The Barrow County Planning Commission has recommended the rezoning of property on Highway 211 just outside the Winder city limits that would allow for the building of a residential subdivision with about 200 single-family homes — about 50 fewer than the company looking to develop the property was seeking.
After more than an hour of discussion at its Thursday, Sept. 19, meeting, the panel voted 4-0 — three members were absent — to recommend rezoning 86.8 acres of a 96-acre tract at 627 Hwy. 211 NW, Winder, from Agricultural to R-2 Master Planned Development. The recommendation now heads to the county board of commissioners for a public hearing and vote on Oct. 8.
Lawrenceville-based Corridor Development has sought a rezoning of the property for several months and initially proposed rezoning it to R-3 Residential in order to build 182 single-family detached homes as well as 128 single-family townhomes. But after nearby residents raised concerns about the scope of the project — the potential traffic impact and the potential effect townhomes could have on their property values — the planning commission tabled the case in July and the developer withdrew that request in August and resubmitted to rezone the property to R-3 and have a special use for a master planned development.
Corridor’s plans presented Thursday to the commission called for 247 single-family homes at 2.9 units per acre. However, at the recommendation of the county’s planning staff, the panel recommended the R-2 zoning, which allows up to 2.3 units per acre. That would allow a maximum of about 200 homes to be built on the property.
The property’s current owner, Chris Maddox, has proposed an amendment to the county’s future land-use map that would designate the property for residential development. It currently falls under the West Winder Bypass character area (which calls for primarily light industrial and commercial uses), but Maddox and the developer believe residential use would be appropriate.
The BOC will have a public hearing and vote on Maddox’s request Oct. 8, the same night it will hear the rezoning request.
Dan Schultz, the county’s director of planning and community development, told the commission the property is surrounded by Rural Neighborhood and Suburban Neighborhood properties. Suburban Neighborhood carries the higher allowable density (up to 2.3 units per acre) and would be more appropriate than allowing R-3 at 2.9 units per acre, Schultz said.
“Ultimately, we are excited about the development and the potential to bring a community to Barrow County,” said Shane Lanham, an attorney representing Corridor Development. “There’s a lot of energy here.”
The recommended rezoning comes with more than a dozen conditions, a mix of staff and planning commission recommendations and conditions offered by Corridor.
Among the planning commission’s recommended changes was to have a 50-foot setback (an addition of roughly 30 feet) from Highway 211 to the property line.
Commission member Deborah Lynn advocated for the increased setback as a pre-planning measure for the widening of Highway 211 to four lanes, which the Georgia Department of Transportation has in its long-term plans.
“Common sense tells us (the highway) will eventually be widened,” Lynn said, adding that construction of the nearby West Winder Bypass has encroached on properties, creating an “eye sore.”
“I’d hate to see an entrance put in, the homeowners buy in, and then, one day, it’s just torn down,” she said.
Another condition — offered by commission member Vince Cain and agreed to by the present members — would require that single-story homes be a minimum of 1,800 heated square feet and that two-story homes be a minimum of 2,200 heated square feet.
Those would be larger than what Corridor was requesting. The developer offered that no more than 20 percent of the homes would be 1,600 square feet, while 40 percent would be 1,800 square feet and 40 percent would be 2,000 square feet.
Lanham said the developer wanted a variety of sizes to attract younger homebuyers as well as seniors and “empty nesters” who may be looking to downsize.
The house size was a point of contention between the panel members. Lynn noted that the county has been approving subdivisions with the condition that homes be a minimum of 2,000 heated square feet and that condition was recommended by staff. Member David Dyer said he preferred a variety of sizes, so long as the quality of the home was high.
“I’m not sure you always get the desired result from minimum square footage,” Dyer said. “…I’d rather have the ability to choose options.”
The panel also recommended a condition that Corridor submit a more detailed plan for its amenities area. Lanham said that rather than typical swimming pool/tennis amenities, the developer wants to utilize the existing pond on the property and the greenspace around it as a “natural/passive amenity” while incorporating a “network of walking trails.”
As part of that condition, the panel wants more information on whether the existing home on the property could be converted into a clubhouse.
“We haven’t done a thorough inspection” of the home, Lanham said. “But if the opportunity is there, it makes sense.”
