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Massive Hwy. 53 project withdrawn

A request has been withdrawn for a massive project off Hwy. 53 with a mix of multi-family, commercial and warehouse space.

Braselton Planning Director Kevin Keller said Stolz Partners, LLC’s request has been withdrawn. (The request had been set for a hearing at the Braselton Planning Commission’s meeting Oct. 28.)

Stolz had requested to rezone 77 acres off Hwy. 53 at Braselton Pkwy. with plans for 240 multi-family units, six commercial outparcels and nearly 500,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space on the property.

Two new subdivisions get planning Ok

Two new subdivisions totaling over 450 homes could be coming to the West Jackson area following tentative approval by the Jackson County Planning Commission.

The planning board gave a green light to rezone 130 acres on Gum Springs Church Rd. for a subdivision of around 300 homes, and to rezone 89 acres at 8308 Hwy. 53 Braselton for around 150 residential lots.

Both plans will go to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners in November for final action.

The project on Gum Springs Church Rd. is being proposed by Gum Springs 130 LLC. It calls for rezoning the property from A-2 to R-2 and for a special use for a master planned subdivision.  The final number of homes will be determined after engineering is done on the number of entrances needed and allowed for the project.

The proposed development on Hwy. 53 is being done by McKinley Homes US LLC. It abuts the Hunting Hills subdivision near New Liberty Church Rd.

Several residents from Hunting Hills spoke about the proposed project, airing concerns about its impact on traffic and in wanting a green space buffer along the property line between the two developments.


In other action at the planning board's Oct. 24 meeting, the board voted 3-1 to recommend denial of a small development on four acres at the corner of Hwy. 53 and Bill Watkins Rd. Hoschton. Flipping Out, LLC had applied for a map amendment to change the designation of the property from rural to suburban.


In other action, the planning board approved:

• rezoning 2.3 acres at 5799 Maysville Rd., Commerce, from A-2 to CRC.

• rezoning .8 acre from NRC to HRC at 8188 Hwy. 53, Braselton.

• rezoning 3.6 acres from A-2 to M-H at the corner of Thyatira-Brockton Rd. and Wilhite Rd., Jefferson.

• a map amendment for 13.7 acres at 3945 Hwy. 332, Hoschton to suburban-commercial.

• a text amendment updating the distance between establishments selling alcoholic beverages and churches and schools.

Kenerly appeals court decision

Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly is appealing a court’s decision to allow a recall effort against her to move forward. Kenerly’s attorneys filed an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court on Oct. 25.

That action reportedly will not impact the timeline for recall organizers to collect signatures of 30-percent of registered voters within 30 days.

Kenerly came under fire earlier this year after a fellow council member Hope Weeks said Kenerly did not include the resume of a candidate for city administrator, Keith Henry, because he is black and she wasn’t sure the citizens were “ready for that.”

Kenerly and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Cleveland — who defended Kenerly and expressed his views against interracial relationships — faced fierce backlash from citizens. Over 40 ethics complaints were filed against both Kenerly and Cleveland and a number of citizens called for their resignations.

When that didn’t happen, a group of citizens organized to pursue a recall election. Both Kenerly and Cleveland challenged the effort in the Superior Court of Jackson County. During the Oct. 2 hearings on those challenges, Senior Judge David Sweat ruled that recall efforts could go forward.

Judge Sweat decided there were sufficient grounds on three claims against Kenerly, one of which said she may have considered race as a factor when hiring a city administrator.

But Kenerly’s appeal argues that claim is “based on a reprehensible mischaracterization” of her statement and that “The media, and the petitioner, misconstrued that statement as indicative of personal racism.”

The appeal also argues that Kenerly presented the council with the four candidates, including Henry. (According to testimony in the Oct. 2 hearing, Kenerly had presented the council with only three candidates for the position before her conversation with Weeks. Following that conversation, Henry’s resume was emailed to the council.)

