After months of wrangling, the Braselton Town Council approved Chateau Elan's controversial plans to build 68 townhomes and 55 single-family homes. The action came at the council's meeting Sept. 9.
The town's planning board had previously twice recommended denial of Chateau Elan's request to amend its master plan and for variances from several town development codes.
The proposed development also faced vocal opposition from some Chateau Elan residents who didn't want the company to turn its Par 3 golf course into housing, or to remove some vineyards in front of the resort's winery for townhouses.
The unanimous town council vote to approve the projects came with an additional six conditions on top of around 20 conditions recommended earlier by the town's planning director.
"We'll have to look at the (new) conditions and the impact and figure out what it all means," said attorney Julie Sellers, who represents Chateau Elan.
Council member Peggy Slappey made the motion for the approval and outlined the additional conditions. Among those are additional vegetative buffer areas, a council review of the facade plans before the final plat is approved, and that no more than 25 residences can be occupied before April 30, 2021.
"It is evident that the Par 3 golf course cannot, and will not, remain a golf course, as much as all of us might like it to," Slappey said about one of the areas Chateau Elan plans to convert into housing. "Development of some nature will take place."
Slappey also acknowledged that if the housing projects weren't approved, Chateau Elan could potentially build additional hotels or other projects on the property without any approval by the town council.
"There are many potential types of uses that Chateau Elan Resorts could proceed with, potentially without coming before the mayor and council," she said. "My preference is always going to be to lean toward residential homeownership."
Four of Braselton's five council members live in Chateau Elan, one of Northeast Georgia's most expensive gated communities. The housing wraps around the Chateau Elan winery, golf courses and resort hotels.
Discussions over the development have been taking place for months, but it was never clear if Chateau Elan even had to petition the town to do the projects.
When Chateau Elan was created in the 1980s, Braselton didn't have any zoning. Founder Don Panoz was left to develop the property as he wanted to do.
Later when the city did adopt a zoning ordinance, it retroactively put Chateau Elan under a Planned Unit Development (PUD) designation. PUDs are typically planned communities that are allowed to vary from standards for unique developments.
But for the most part over the years, Chateau Elan was left to development without city oversight or zoning approvals. As attorney Sellers pointed out multiple times before the town's planning commission, the Hampton Inn was built without any city approval.
Sellers indicated to the planning board that Chateau Elan, which was sold last year to the investment group Wheelock Street Capitol, would develop the property regardless of Braselton's actions.
"So we're not really talking about whether we will use the property or not, it's really the manner in which we're seeking permission to use it," she said.
Mike Rafferty, a partner in Wheelock Street Capitol which owns Chateau Elan, has also been emphatic about owners' plans to develop the property.
"We know what we're doing," he told the planning board two weeks ago.
Rafferty said that any thought the company would do anything to negatively impact Chateau Elan seemed "ludicrous."
He also said that if the town doesn't allow the requested development, the company "could move forward with various rental programs out here."
"That is something we have considered and frankly, we will consider again if we don't get what we'd like to get," he said to the town planning board. "That's not any sort of a threat, it's just that we have a piece of property that we're responsible to our investors for."
In other action, the Braselton council approved:
•a conditional use request for Rick Maxson for a little over an acre at the corner of Braselton Pkwy. and Hwy. 53 to allow a car wash.
•a conditional use request for Palmetto Braselton on a little over an acre at 2414 Hancock Dr. to allow automobile service and repair.
•an updated draft of its 2020-24 Capital Improvement Element (CIE) and Short-Term Work Program (STWP).
•a special event request from Hollie Hutchinson of Jack’s for the Antique and Artisan Festival set Oct. 25-27.
•a special event request from Matt Ruppel of Cotton Calf Kitchen for Pooches in the Park set Sept. 28.
•a renewed agreement to use the Gwinnett County Jail, the town’s primary jail.
•an agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation for lighting along the I-85 exits at SR 53 and SR 211. The GDOT will install lights along the exits as part of the interstate widening project. The town will pay the power bill.
Two Hoschton leaders at the center of a potential recall election are challenging the effort in court.
Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly and mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland filed petitions Sept. 6 to have a judge review the sufficiency of the grounds for the recall in the Superior Court of Jackson County. That action halts any progress on the recall movement until a court decision is made.