The BOC’s Oct. 8 meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 275 North 5th Ave., Winder, and Winder-Barrow High School will co-host an “Out of the Darkness” community walk on Saturday, Sept. 28, in an effort to raise awareness of and contribute to prevention of suicide.
More than 200 people have signed up to participate, church leaders said. Registration will be at 8 a.m. and the opening ceremony and walk around the high school will be at 9 a.m. All activities will begin at the church, across from the high school.
According to state statistics, there were 128 confirmed suicides in Barrow County, 46 percent higher than the state average. Teen suicide rates doubled the state average.
“We hope to raise awareness to this horrible situation, provide educational displays on mental health and be there to listen to anyone who has a story to tell,” leaders said. “We have to help each other to end this.”
Those who aren’t able to walk can go to afsp.org/barrow and sign up as a “virtual or active walker.” A raffle will be held with items donated from local businesses. All donations will benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“They teach us, represent us in research and legislation, and support us in our effort to end suicide,” leaders said. “Please join us, and let’s work together to end the stigma of mental illness and suicide here at home.”
For more information, call 770-867-9056.
A former Statham employee filed a lawsuit Sept. 9 in Barrow County Superior Court seeking compensatory and punitive damages for nude photos of her on a city computer.
Carole Amos, who worked in the planning and zoning office, sued the city, Mayor Robert Bridges, former administrator Michelle Irizarry, attorney Thomas Mitchell, city clerk Mai Chang and public works director Sam Powell.
The lawsuit says while Amos was an employee of the city, she had a romantic relationship with another city employee, John Looney. The suit says the city did not have a policy about employee relationships or about fraternizing with other employees.
She maintains “nothing improper . . . ever occurred during work hours.”
According to the lawsuit, Looney took a week off from work in December 2017 and Amos did not hear from him. He did not respond to her “attempts to reach him by way of his private cell phone.” She said she paid the monthly bill for Looney’s phone.
When she did not hear from him, she called Irizarry and police chief Allan Johnston, the suit says.
“Shortly thereafter,” the suit says, the administrator met with her “and presented her with a letter placing her on administrative leave and instructed (her) to come back the following Monday for a meeting in regards to an investigation being conducted.”
In the meeting, Amos says in the suit, she was “forced to participate in a recorded interview” about her relationship with Looney.
She said Irizarry and Mitchell “placed an extreme amount of pressure” on her for answers during the interview.
According to the lawsuit, Looney showed a video of Amos expressing her love for him on his personal cell phone and Powell asked permission to copy that onto a city computer.
She said she learned about the city having photos of her in June 2018 when Mitchell told her he would release the photos through an open records request. She said she demanded the photos be destroyed and taken off the city computer.
Mitchell gave her a week to hire an attorney and release the photos on a disk to Catherine Corkren, who made the open-records request. Amos said she did not know Corkren, who called her after she got the photos.
She filed an “ante litem” notice, which indicates a coming lawsuit, with the city Nov. 26, 2018.
Amos maintains the city allowed “unauthorized publication of private facts” and “unlawfully obtained the photos.” The lawsuit characterizes the city’s “investigation” as “illegal.”
She says she did not give anyone permission to see the photos other than Looney.
Amos contends the photos have been “kept and viewed by multiple individuals employed with the city.”
She says that is an “intentional” infliction of emotional distress to her and “had nothing to do with city business.”
Jason Black and Kenneth Stroud, attorneys in Suwanee, filed the lawsuit. The lawsuit also seeks attorneys’ fees for representing Amos.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct two errors in the original story. Looney did not show Powell video of her partially nude. And it was Looney, not Amos, who took the week off from work in December 2017.
Both of Barrow County’s high schools beat the state average graduation rate in 2019.
Winder-Barrow High School had a graduation rate of 84.9 percent for 2019 and Apalachee High School's rate was 90.7, the first time it passed the 90-percent mark.
Barrow County had 825 graduates in the spring.
Georgia’s graduation rate reached 82 percent in 2019.
“I am thrilled with the steady growth the system has seen in this rate over the past several years,” superintendent Chris McMichael said. “It is a direct result of the system-wide focus on teaching and learning at higher levels that permeates our schools.”
