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Jefferson OKs commercial development

A new commercial development, likely with a grocery store and several restaurants, was approved Dec. 16 by the Jefferson City Council.

The project will include both corners on the east side of the Jefferson bypass at the intersection of Old Pendergrass Rd. The site was at one time considered for a Walmart. The council approved a package of rezonings and variances to make the project possible. The development is being done by Capstone Property Group of Gainesville.

A tentative plan for the development calls for a 47,000 sq. ft. anchor store, 11,200 sq. ft. of shops attached to the store, two sites for freestanding retail stores and three out-parcel sites for restaurants. The total land involved is around 21 acres.

The development was opposed by some area residents who said traffic on Old Pendergrass Rd., which feeds into the Jefferson City School System, would become much worse. Councilman Jon Howell voted against the rezonings while Mayor Steve Quinn voiced opposition, but only votes to break ties on the council.

Howell and Quinn said they wanted the developers to build an access road through other undeveloped property north to Holder Siding Rd. to provide access and to not have access to the development off of Old Pendergrass Rd. Quinn hinted that the city might be willing to pay part of the cost of such an access road, which would eventually serve other development in the area.

But a spokesman for the developers said that such a requirement would kill the entire project since potential tenants want the closer access off of Old Pendergrass Rd. and the cost of building a longer road to Holder Siding Rd. would be over $1 million.

Upgrades will be done to the existing intersection, including longer turning lanes. The traffic signal at the intersection will also be updated by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The development will be across the bypass from the existing Kroger shopping center area, which also includes a CVS and an Aldi store. The area has been controversial for its traffic problems and a large number of serious wrecks.

OTHER ACTION

In other action Dec. 16, the council approved:

• a variance for a sign at North Jefferson Business Park to be 90 sq. ft. rather than 64 sq. ft.

• a conditional use for a Verizon cell tower at 1740 Washington St.

• an amendment to the city's land use codes updating architectural building requirements and another amendment adopting the state's minimum standard codes.

• a series of budget amendments for FY2019, including $125,000 to buy land for recreation.

• naming Sabrina Sanderson and Jim Bailey to the town's downtown development authority.

• allowing the mayor pro tem to sign the contract to install speeding cameras around city school zones. Mayor Quinn opposed the project and said he didn't want to sign the documents on behalf of the city.

• recognizing outgoing council member Don Kupis.

• calling a meeting Dec. 30 to swear-in new council member Clint Roberts.


The Harold S. Swindle Public Library in Nicholson held its annual Yuletide Magic Event on Dec. 10. Pictured here is John Michael Carithers having a discussion about gifts with Mrs. Claus.


Shake-up in Hoschton

Two embattled Hoschton leaders are out of office following months of controversy in the small West Jackson town.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Cleveland resigned last week, just days before Mayor Theresa Kenerly tendered her resignation. The Hoschton City Council held two special meetings on Dec. 11 and Dec. 14, accepting their resignations and to call for a March 24 election to fill the vacated seats.

The resignations leave in a three-member council, which cannot operate under the city’s charter. That forced the council to pursue a court decision to allow its continued functioning until the two vacant seats are filled.

Meanwhile, the council also voted to fire its current city administrator Dale Hall for cause instead of accepting his resignation. That move — on top of the two city council resignations — leaves the town with essentially no experienced executive leadership in city hall.

BACKGROUND ON RESIGNATIONS

Kenerly came under fire in May after a fellow council member said she did not include the resume of a candidate for city administrator because he is black and she didn’t know if the city was “ready for that.” In a news article, Cleveland defended Kenerly and added his views against interracial relationships.

The backlash was swift, with citizens calling on the two council members to resign. When that didn’t happen, a group formed and pushed for a recall election. After months of working through that process, gathering signatures from citizens in the town and going through court hearings, the recall hearing was set for Jan. 14. By resigning, Cleveland and Kenerly will avoid that recall.

Cleveland’s and Kenerly’s resignations leave the city council essentially inoperable. The town's charter doesn't allow the mayor, or in the absence of the mayor, the mayor pro tem, to vote on city matters. But with just three council members left and no mayor, there wouldn't be enough voting members to transact city business.

In related action on Dec. 14, the council voted to allow attorney Thomas Mitchell to move forward with a motion in the Superior Court of Jackson County that would allow the newly-elected mayor pro tem, Adam Ledbetter, to vote on city matters. That move would allow the three-member board to continue functioning.

