A1 A1
460 new houses Ok'ed for West Jackson

Around 460 new homes could start going up in the West Jackson area after two rezonings got the green light from the Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 18.

The largest project is slated for 308 single-family houses on 130 acres on Gum Springs Church Rd. The project was rezoned from A-2 to R-2 and a special use for a master plan subdivision was also approved for the project.

Developer Barry Lord said the project would be done in phases over several years.

One person spoke in opposition to the rezoning, citing concerns about traffic and population increase. The development is across the road from the large Traditions community and not far from West Jackson Middle School and Gum Springs Elementary School.

The second major residential rezoning approved by the BOC on Nov. 18 was for 89 acres at 8308 Hwy. 53 Braselton for 151 single-family houses. The project is being done by McKinley Homes.

The BOC amended one condition for the project that would allow developers to have 70 percent contiguous greenspace rather than 75 percent. When McKinley filed for the rezoning, the county didn't have the 75 percent regulation in place.


In other rezonings, the BOC approved:

• rezoning 2.3 acres at 5799 Maysville Rd. Commerce from A-2 to CRC (commercial) as requested by Nelson Merlos.

• rezoning .8 acres at 8188 Hwy. 53 Braselton from NRC to HRC (both commercial uses) for Stovall & Company, Inc.

• rezoning 3.66 acres at the corner of Thyatira-Brockton Rd. and Wilhite Rd. Jefferson from A-2 to M-H to subdivide the property into two lots as requested by Christina Blalock.

• changing the character area map for 1.0 acre on Hwy. 332 Hoschton from agricultural to suburban and the future land use map from residential to commercial. A related map change for 12.8 acres next door was approved from agricultural to commercial as well. Both were requested by Kenneth R. Whitworth.

•  updating the county's development code on separating distances for selling alcoholic beverages from certain churches, schools, etc. to conform with state standards. The vote was 5-1 with commissioner Marty Seagraves dissenting.

• deferring a vote until December on changing the character area map for 4 acres on Hwy. 53 at Bill Watkins Rd. from rural to suburban. The Jackson County Planning Commission had recommended denial and commissioner Ralph Richardson said he wants to talk with planning board members before taking a final vote. The project calls for up to four houses on the site requested by Flipping Out, LLC.

The new Jackson County Agricultural Facility is starting to take shape. The facility is slated to open in 2020 and will be used for a variety of community events and ag shows. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is in the process of naming an oversight committee for the venue.

BOC creates ag oversight board

An oversight board has been created to oversee the operations of the county's new agriculture facility when construction is completed in 2020.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved creating the board at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Named to the oversight board were: Marty Clark as chairman (Clark has overseen the construction planning for the project and led a group to raise private funds to help pay for it); Josh Whitworth, Young Farmer coordinator for Jackson County; Robin Wilson of Rocking W Angus Farm in Commerce; David Callaway, agricultural instructor at Jefferson City School System; Michael Cronic, member of the Jackson County Board of Education; Denise Temple, officer manager of the Jackson County Farm Bureau; Phil Page, cattle and swine producer in West Jackson; April Davis, Commerce City School System agricultural teacher; and the Jackson County Cooperative Extension Agent as an  ex-officio member of the board.

In a related action, the BOC approved a $40,000 change order to the construction of the ag facility to upgrade 270 small animal gates for easier use.


In other action on Nov. 18, the BOC voted to:

• terminate its misdemeanor probation services contract with C.S.R.A. Probation Services and move the contract to Southeast Corrections. The move comes at the request of judges in the Piedmont Judicial Circuit and is supported by the Jackson County and Barrow County sheriffs' offices. If approved, the move will change on Jan. 1, 2020.

• approve a list of roads totaling 10 miles of roads to be repaved in 2020 with a combination of local and state funding. Jackson County plans to use SPLOST proceeds for its share of the cost.

• approve transfering the right-of-way for Bana Rd. to the City of Commerce. The road is a planned industrial development road that has not been built by the county, but is now needed for the large Band 85 (Rooker) project near the I-85 and the Commerce-Maysville interchange. The project is in the City of Commerce and the city needs the county-owned right-of-way to build the road for that project.

• approve the annual state funding assistance application for the county's transit system and a routine update to the system's Title VI plan.

• name Brad Morris to another six-year term on the Jackson County Board of Health.

• approve updating the county's alcohol ordinance to match the state code. The vote was 4-1 with commissioner Marty Seagraves dissenting.

Streets approved for paving

The Commerce City Council unanimously agreed on street paving for 2020 and heard from one woman who complained about the paving in Brentwood subdivision.