Barrow County Board of Education chair Lynn Stevens said, “All of the work being done in Pre-K through middle school is setting a strong foundation in high school, and our high schools are raising the bar every year.”
Barrow County's third high school will be recommended to be the Barrow Arts & Science Academy “unless something changes in the next week, superintendent Chris McMichael told the county school board at its Tuesday, Sept. 24 work session.
Dale Simpson, principal for the new school, said 17 people suggested that name, the most for any prospective name. He noted that all the words in the name also were among the words most often mentioned in the lengthy list of suggested names.
Simpson said the district surveyed students, parents, teachers and community members. The suggested list was posted on the school’s website.
The name “Barrow Arts & Sciences Academy” has been the “working name” for the school for some time.
About 240 names were suggested for the school. The new high school is being built adjacent to Sims Academy of Innovation and Technology, the county’s college and career academy.
It is expected to be a school of “choice” — students will fill out an application to attend, but no formal steps, such as test scores, resumes or student essays are required. If more than about 600 students apply, a lottery will be held, Simpson has said.
The school district will provide transportation to the school. Students now in the eighth-, ninth- and 10th grades may apply starting in October. The school also will accept applications from this year’s 11th-graders, Simpson said. It is not anticipated that the school will have a senior class when school opens in August 2020, but if enough people apply, it could.
The first phase of the school, which includes two buildings, will cost about $19 million.
The school will have “academies,” which will focus on specific fields, such as healthcare, and the school is not expected to have a full range of sports, such as football or basketball.
The BOE discussed a raise in its pay Tuesday night, with two board members saying they likely would not vote for it.
Two other board members, including the chair, supported the increase from $50 per meeting or per day to $500 a month. The pay has not been changed since 1988.
The board agreed to discuss the item more at its Tuesday, Oct. 1 meeting, and chairperson Lynn Stevens said it could vote then.
Board member Garey Huff Sr. said the board recently rejected a call for a referendum which would exempt senior citizens from paying school taxes. He said he “might have a hard time” explaining to seniors why they don’t deserve an exemption and board members should get a big raise.
Board member Rickey Bailey said he would not agree to a $500 a month salary. He said he would be willing to compromise at a lower number. Stevens asked him what he had in mind and Bailey declined to say.
Stephanie Bramlett, one of the board’s newer members, said the pay increase might be a “good incentive” to attract candidates for the board. She said it is “sad” when nobody wants to run for an open school board seat.
Stevens said the pay increase would be “not quite double” what the members make now. She said the increase is “long overdue.”
She added that Huff should direct senior citizens to her.
“I want to have a chat with the older folks in this county,” she said. She noted that schools are reactive, often to economic factors “beyond our control.”
Beverly Kelley, who served on the board before and rejoined it in January 2018, termed it “shocking” how much some school boards pay its members who don’t have nearly the responsibility of the Barrow BOE, which has 14,000 students and a budget of $137 million.
Huff said commissioners in Barrow County make only a bit more than is being suggested for a raise.
Stevens quickly said the BOC gets retirement benefits and health insurance. She said the total compensation for the BOE is about $28,000.
Stevens and Bailey are the longest serving board members.
In other business, the board:
•approved a personnel list presented by McMichael in closed session and it includes the resignation of Doug Blackwell as the CEO of Sims Academy and the retirement of Wanda Young as the director of transportation.
•heard requests for low voltage cabling and for security cameras for the new school. The contracts would be $121,997 and $219,025, respectively.
•heard a request for the third year of the 21st Century grant of $293,532. Up to 120 elementary students get after-school assistance with academic work through the Boys and Girls Club of Winder. Students are from County Line, Holsenbeck, Kennedy, Statham and Winder elementary schools.
•will be asked to approve contracts for a new logo and goalposts at Apalachee High School and Winder-Barrow High School and for the resurfacing of the track at AHS around the synthetic turf that has been installed. The contracts will be for Sports Turf Co. and will be for $71,653 at AHS and $44,905 for the resurfacing.
•will be asked to approve a contract for Palo Alto firewalls from Sayers of Atlanta for $60,780. The county will get $38,600 back through the e-rate grant. The local share will be $22,180. The bid was approved in April, but the e-rate program agreed to pay about $10,000 less than expected so it must be approved again.