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Jefferson project gets planning board Ok

Third time's a charm — at least that's what developers of a proposed commercial project in Jefferson are hoping.

The Jefferson-Talmo Planning Commission approved a rezoning and several related variances for two tracts at the intersection of Old Pendergrass Rd. and Hwy. 129 bypass in Jefferson for commercial development at its meeting Dec. 2. The final decision will be made by the Jefferson City Council and will be on the council's December agenda.

This is the third time plans for commercial development on the site have been put forward, including one plan by Walmart for a store that was withdrawn following a public backlash over concerns about traffic.

No one spoke in opposition to the current project at the planning board's meeting Dec. 2.

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 project is being developed by Capstone Property Group of Gainesville.

The project will have access off of both Hwy. 129 and Old Pendergrass Rd.


In other action Dec. 2, the planning board approved:

•  a variance for a sign at North Jefferson Business Park on Hwy. 129 north.

• a conditional use for Verizon Wireless for a 190-foot tower at 1740 Washington St., Jefferson.

• an amendment to Jefferson's land use code concerning approved building materials for the exterior of commercial developments.

The Jefferson First Baptist Church held its 11th annual Turkey Can 5K Run Canned Food Drive on Thanksgiving morning as a fundraiser for its food bank ministry. Shown are some of the participants of the race: Timothy, Leah and Malachi Bedard, 1, traveled from Connecticut; Carol Guse, 81, was the oldest participant that took part in the race; Knox Dorethy, 5, was the youngest participant of the race, and Katie Wiederholt and Robert Beasley traveled from New Mexico.

Employee pay study to be presented to council

The Commerce City Council will get recommendations about pay for its employees before its voting meeting Dec. 16.

Evergreen Solutions was hired to study the city’s pay and benefit levels. City manager James Wascher said the report has been completed and meetings with employees are being scheduled.

Once those are done, the report will be released to the council and public, Wascher said. He said he hopes to be through with employee meetings by the end of the week.

He told the city council at its work session Dec. 2 the city “might be a little bit under” area salary levels in some areas, but the city is “competitive” with its benefits.

The city paid about $22,000 to $23,000 for the study. The company first gathered information from employees and compared that with “peer” cities in the area.

He said the company has “some recommendations” for the city.


The council also will consider several zoning items at its Dec. 16 meeting.

A rezoning of about 98 acres of the James Bouchard farm has been recommended for industrial zoning and annexation into the city.

A portion of the Bouchard farm that is largely adjacent to Interstate 85 was annexed and re-zoned several months ago.

The current proposal has a number of conditions to go with it. Council members asked several questions about the site, including a “reasonable” amount of space for a buffer. The planning commission recommended an 80-foot vegetative buffer for any property in the city that is adjacent to the re-zoned land.

Council members asked if there is enough time before its Dec. 16 meeting to gather the information it requested. Some council members asked if the proposal should be tabled while the information is gathered.

Mayor Clark Hill said the buffer should be “reasonable” and be enough to keep residential land “protected.”

However, he also said any property within about half a mile of I-85 from “the South Carolina border to Gwinnett County” is likely to be an eventual target for development.

Council members also asked about the buffer for the Twin Lakes subdivision, which also is being developed in the area.

Council member Bobby Redmon said the Bouchard property is the first proposal, but not the last, for development in the area.

“We just need to make sure we get this right,” he said.

Another zoning issue was the right-of-way for the Bana Road, which is the entrance to a proposed 600-acre project by Rooker Development that is on the Maysville side of I-85.

Wascher said the county has agreed to deed that right-of-way for the road to the city, but the paperwork has not been sent.

He said once the paperwork is in, the city can issue an RFP to see if developers want to build the proposed road. He said Rooker is the only developer he expects for the project because that company has the land and the development plan.

Wascher also said he expects the road to be built in phases because the development will require “several” crossings of it. One of those crossings would be large and expensive, he implied.

Redmon said the quality of the built road should be carefully checked before the city accepts it. Wascher said typically the city requires a developer to certify the road compaction and provide a signed engineer’s statement about it. Hill said a road bond would help ensure that quality.


Council members also agreed on a series of conditions that would provide for the rezoning of the Twin Lakes land from A-R to R-1 residential.

Because the subdivision was approved more than five years ago, developers would be required to go through the permitting process for soil and water conservation again.

Additional greenspace to meet the city requirement of 20 percent of the development and three- to five-house plans for the subdivision also are expect to be added.


In other business Dec. 12, the council:

•will be asked to approve a re-zoning on Mt. Olive Rd. from A-R to R-1 residential. It would then match a parcel with which it will be combined and will be the entry for the subdivision that was approved in May.

•will be asked to agree to change a zoning on Ila Rd. from mixed commercial and residential to commercial. An equipment rental business is expected to be operated on the property.

•will hear a request for a variance in Oconee Pointe that the planning commission recommended be denied. Wascher said the city’s ordinance requires that any outbuildings be put on the rear of the property, behind the line of the house. Jordan Shoemaker, planning and zoning administrator, said three exceptions are known about in the subdivision.

•will be asked to approve changes in the International Building Codes for 2018. Wascher said the city adopted the IBC in 2012 and this is an update. The city may choose to follow its own code, Wascher said, but that would be a complicated process.

•will be asked to approve an ordinance to allow right-of-way access to small cell and other infrastructure for 3-percent of the revenue or $5,000 per mile annual fee. Wascher said the 3-percent fee is what would be a franchise fee.