The council approved 13 road projects that total about 2.8 miles to be paved.

The roads selected for paving in 2020 are from all five city wards.

The council appoved:

Ward I: West Cordes Place from Homer Rd. to Ridgeway Rd., Cedar Dr. from Homer Rd. to Pine Ave. and a street between Connie’s Pawn Shop and Mitchell’s Auto Repair.

Ward II: Stark St. from Hwy. 98 to a dirt road and Oak St. from Hwy. 98 to Clayton St.

Ward III: Clayton St. from Central Ave. to Scott St., Hood St. from Washington St. to Hwy. 98 and Popular St. from Smallwood Dr. to the four-way stop at Chestnut St.

Ward IV: Westwood Dr. from Westwood Rd. to a dead end and Roosevelt Blvd. from Hwy. 15 to the four-way stop at Andrew Jackson

Ward V: Bishop Ct. from Arlington Lane to Oliver Ridge Dr. and Arlington Ln. from Brentwood Dr. to Bishop Ct.

Wascher said the city is using SPLOST – special purpose local option sale tax – VI money and a review committee was established with the county referendum to put an extra step in the process.

Renee Brown, who lives on Bishop Court, complained that no one in the Brentwood subdivision was notified when the paving was to start, that the paving was done in September and should have been done sooner and that paving was not completed on streets in the subdivision.

City manager James Wascher said the streets were selected through a computerized “map” of the city’s streets and that paving was delayed because the contractor for Jackson County, which had done the paving as an “add-on” to the county contract for a number of years, decided not to do so last summer.

As a result, Wascher said the city had to get bids on its own for the paving and that delayed the work.

He added that roads approved to be repaved in Brentwood were completed as planned. He explained that roads are not always paved throughout a subdivision because it would require all the city’s money.

Lewis showed the council about a dozen slides with different terms for cracks and holes. He started with “potholes” and said the city looks for those.

Brown also complained that the asphalt that was used in the paving is not even with the manhole covers, which she said would cause car problems for people who drive on the streets.

Wascher and Lewis agreed with her. Wascher said the covers will be evened-off with the pavement using spacers. He said the city hopes to have that work completed in a couple of months.

Mayor Clark Hill said the subject of paving comes up at nearly every meeting of the county’s mayors. The group meets for lunch quarterly.

He said the discussion is “on-going” to “pool together” and ask for bids for multiple cities, one after the other. He said the idea is to get a contractor to move equipment to the county and then move it from city to city rather than from the contractors’ office to the county multiple times.

Public Works director Rick Lewis explained to the council that the city hires a company to “map” the city streets by taking a photo every 10 feet on city streets. The streets to be repaved are picked from that “mapping.”

Lewis said a variety of types of cracks and holes show up each year and the “worst” roads are picked. Lewis said the roads are graded on a five-point scale, with 5 the worst. The roads to pave are picked from that list.

Hill said the process has been non-political ever since he has been involved.


In other business, the council:

•heard a report about the audit from Amanda Wilkson, with Bates & Carter, the city’s auditors. She said the audit still is in a draft form and the final version will be sent to the city in a couple of weeks.

•certified the 2019 city election results. The incumbent council members were re-elected: Hill as mayor and council members Mark Fitzpatrick, Bobby Redmon and Johnny Eubanks. Two of three Commerce Board of Education incumbents were defeated. Newly elected to the BOE are Knox Smith and Kyle Moore, who has been on the board before. Paul Sergent was the incumbent re-elected.

•tabled an annexation and rezoning request by William Madden on Lords Mill Rd. Madden had asked that 15 acres be rezoned R-1 and said he would build a house for his family on it. Wascher said an adjacent property is going back to the planning commission and Madden would like for that decision to be made.

•recognized the Commerce High School boys’ cross country team, which won the school’s first-ever state championship.

•approved a license for the sale of on-premise beer for the Strange Duck Brewing Co. at 26 Old Allen Road. Hill said the property of the former driving range and putt-putt had been bought and the brewery would be built.

•approved a lease with the Georgia Public Web, a nonprofit group, for high-speed fiber optics. The city will provide four optical fibers to GPW at the splice point near NES on Hwy. 334 close to Ingles and ending at city hall. It is 2.92 miles. GPW will pay the city $300 per month under the five-year lease.

Decision on school-zone speed cameras slated for next week

Jefferson leaders will soon make a decision on automated speed cameras in school zones, an issue on which opinion continues to be divided.