Kenerly allegedly removed the application of a candidate for city administrator because he is "black" and said the city wasn't "ready for that." In a news story, Cleveland defended Kenerly and added his views against interracial relationships.
The two have been heavily criticized in the months following, with citizens coming to council meetings each month calling for their resignations.
Over 40 ethics complaints were also recently filed against both Kenerly and Cleveland, but the city has failed to take action on a revised ethics commission ordinance after the changes were proposed several months ago.
Meanwhile, several community members have begun to seek a recall election.
The group — led by chairperson Mary Morrison — recently crossed the first hurdle of the recall process, submitting applications for official recall petitions Sept. 3, with each application having over the required 100 signatures.
The Jackson County Board of Elections met Sept. 6, voting unanimously to approve the legal sufficiency of the applications for the recall petitions. There were 131 signatures on the application against Kenerly, and 125 signatures against Cleveland.
That action started a 30-day clock for the recall movement to get signatures from 30-percent of registered voters (about 430 signatures). But that clock was quickly stopped when Kenerly and Cleveland filed their petitions in superior court later in the day on Sept. 6.
The filings have stopped the clock on the gathering of signatures to petition for a recall vote until a judge rules on the merits of the accusations on which the recall is based.
“It’s a very narrow challenge to look at the sufficiency of what is alleged in each application as to the malfeasance with reason for recall,” said elections board chair Eric Crawford.
Continued calls persist for Kenerly and Cleveland's resignations, with multiple citizens speaking out at the Hoschton City Council meeting on Sept. 5.
Joe Vogt argued the two should have already resigned and criticized the council members' silence in the months since the issue began.
Vogt specifically mentioned Kenerly's failure to voice an opinion on Cleveland's comments and whether she thought he should resign. (In the May 8 issue of this newspaper, Kenerly said she doesn’t agree with Cleveland’s comment. When asked whether she thought he should resign, Kenerly said that he “will have to lead his own heart and figure this out, just like I’m going to have to.”)
There's also been growing criticism of council member Mindi Kiewert, who has been silent since the story broke. Residents Scott Butler and Erma Denney strongly criticized Kiewert, who recently qualified for re-election.
“Mindi, it would be delusional to think this community wants you to serve again when you failed us in such a miserable fashion,” said Denney, adding Kiewert should be walking away in shame for her inaction.
Denney has been an active critic of Kenerly and Cleveland and has called for their resignation multiple times.
“…do us a favor and don’t ever utter the words, ‘I love my city,’” Denney said to Cleveland and Kenerly on Sept. 5. “Because it is abundantly clear you do not because if you did, you wouldn’t still be sitting here keeping an open, gaping wound in our community.”
Denney is also a member of the elections board. The day after criticizing Kenerly and Cleveland during public comment at the city council meeting, Denney made the motion to approve the application against Kenerly and seconded the motion against Cleveland.
At times during the Sept. 6 elections board meeting, Denney appeared to be a champion of the recall effort rather than a neutral board member. She quizzed elections staff on rejected signatures and asked who had collected those signatures; confirmed the paperwork was ready immediately for recall sponsors; questioned whether the recall organizers would have a list of those qualified to sign the next round of petitions; and attempted to ensure organizers knew who was eligible to sign.
“I just want to make sure the sponsors do hear this part,” Denney said to recall organizers who attended the meeting. “That if you register one day, you are eligible to sign the following day.”
Hoschton residents are fed up with continued delays on a trash pickup contract.
Several citizens spoke about the issue at the Hoschton City Council meeting Sept. 5. The city’s garbage pickup contract has been left unresolved since April. (An interim company was brought in for trash pickup in the meantime.)
City administrator Dale Hall said they’re still working on a new request for proposals (RFP) for the city’s trash pickup.
“It’s a lot deeper than you might consider this because the financial implications of this are a concern,” Hall said.
He added there are cost implications for a number of details, from the color of the bins and pickup date, to the ownership of the cans (city vs. garbage company). Hall said the original RFP did not address those issues.
“And the bids that came back were apples and oranges,” he said. “We couldn’t justify that.”
He said the new bid requests will be “locked-down tight” and anticipates having the information ready for the council in the next week or two.
But residents questioned why there’s been such a hold-up.
“…I’m confused as to why we’re still talking about this,” said Joe Vogt, adding that putting a bid package together and reviewing the submissions is “at most, a couple of week’s work.”
