.
"People ask, where's the bricks and mortar. The governor's response is to put more than one teacher in a classroom if you have to," said White.
Commerce has 50 such students currently, most of them in kindergarten.
One of White's biggest concerns is the creation of a new governing board, the creation of local school councils. These people would be appointed, two by the school PTA or PTO, two members of the faculty and chaired by the school principal. That committee would appoint a sixth member.
Each school would have such a committee that would meet monthly to make recommendations to the board of education on the school calendar, codes of conduct and dress, curriculum, goals and priorities, responses to state audits of schools as conducted by the new Office of Accountability, make reports to the public on the school profile, selection of new principals from three candidates chosen by the board of education, school budget priorities (including capital plans), extracurricular activities, school based and community services, the community use of facilities, school board polices, and receiving and reviewing reports on school personnel.
"Doesn't that spell out all the duties of the school board?" White asked.
Ironically, before introducing his proposal, Barnes stressed the need to reduce the school system bureaucracy at its "worst point" ­ between the local board of education and the public.
The result would be only three more school committee meetings a month in the Commerce system, but in the Jackson County School System, each of its eight schools would have a school advisory council.
"The board of education can overturn any recommendation of the panel, but that will result in more politics," the superintendent predicted.
The proposal will do a lot of shifting of funds. Schools will no longer get "weighted" funding for labs. Funding for central office administration and school principals is going down statewide, although not in Commerce. On the other hand, money will be set aside to offer 10 percent of the students in each system 20 extra days of instruction.
"That would be good for us. I always thought if we can get summer instruction, especially with the lower grade levels, and get some reading going on during the summer, that would be a big plus," White said. "You could do it with an extended day, Saturday academics ... I can see in our case where it would be real beneficial to do a 4-week summer program.
"We'll be OK, but it will be tight. We do gain some money. When the bill is passed and we get our allotment sheets from the Department of Education, we can figure out how many teachers we've got to hire and how it shakes out for us."
The legislation should create intense debate. State Superintendent of Schools Linda Schrenko has already voiced opposition to some parts, even as Barnes insists that the package must be passed intact.

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