The city council will vote on the matter Nov. 25. The devices, using lasers, would detect speeding infractions in these areas and automatically cite violators. The state recently passed a law allowing such automated technology to be placed in school zones.

After another lengthy discussion over the matter Nov.18, the council agreed to wait a week before voting to allow more time for a decision.

“I’m trying to figure out what my constituents want, and I’m for the (police) chief and I’m for our police department,” councilman Jon Howell said. “I am torn right now, so I want some time to pray about it, to research it and come back with an informed decision.”

The issue has been debated since city police chief Joe Wirthman asked last month that the city contract with Blue Line Solutions for the cameras to curb speeding in school zones. He said he met with other companies, but chose Blue Line because he found it to be the sole provider of laser technology to detect speeds, which he believes to be a higher-quality system.

Under the agreement, the city would retain 65 percent of the revenue from paid fines with the remaining 35 percent going to Blue Line. A minimum two-year contract with the company is required. A motorist would not receive a ticket unless speeding at 11 mph or faster through a school zone during school hours on school days. Fines would be considered civil fines and not count towards points on a motorist’s driving record. Every ticket must first be approved by the Jefferson Police Department. A digital display would be placed 500 feet before the school zone, alerting motorists of their speed. Additionally, signs would alert motorists of all speed camera zones. The department will also provide a 30-45 day educational period before citations begin.

According to city attorney Ronnie Hopkins, who is also the Jefferson Board of Education chairman, the school system “has no objection” to the speed cameras.

The council heard from the public on the issue Nov. 18 as 10 city residents addressed the council. More citizens spoke against the technology rather than for it.

Brittany Odom said removing the human element from speed enforcement leaves “too much room for error.”

“Having a physical officer there is invaluable because there are so many other dangers that can be prevented by having a physical officer that an automated machine just can’t take care of,” she said.

Councilman-elect Clint Roberts said he is “not a fan of cameras at all” and favors a police presence enforcing the 25 mph school-zone limit more stringently — not allowing a 10-mph cushion — to deter speeders rather than installing an automated system.

“If you want to make people really stop, make it a big deal,” he said.

Mike Beller, Chamblee’s assistant chief of police who lives in Jefferson, supported the automated camera system and said his department is looking into the same technology.

“It’s very fair,” he said. “A camera treats everyone the same, no matter who they know.”

Beller said the cameras are also useful in catching criminals. The technology allows for license-plate reading, which would alert city police within 30-40 seconds of any motorist who is considered a wanted person, or if a vehicle is stolen.

“It is a great crime-prevention tool,” Beller said.

Wirthman, who addressed the council before public comment, reiterated his view that the automated speed camera system would serve as a deterrent for speeders.

“I’m trying to find a way to slow people down in school zones,” he said.

But mayor Steve Quinn again expressed his issues with the cameras. He said alternatives, such as digital speed signs, should be considered first.

Quinn asked Wirthman why other methods haven’t been attempted and if speed cameras were the only option within the department to reduce school-zone speeding. Wirthman said the only other alternative is to provide more man power for a department tasked with covering a 22-mile area in the city with only three-to-four officers per shift.

“If you allow me to hire four officers, I’ll put an officer in each school zone,” he said. “Give me two officers, and I can move them back and forth.”

Quinn said he favored officers pulling over motorists and expressed concerns about contesting automated speed camera tickets in court.

“You can’t address your accuser in court,” he said.

Wirthman said the automated tickets could be contested in court.

If the council does want the technology, Quinn said the city should consider proposals from other companies before making a decision.

Councilman Malcolm Gramley said he’s in support of the cameras if the intent is to protect children and not generate revenue. He said according to traffic data, 10 vehicles exceeded 60 mph in a five-day period in front of the high school on Hwy. 129.

“If we don’t stop that or slow it down or do something, what happens when somebody is out there and gets hit?” Gramley said.

Councilman Mark Mobley said he wants to ensure that data collected from the cameras would not be sold to third parties. A representative from Blue Line who attended the meeting said the company does not sell or retain the data. The data belongs to the city.

Mobley said he wants a “clear definition” of the plan for speed cameras moving forward.

“I would love for us to say, ‘It’s going to be X miles an hour (over the speed limit), it’s going to be this much of a fine, we’re going to have digital displays here’ … I’d love for us to agree at least on those things, so that when we talk to the public before we make any decisions, the public is comparing apples to apples and not misinformation,” he said.


In other business, the council:

•heard a variance request from C&M Commercial Investors to waive a primary building material requirement for property at 1080 Academy Church Road to allow for a commercial shop. The applicant wishes to use metal fascia for two sides of the building instead of using brick on all four sides.

