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 FRONT PAGE - JUNE 30, 1999 - COMMERCE, GEORGIA

GROWTH & ZONING

Planning Panel Recommends
PUD Rezoning For 'Kensington Park'
But Approval Doesn't Mean Developer's Concept Will Be Accepted As Proposed
The Commerce Planning Commission voted Monday night to recommend that the Commerce City Council grant PUD (Planned Unit Development) zoning for the proposed "Kensington Park" subdivision on Mount Olive Road at Ridgeway Street.
The Cochran Properties development proposes 150 homes and a six-acre commercial tract, but the planning commission made it clear that elements of the development will have to change before a site plan is approved.
Among the concerns are increased traffic on the Mount Olive Road at its intersection with Ridgeway, where a rise gives limited view of oncoming traffic; the density of homes (lots are about a third of an acre) and increased traffic on Ridgeway Road between Mount Olive and BJC Medical Center, where the road zig-zags through a small cemetery.
Broughton Cochran, Gainesville, told the planning commission that he was urged to come to the Commerce area by Richard Cathey, vice president of First Commerce Bank and chairman of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce. He urged people to visit his developments in Hall County.
"Commerce has a lot more jobs right now than housing and has a big demand for housing," Cochran told the panel.
Kensington Park, apparently named for the London park surrounding the castle once occupied by the Prince and Princess of Wales, would cover a little more than half of a tract Cochran plans to buy. Straddling Ridgeway Road on the Commerce side of Mount Olive Road, the development would feature homes in the $90,000 to $120,000-plus range, Cochran stated.
The predominately ranch-style houses of 1,090 to 1,400 square feet would have vinyl siding and sit on lots of about 14,000 square feet. Each owner would also have an interest in a small lake on the facility and the undeveloped land around the lake.
Cochran's proposal also calls for 46 townhouse units on the south side of Ridgeway and a 6.3-acre commercial strip at the intersection of Ridgeway and Mount Olive Road.
Approximately 25 area residents turned out to express concerns. Jim Scott was their spokesman.
Scott proposed that the minimum house size be 1,600 square feet and the lot size be bumped to one acre. He questioned the impact on the school system, said the shopping area is not needed, questioned what would be done to alleviate traffic problems on a road already heavily used by tractor-trailer rigs, worried over increased traffic on Ridgeway through the cemetery and about the danger by the knoll on Mount Olive near the intersection of Ridgeway.
Bill Dundore, who lives on Ridgeway Church Road, agreed with Scott's concerns, and noted that ambulances use the narrow portion of Ridgeway to cut through to BJC Medical Center.
Harold McGinnis told Cochran that the neighbors do not oppose development.
"We would rather see it developed as houses, but 14,000 square feet (lot size) is not but a third of an acre. If it could be redesigned to one house per acre, we'd all be with you," he said.
Commissioner Allen Lacey pointed out that the hearing dealt only with the rezoning issue and that Cochran will have to get a site plan approved, giving citizens and the planning commission the opportunity to challenge the plans.
"Some of the concerns you raised are the same concerns I have," he told the group.
Lacey made the motion to recommend to the Commerce City Council the approval of the zoning change. It carried unanimously.



COMMUNITY

Reservoir Project
Falling Behind Schedule
ATHENS -- Officially, construction of the Bear Creek Reservoir in southwest Jackson County is still on schedule to begin producing drinking water by July 1, 2001. Actually, the project is already six months behind, and if water is to be taken out of the four-county reservoir by the scheduled completion date, it will be taken as the reservoir fills.
Time is slipping by the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, composed of Jackson, Athens-Clarke, Barrow and Oconee counties. Originally, the dam was to be completed by October 2000, allowing nine months for the 505-acre reservoir to be filled before the authority began producing drinking water in July 2001.
But delays in getting plans for the dam removed have backed up the construction schedule by six months, according to statements made by the project's manager at the authority's meeting last Wednesday, June 23.
The holdup is at least partially attributable to getting plans approved from the Safe Dams division of the Georgia Environmental Protection Department.
George Byrd of the consulting firm Moreland Altobelli told the authority that a Safe Dams official had issued preliminary "comments" on plans for the structure, and that the company designing the dam had responded. Safe Dams would respond to those latter comments within three weeks, Byrd said, after which the final plans should be approved "in a day or two." The next step would be 30 days of advertising for bids.
"The potential is we could have construction on the dam under way in a 90-day period to a 120-day period, three to four months," Byrd told the authority.
The construction is expected to take 18 months. If Byrd's timetable is on target, that leaves construction starting in late September to late October and finishing in late March to late April of 2001. Filling the reservoir is expected to take eight to nine more months.
The timing is considered crucial, because three of the four counties involved in the project have to start paying off their shares of the cost of the $64 million project in July 2001. Jackson County, for example, figures to pay its $1.7 million annual payments through the sale of water from the reservoir. If the project is substantially delayed, Jackson County would have to find other means of repaying the debt.
Subsequently, authority members have begun asking Byrd not about completion of the project by the July 2001 deadline, but rather about whether water will be available at that time. Byrd has responded that the project is still on schedule to be able to produce water by the target date.
He suggested at the authority's May meeting that water could possibly be taken from the reservoir even before the dam is completed, using water backed up by a coffer dam used to divert the stream during construction. However, by last Wednesday's meeting, Byrd appeared to be hedging on that scenario. However, he said once there is 25 feet of water in the reservoir, the authority can begin withdrawing water for treatment.
From now on, the availability of water by July 2001 will depend on a number of factors. First, the authority has to get approval from Safe Dams to build. Second, the contract must be awarded in a timely fashion, which is no guarantee. The authority already re-bid one contract for lack of sufficient bids. Then, whatever company wins the bid must experience virtually no unanticipated delays for bad weather or other reasons.
Meanwhile, the authority is at odds with Goulder & Associates, designers of the dam, over extra costs incurred by the company when the authority rejected all bids on the foundation of the dam and when the spillway had to be moved from one side of the dam to the other, "and other issues," according to attorney Kirby Atkinson. Jackson County Commissioner Pat Bell, who was unable to attend the June 23 meeting, chairs a committee that will make recommendations to the authority on those issues.