Vogt said that any delays add support to the idea that the city could be gaming the system, preparing a bid package that pre-selects a successful bidder.
“Someone at this table isn’t doing their job either fairly or effectively,” he added.
Former mayor Erma Denney noted residents have “had enough of the blatant stall tactics for the RFP and contract.”
She said the temporary containers brought in by the interim pickup company are overflowing with trash.
Denney pointed the finger at Hall, saying that with his experience, he should have been able to get the RFPs through months ago.
“Instead, here we are in September with a stop-gap for service,” said Denney.
She stressed the need for a “strong and independent” administrator ahead of the massive growth expected in Hoschton over the upcoming years.
“You are a professional, hired who we look to as we forge this new path as a city with all of the challenges that the pending explosion of growth is going to bring to us,” said Denney. “We must have a strong and independent city administrator to manage these crucial years ahead of us.”
Resident Judy Hall echoed the need for strong leadership ahead of the anticipated growth, citing concerns over two water leaks in Deer Creek. She said the leaks have been running for months and urged the city to take care of the “small things” before trying to take on growth.
“If you can’t take care of two leaks in months…how are you going to do anything with all of the new subdivisions that you have allowed in our city?” she asked.
Also at its Sept. 5 and 9 meetings, the council:
•held a public hearing on the upcoming 2020-40 comprehensive plan update. A steering committee will be formed for the update and input hearings will be held as the process progresses.
•heard an update on a previous concern raised by a resident on the requirement to provide home addresses during public comment. Hall said that is required in the city’s code, but said the city is currently looking into state regulations on the issue.
•approved allowing a master meter for the Azalea Senior Village currently under construction.
•approved moving the November council meeting to Tuesday, Nov. 12, since the previous Monday is Veterans Day.
•approved a small cell ordinance and CSL/UNITI application. The changes allow phone companies to construct small cell towers for 5G service in city rights-of-way. Similar changes have been proposed across the county to comply with new state legislation.
•approved a $3,240 bid from New Vision Group for sidewalk improvements on City Square.
•held a closed session on personnel, but no action followed.
LongHorn Steakhouse will open in Braselton on Tuesday, Sept. 17.
The restaurant will hold a "lasso cutting" at 2 p.m. to celebrate its opening day.
The 5,465-square-foot restaurant is located at 2700 Hwy. 211. It will seat more than 180 guests and is led by managing partner Todd Haskell.
Braselton is seeking input for its upcoming comprehensive plan update.
"The Town of Braselton, Georgia has hired a consultant team to develop the Town's 20-year Comprehensive Plan Update," according to a news release. "The goal is to update the existing 2030 Comprehensive Plan to create a 20-year policy document that guides the future growth of the town and promotes the needs, goals, and objectives of the community."
An online survey is available at https://tsw-design.typeform.com/to/FhsjDZ.
The town also plans a visioning workshop on Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. in the community room.
For more information, visit braseltoncompplan.com
Get up close and personal with creatures that slither and crawl at Elachee’s 27th annual Snake Day.
This seasonal nature education festival is a family-friendly event. Attendees can visit with nearly two dozen regional herpetological experts who entertain audiences with live demonstrations of exotic species of snakes, alligators, lizards, turtles, tortoises, toads and frogs.
The 2019 Snake Day will be Saturday, Sept. 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Admission is $10 per person (2 years old and older) and $5 per person for Elachee members. Free shuttles are available from the designated parking area.
Elachee Nature Science Center is located at 2125 Elachee Dr., Gainesville.
For more information, call 770-535-1976.
Additional details on Snake Day — including exhibitors, vendors and other highlights — can be found at elachee.org/public-programs/special-events/snake-day/
A family fantasy-adventure movie, Dumbo, will be presented by the Braselton Visitors Bureau on Saturday, Sept. 14, at dusk.
Shown on the big screen at Town Green and free to the public, the 2019-released movie runs two hours and is rated PG.
"Fans will love the storyline," organizers state. "A newborn elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps save a struggling Medici Brothers Circus. But when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends learn of dark secrets beneath its shining veneer. It’s an incredibly warm story about a mother’s love for her child starring Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny Devito and Eva Green."
Patrons are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets and use the free parking at the town’s new parking deck. Concessions will be available.