The motion was filed on Monday, Dec. 16, but a hearing date hasn’t been set.

HALL REMOVED WITH CAUSE AND ARGUMENT

In another move, the city council voted Dec. 14 to fire city administrator Dale Hall "for cause" instead of accepting his resignation. Council members and Mitchell refused to say what that cause was.

Kenerly — who presided via phone over her last meeting as mayor — objected to the decision. Kenerly said Hall wasn’t a good fit for the city, but still objected to the firing for cause.

“I don’t like it worth a damn,” Kenerly said before calling for the vote.

Firing Hall "for cause" will allow the council to withhold his severance pay.

The firing follows a move by three of the town's council members that appeared to be an attempt to force out Hall.

Hall, who became the town's administrator in the summer of 2019, had rankled some council members by not providing information to the council quickly enough.

At a Dec. 9 meeting, council members Shantwon Astin and Ledbetter refused to support the adoption of the town's budget and a new garbage service firm because they said they only got the documents at the last moment before that meeting.

At a called meeting Dec. 11, Astin, Ledbetter and council member Hope Weeks voted to adopt an ordinance that outlines in detail when the city administrator is to provide the council with paperwork and how quickly he is to respond to council questions.

"Failure to comply with this policy shall be just cause for termination," the new ordinance said.

With Hall’s departure, along with Cleveland’s and Kenerly’s resignations, it leaves Hoschton with little experienced administrative leadership within the town. Council members Ledbetter and Shantwon Astin took office just last month, while council member Hope Weeks was elected in 2018.

It also appeared Dec. 14 that there’s some question on the council about the current public development director Justin Kilgore. During discussions about naming Kilgore as the elections supervisor for the March 24 election for the newly-vacated seats, Astin questioned why Kilgore was named for that position. The council also opted for Mitchell to negotiate a new garbage pickup bid instead of Kilgore.

OTHER BUSINESS

Also at its recent meeting, the council:

•voted to hold a March 24 special election to fill Cleveland’s and Kenerly’s vacated seats. The qualifying fee for Cleveland’s council seat is $18, while the fee for the mayor’s seat is $27. Qualifying will be from Feb. 3 at 9 a.m. through Feb. 5 at 4:30 p.m.

•discussed its garbage contract, which was recently awarded to Waste Pro. The company later said it did not plan to move forward with the contract. The council authorized Mitchell to negotiate and finalize the contract with the town's second choice, White Oak.

•discussed getting city-issued devices for council members. The council agreed to do research on the issue.

•tabled a decision on naming a city clerk.


Only three members of the Hoschton City Council were present at its Dec. 11 called meeting. Council member Jim Cleveland resigned, Mayor Theresa Kenerly was absent, as was city administrator Dale Hall. Only council members Shantwon Astin (left), Hope Weeks (center) and Adam Ledbetter (right) were present, along with city attorney Thomas Mitchell (center left). Ledbetter was named mayor pro tem at the meeting to replace Cleveland in that position.


News
School tax break to be on March ballot

Some older property taxpayers could get a break if local voters approve making a change in the local school homestead tax provisions during the March elections.

In addition to the presidential preference primary being held on March 24, 2020, voters in all three school districts in Jackson County will vote on whether or not to raise the income provisions to qualify for a school homestead tax break.

Currently, property taxpayers age 62 and older can qualify for a school homestead tax break if they have less than $18,000 per year of earned income (which excludes retirement income.) The election in March proposes to raise the earned income limit to $25,000 per year.

Theoretically, that would allow more taxpayers to qualify for the tax break. That break takes $10,000 off of the 40 percent assessed value of the home, thereby reducing the overall tax bill.

According to Jefferson Board of Education chairman Ronnie Hopkins, the measure has to be approved in all three school districts — Jefferson, Commerce and Jackson County — for it to become law.

Jackson County School System superintendent April Howard said that it would be difficult to estimate the financial impact the measure would have on the system's finances, but she didn't expect it would affect a substantial number of taxpayers.

The call for the election was made Dec. 16 for the county school system by the Jackson County Board of Elections. Both Jefferson and Commerce will also have to call for the election in those districts.


News
Commerce council approves industrial annexation

The Commerce City Council agree to annex agriculture land into the city and zone it for industrial use, but also delayed issuing a building permit for the property for 90 days.

It also tabled a study of employee pay that would provide pay raises for a majority of city employees.

Council approved seven other items in a quick council meeting Dec. 11. The council had two full pages of items, but met for less than 30 minutes.