NEWS SHORTS

DDA Awards $3,687
In Facade Grants

The Commerce Downtown Authority approved five grants totaling $3,687.50 Tuesday, June 22, under its facade grant program.
The grants included:
·$1,000 to Commerce Microcomputer Center, South Broad Street, for renovations to a building exterior, amounting to $2,134.47.
·$1,000 to Shubert & Sikes, PC, South Broad Street, for repair to a stucco wall and re-pointing brick, amounting to $5,294.
·$681.25 to Creative Cuts, South Broad Street, for awnings that cost $1,362.50.
·$681.25 to Anderson Jewelry, South Broad Street, for awnings that cost $1,362.50.
·$325 to Professional Tattoo and Body Piercing, South Broad Street, for a sign that cost $650.
The DDA program provides a 50 percent match for approved facade work or sign work, with a maximum grant of $1,000.



Hospital Approves
$24.6 Million Budget
With no discussion, the BJC Medical Center Authority approved a $24.66 million budget for 1999-2000 at its regular meeting Monday night.
The document shows an increase over the current year of eight-tenths of a percent and projects a $150,515 revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year, which ends today (Wednesday).
The budget, part of the hospital's "management plan," for the upcoming year, shows a facility that collects only 55 percent payment for the services it renders. The hospital discounts more than 44 percent through contractual agreements, charity cases and bad debt. The budget shows no indication that the situation will improve in the next fiscal year.
Before such discounts, the facility expects during the upcoming fiscal year to generate $5.48 million from BJC Nursing Home, $11.3 million for inpatient services and almost $8 million for outpatient services. It will also collect an estimated $402,000 from "other sources," including the state's indigent care program. After "deductions" expected of $10.8 million, the budget projects $13.9 million in operating revenue and $37,549 left over at the end of the year. It also projects an average daily census of 13.9 patients.
In other business:
·Nursing home director Bob Burns reported the additions to the staff of Grace Rock, director of nursing; and Kristen Thomas, director of social services. Administrator David Lawrence announced that Oscar Weinmeister has been hired to handle marketing and to assist Henry Slocum with physician recruitment.
·Lawrence reported that the hospital had an average daily census of 8.5 patients during May.
·Burns reported that nursing home residents have made recent forays to the City Lights Festival Friday night and to the city swimming pool, and that six people are enrolled in a certified nursing assistant training course. He also reported that the nursing home is making progress in reducing the number of physical and chemical restraints used to protect patients from falls, using them only as a last resort. "They may have their place, but in long-term care, we want to diminish their use," Burns said.
·In a closed session, the authority renewed privileges for all of its physicians.



Jackson Unemployment Rate Falls To 2.7%
The Jackson County unemployment rate continues to fall. According to the Georgia Department of Labor, during May only 2.7 percent of the county's work force was unemployed. That amounts to virtually full employment.
The department's estimates suggest that there are 641 Jackson County residents without jobs, while some 23,535 are employed. The estimates do not count the chronically unemployed who are not receiving unemployment benefits.
Last month, the Jackson County jobless rate was 2.8 percent. In May 1998, it was 3.6 percent.
The Georgia unemployment rate for May was 3.6 percent; the national rate was 4.3 percent.

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