Kenerly’s attorneys also note that Henry ultimately pulled his application — after accepting a job elsewhere — before a final hiring decision was made.

Additionally, Judge Sweat found sufficient grounds that Kenerly failed to oversee that an ethics commission was convened.

But the appeal argues that the town’s charter puts that responsibility on the mayor pro tem, not the mayor. It says that since Kenerly was the target of some of the ethics complaints, she recused herself and turned the issue over to the city attorney.

Lastly, Judge Sweat found sufficient grounds that Kenerly didn’t ensure the town sought competitive sealed bids for projects over $5,000. But the appeal indicates that is the responsibility of the town’s finance director, who reports to the entire city council.

While the ethics commission and bidding requirements fall to other city officials — the mayor pro tem and finance officer, respectively — the recall effort argued Hoschton has a “strong mayor” system and Kenerly is charged with overseeing all aspects of city government. Kenerly’s attorneys argue that’s an impossible standard to uphold.

“The mayor’s recall is based solely on the fact that she is the mayor with a duty to oversee everything,” the appeal said of the bidding requirements. “Under this unachievable standard, there is probable cause to remove every mayor when a city employee fails to perform his or her responsibility.

“Every mayor in this state is subject to recall daily based on this standard.”

Proposed rail project could impact Jackson

A proposed high-speed rail linking Atlanta to Charlotte, NC could pass through Jackson County with a potential rail station in Commerce.

While the idea is in the early stages, one of the routes considered for the project would have it parallel I-85 through Jackson County.

Another proposed route would have it go south along the Hwy. 316 corridor through Barrow County to Athens, then through the edge of Madison County into South Carolina.

A third route would have the rail go further north through Gainesville and Toccoa before entering South Carolina.

The project is currently in a Phase 1 environmental study and is being done by the Federal Railroad Administration.

"The exact alignments and routes for the termini of the alternatives have not yet been finalized and will be further defined in a future Tier II EIS; however, each of the alternatives will include service to downtown and airport stations in both Atlanta, GA and Charlotte, NC," says the FRA website about the project. "In particular, the project will consider connectivity between a downtown Atlanta passenger station and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, and between the proposed Charlotte Gateway Station and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport."

The project from Charlotte to Atlanta is an extension of a 1992 rail project for a system from Charlotte to Washington D.C. That link has not yet been completed.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is a partner in the project and is accepting public comments through Nov. 4 about the plans.

Comments about the project can be made online here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/AtlCha19

"Georgia DOT will base the preferred alternative decision on feedback and comments from the public and agencies, performance of each corridor alternative and the potential environmental impacts of each corridor alternative," states a GDOT website about the project.

City elections on tap Nov. 5

Election Day for local municipal races is coming up on Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

A number of city council and city school board races are on the agenda all across Jackson County. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. 


In Braselton, Richard Mayberry and Joy Basham are running against incumbent Becky Richardson for the District 1 seat on the city council.

In District 3, Jim Joedecke is running against incumbent Tony Funari for that council slot. 

Tuesday's voting will be held at the Braselton Police and Municipal Court Building at 5040 Hwy. 53, Braselton.


In Hoschton, a key city council seat is being decided against the backdrop of a controversial recall movement in the town.

Shantwon Astin, Adam Ledbetter and incumbent Mindi Kiewert are vying for two council seats. Kiewert's seat is up for election, as is that of Susan Powers, who is not running for re-election.

The two candidates with the most votes will fill the two seats.

Hoschton's voting next week will be held at the Hoschton Depot at 4272 Hwy. 53, Hoschton.


In Jefferson, Clint Roberts is challenging incumbent Don Kupis for the District 5 seat on the Jefferson City Council.

On the Jefferson Board of Education, Dana Phillips is challenging incumbent Lisa Richmond for the District 4 seat.

Jefferson's voting will take place at the city's Civic Center, 65 Kissam St., Jefferson.