•discussed possible changes to general architectural building requirements in the city’s land use management code. City planner Jerry Weitz said the city staff is concerned about some of the limits on the types of materials allowed for the exteriors of office, institutional and commercial developments. Weitz mentioned that some national restaurant chains use materials not allowed in the city’s codes.

•discussed amending city ordinances to better define guidelines for open burning.

•discussed a resolution to amend and readopt fee schedules for the building, planning and development and fire departments.

•discussed a resolution accepting the dedication of a sanitary sewer line from Aldi, Inc.

•met in closed session to discuss property acquisition. No action was taken.

Golf cart use discussed in Commerce

Commerce may create an ordinance regulating the use of golf carts.

That was the focus of a town hall meeting Wednesday, Nov. 13, that attracted more than 20 people, including all the city council members and the mayor.

Mayor Clark Hill said a number of city residents have asked him about the use of carts.

Police chief Zach Ardis said the state requires local governments to pass an ordinance and until that is done, use of golf carts locally is illegal.

One woman who attended quarreled with his interpretation, saying the state ordinance allows the use of the carts now, but allows a local ordinance to further regulate their use.

Ardis said until “crossing areas” – over state and federal highways – are established, the cart use is illegal.

The chief also said the city is just beginning to talk about an ordinance.

“What would that look like and what would it include?” Ardis asked.

Commerce is “not really built” to accommodate cart usage, he said.

He said the meeting was to hear from city residents and for officials to then see if those ideas are feasible.

For example, Ardis said, the city would have no jurisdiction to lower or raise the state speed limits for carts. He also said the state law sets the permit fee at a maximum of $15 for five years.

Any driver of a cart must have a state driver’s license, he said.

A “low-speed motorized vehicle” may go 20- to 25-miles per hour, Ardis said, but can be used only on roads where the speed limit is 35 mph or less.

A “personal transportation vehicle,” also called golf carts, can only be used at less than 20 miles per hour and on roads with a speed limit of 25 mph or less.

The carts may not be driven on state or federal highways, the chief said. He explained that would preclude using them on Hwy. 441, Broad/Elm Street, Homer or Jefferson Road. In addition, those roads have higher speed limits than the carts are allowed to reach.

Those highways would have to have “designated area” for the carts to use for crossings, Ardis said.

Carts may have striped lanes to use on road and signs that say they can be used on a road. The carts are not allowed on sidewalks, he said.

Ardis also said the state law was changed in 2012 and the changes are stricter.

When the carts are registered, they also are checked for a variety of features, depending on the local ordinance. Some features are hip restraints, handholds, brakes and lights.

Ardis said Peachtree City and Johns Creek has extensive use of the carts and roads where lanes are designated for them. Joel Logan, the GIS manager for Jackson County, said much of the Peachtree City infrastructure is built on top of the city’s sewer system.

City manager James Wascher said the city does not have a ready source of money for infrastructure to build a cart-friendly city.

Hill and Ardis said the comments they have received about the use of carts have been “positive.”

Kenerly appeal denied

The Supreme Court of Georgia has denied an appeal by Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly, challenging a decision made in a local court that allowed the recall effort against her to move forward.

Kenerly came under fire in May for reportedly not including a candidate for city administrator because he is black and she didn't think the city was "ready for that." In a news story, mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland defended Kenerly and expressed his views against interracial relationships.

The backlash against the two public officials was swift, with citizens filing numerous ethics complaints and calling for their resignations. When that didn't happen, a group of citizens began pursuing a recall.

Both Kenerly and Cleveland challenged the effort in the Superior Court of Jackson County, but visiting Judge David Sweat ruled they could both move forward. In response, Kenerly's attorney filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Georgia in October, but the request was denied.


Meanwhile, the recall effort against Kenerly and Cleveland has crossed the next hurdle in the process. Organizers have reportedly collected the required signatures of 30-percent of registered voters in Hoschton.

Once those signatures are verified by the Jackson County Board of Elections, a special election will he held on whether to remove Kenerly and Cleveland from office.

Early voting nears for Braselton runoff

Early voting is coming up for the Dec. 3 Braselton Town Council District 1 runoff election. Incumbent Becky Richardson faces challenger Richard Mayberry in that election.

Early voting will be held Nov. 25-27 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On Election Day, Dec. 3, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Both early and Election Day voting will be held in the Braselton Police and Municipal Court building at 5040 Hwy. 53, Braselton.