The salary study was done by Evergreen Solutions and calls for raises that total more than $77,000. Mayor Clark Hill called for the item to be tabled, saying some things still need to be explained to employees.

City manager James Wascher met individually with all city employees the week of Dec. 2. He said earlier that about 70 city employees would see raises if the recommendations are accepted.

The study was done this summer and was provided to the city in October.

Wascher said the raises could be provided within the current budget. He said the city budgeted more than is need for health insurance costs and that could cover the raises.

ZONING ITEMS

The only item that drew discussion was a request from James Bouchard for about 97 acres. Some of the land fronts on Lords Mill Rd. The land was annexed and re-zoned to M-1 industrial, but changes are expected in the buffer zone for M-1.

Bouchard had another section of his property, about 140 acres that is adjacent to the proposed land to be annexed and to Interstate 85, annexed and re-zoned several months ago.

The 97 acres on the council’s agenda for Monday has been opposed by adjacent landowners, including members of the Simmons family.

The item was tabled at Hill’s request. He said an 80-foot buffer recommended by the planning commission “does not make a lot of sense” when it is seen on paper.

The mayor suggested the council “work with” the planners about a buffer zone that would cover all land in the city.

Council members Bobby Redmon and Keith Burchett objected to annexing the property with no conditions, as Hill suggested.

Redmon noted the M-2 industrial zoning has a 20-foot buffer included in it.

City attorney John Stell said the council could change the provisions for any industrial buffer and it would apply to the Bouchard land as long as the change is made before a building permit is granted.

Redmon said any approval of the proposal would have to include a stipulation that changes be made before the permit is granted.

In a related item, William Madden asked that his request to have 15 acres on Lords Mill annexed and re-zoned R-1 residential be withdrawn because of Bouchard’s request.

The council also tabled a request to annex 57 acres and re-zone it to R-1 residential in the city. It would be for the Twin Creeks subdivision. The property is near Billy Cain Ford. It also is adjacent to some of the Bouchard land.

The council also approved:

•a rezoning of property on Ila Rd. that is one parcel of land that is divided between two zonings. The land would be zoned for C-2 instead of for C-2 and R-1.

•a rezoning of a piece of property that would become the entrance to a subdivision on Mt. Olive Rd. The land would be re-zoned from A-R to R-1 residential.

•a right-of-way for a road on Bana Road. It would be the entrance road for a 600-acre industrial site proposed by Rooker Co. on the Maysville side of I-85. The county owns the ROW and has agreed to deed it to the city.

The council denied a request for a variance in Oconee Pointe subdivision. An outbuilding had been built along a drive in the subdivision and was not behind the property line of the rear of the house as zoning required.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the council:

•approved the renewal or issuance of alcohol licenses for 22 businesses in the city.

•agreed to a four-year term as fire chief for Kevin Dean after he was re-elected to the post.

•approved a resolution to set fees for lines and facilities in the rights-of-way for Commerce. The fee is 3 percent of the company’s revenue in the city or $5,000 per mile, whichever is less.

•approved updates to the city’s building codes. The updates come from the International Building Code.

•named Shonda Jones and Caleb Jordan to three-year terms on the city’s recreation board.


News
Most grading for first phase of SK site complete

The “mass grading” for the SK Battery America site is completed, the Jackson County Industrial Development Authority heard Friday, Dec. 6.

Simpson Trucking and Grading from Gainesville has “substantially completed” its contract Kyle Bowen, engineer with Development, Planning and Engineering, said Monday. The county IDA hired DPE to oversee the grading contract at the SK site.

Simpson started working on the site in January. The company worked on about 132 acres of the site, Bowen said. That amount was increased slightly from the original contract.

The grading contract was about $6.7 million when the work started.

SK said it would build two facilities on the site in the first phase. Work on the first building, expected to be about 1-million square feet, has been underway since mid-summer.

Scott Martin, chair of the IDA, said the group also approved a site and easement for a substation and transmission line to be built by Georgia Power.

He said Georgia Power will pay $26,100 for that land. The money will go to the IDA which will then send it to Rooker Company, a real estate development and construction management firm.

SK announced the battery site in November 2018. The company plans a $1.67 billion investment at the site. The county gave SK 283 acres along Steve Reynolds Boulevard for the plant. That land, which was controlled by Rooker, cost the IDA about $18.4 million.

Grading for utilities – sewer and drainage – is still being done, Bowen said.