The City of Commerce has a number of municipal elections on next week's ballot.

For city council, Alicia Vargas is challenging incumbent Mark Fitzpatrick for the Ward 3 seat; Sam Cotton is challenging incumbent Bobby Redmon for the Ward 4 seat; and Eric Merrell is challenging incumbent Johnny Eubanks for the Ward 5 seat.

For the Commerce Board of Education, Knox Smith is challenging incumbent Bill Davis for the District 3 seat; Kyle Moore is challenging incumbent Rodney Gary for the District 4 seat; and Roshuanda Merritt is challenging incumbent Paul Sergent for the District 5 seat.

Commerce voting will take place at the city's Parks and Recreation facility at 204 Carson St., Commerce.


In Maysville, Lynn Villyard is challenging incumbent Richard Presley for the mayor's seat while Susan Cooley is challenging incumbent Junior Hardy for the Ward 2 seat.

Maysville's voting will take place at the Methodist Church at 8482 Maysville Rd., Maysville.


In Arcade, three seats are up for election. The voting is at-large with the top three people receiving the most votes being elected.

Those running are: Marsha Fields, Cindy Bone (incumbent), Thomas Hays (incumbent), and Shane Cox (incumbent).

Debbie Stewart has withdrawn from the election.

Arcade's voting will take place at Arcade City Hall at 3325 Athens Hwy., Jefferson.


In Nicholson, four people are running for two at-large seats. Those running are: Diane Merriweather, Bobby Crawford, Dillard Lamar Watkins (incumbent) and David Michael Barfield (incumbent.)

Nicholson's voting will take place at the city's Benton Facility at 5488 Hwy. 441, Nicholson.

Commerce’s Maggie Mullis cheers as the Tigers pick up a Thursday (Oct. 24) win during the opening round of the state quarterfinals tournament in Columbus. Commerce ended up finishing third in Class A Public. Photo by Charles Phelps

Local CCRPI scores drop

All three school systems in Jackson County saw their overall CCRPI scores drop in 2019 from the year before.

That trend followed the overall state scores, which also fell in the year-over-year comparison.

The CCRPI is the state's main report card on local school systems and individual schools. It factors in several areas, including standardized test scores and graduation rates (for high schools).

The Commerce City School System was the only local system whose overall score of 74 was below the state average of 75.9.  

The Jefferson City School System was the highest in Jackson County at 90.3 while the Jackson County School System was at 78.9.


Among local high schools, Jefferson High School had the highest CCRPI score at 88.3, but that was significantly below the school's 2018 score of 92.8.

Commerce High School improved its score from 2018, going from 75.2 to 76.8, but that was still slightly below the overall state high school average of 77.0

Both Jackson County Comprehensive High School and East Jackson Comprehensive High School improved their CCRPI scores this year and both were well above the state high school average.

JCCHS had a score of 84.2, up from 82.9 the year before. EJCHS had a score of 87.2, up form 83.7 in 2018.


Among the area's weakest results on the CCRPI were:

• Commerce Primary School with a score of 62.8, down significantly from its 2018 score of 93.4.

• 8th graders at EJCHS with a score of 62.9, down from 76.4 the year before.

• North Jackson Elementary School with a score of 67.6, down from 85.6 in 2018.


2019 CCRPI

State Results

Overall 75.9

Elementary schools  77.1

Middle schools  72.1

High schools 77.0

Commerce City School System

Overall 74.0

CES  77.1

CHS  76.8

CMS  76.2

CMS 5th graders 76.0

CPS  62.8

Jackson County School System

Overall 81.7

EJCHS 8th graders  62.9

EJCHS 87.2

EJES 84.9

EJMS 75.5

GSES 80.3

JCCHS 84.2

MES 74.2

NJES 67.6

SJES 71.7

WJES 76.8

WJMS 80.4

Jefferson City School System

Overall 91.2

JA  92.6

JES 87.7

JHS 88.3

JMS  88.6