•will be asked to approve various alcoholic beverage licenses for 24 businesses in the city

•will be asked to elect Kevin Dean as fire chief for another four-year term.

•will be asked to appoint Shonda Jones and Caleb Jordan to three-year terms on the city’s recreation board.

Nicholson approves 2020 budget

The Nicholson City Council unanimously approved its FY 2020 budget at the Dec. 2 meeting. 

The total budget is $752,504, up from the 2019 budget of $682,134. 

Revenue increases for 2020 include an increase in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) of $25,000; $8,000 increase in insurance premium tax; $23,000 increase in building rental fees; $5,000 increase in TAVT; $3,500 increase for sanitation; and $5,000 in miscellaneous fees. 

In other action, the council:

  • unanimously approved Bert Carithers as the city's appointee to the Nicholson Water Authority. Carithers' term is for five years. 
  • unanimously approved a security monitoring agreement for the security and fire alarms at the Benton facility. The agreement is through EMC security at a cost of $60.95 per month for both. 

The next work session is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 26 at 6:30 p.m. At the next city council meeting (Jan. 6, 2020), mayor Jan Webster and council members Mike Barfield and Lamar Watkins will be sworn in. 

Chamber hears about remodel of JCCHS

The remodeling of Jackson County Comprehensive High School for the Empower College and Career Center may require as much as $20 million, John Uesseler, the CEO for the facility, told the chamber board Nov. 22.

Uesseler said the Empower board has about $6 million to start the process.

That amount “is not going to even get us halfway to where we need” to be, he said.

Uesseler said fundraising will have to provide much of the remainder. He said naming laboratories or other parts of the school for donations is likely.

Work on the renovation is under way with preliminary design. Uesseler said the firm of Lindsay Pope Brayfield Clifford & Associates has been hired as the architects.

The Empower center is expected to open the fall of 2021.

Uesseler said the JCCHS building could be “reoriented” so the front would be near the main parking lot.


He said the current entrance with the office and the media center at the front of the school could become the headquarters for the chamber.

The chamber board met at JCCHS to hear about the college and career academy and began consideration for moving the chamber into that facility. The chamber also had discussed the move to the college and career center at its recent retreat.

Uesseler said the school’s fieldhouse could be renovated to become the healthcare science and childcare clinic for the center.

The current gym could become space for large meetings or dinners, he said. The area could include a stage with a mezzanine around the top part.

He also said labs for classes such as automotive repair and welding could be along the front of the building. That would “change the way the building looks,” he said.

Phase I of the renovation could include “heavy” labs, a facelift for the building, a new roof and a sprinkler system.

Uesseler described the Empower facility as being able to define “what the secondary experience is going to look like.”

“This is different than your typical remodel,” he said.


In other business, the chamber board:

•heard nominations for new board members. Jim Shaw, president and CEO, said the executive committee recommends Linda Strickland, Kubota, who served an unexpired term for Trey Leslie; Patricia Massey, who lives in Commerce and works for Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center in Athens; and Kathy Lindburg, with Wilco Printing and Signs in Braselton. Joe Hicks, Jackson EMC, will be the incoming chairman of the board of directors.

•heard Shaw report the board will have a “mini-retreat” to meet with a U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive. He said the retreat would discuss the chamber’s “strategic” plan and a marketing plan that would be part of the strategic plan. It likely will be in February.

•heard Shaw say he expects to present the 2020 budget at the board’s December meeting.

Jefferson council approves speed cameras in school zones

The much-discussed speed cameras in Jefferson’s school zones will become a reality.

The Jefferson City Council approved the automated speed detection and ticketing devises with a 4-1 vote Nov. 25 after deliberating on the issue for over a month. Jon Howell cast the lone “no” vote.

The devices, using lasers, will detect speeders in school zones and automatically cite violators. City leaders have not yet determined when speed cameras would be installed or when enforcement would take effect. A 30-day warning period, however, is expected to precede the beginning of enforcement. 

The city will contract with Blue Line Solutions for these laser-based speed cameras. It will retain 65 percent of revenue from speeding fines and Blue Line will collect the remaining 35 percent. Because of this payment structure, the city wasn’t required to seek bids for this equipment.

Jefferson police chief Joe Wirthman requested the city contract with Blue Line because it was the lone company he found utilizing laser technology — which he believes to be more accurate than radar — in speed cameras.

The city is locked into a one-year contract with Blue Line, though the terms originally called for a two-year agreement. Blue Line owner Mark Hutchinson agreed to reduce the contract length.

A graduated fine system for more multiple offenses was also discussed by the council, yet the scale has not yet been determined. 

Fines would be considered civil fines and not count towards points on a motorist’s driving record. Each ticket must be approved by the Jefferson Police Department. Data collected by Blue Line will also not be sold to a third party.

Motorists will not be ticketed unless traveling 11 mph over the speed limit or faster through school zones. Signage will alert drivers of speed-camera zones prior to entry. Digital speed displays will also notify drivers of their speed 500 feet before reaching the surveillance zone.

Motorists will be subject to automated ticketing only when school is in session. The council discussed ticketing speeders from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Speed cameras will be calibrated daily.

Councilman Mark Mobley presented a proposal for the speed cameras and much of his input was used by the council in approving the technology. Mobley, anticipating that speed cameras might not be popular among citizens, asked Wirthman if he still believed this was the correct decision.

“People love to feel safe, but they hate to be hit in their pocketbook,” Mobley said to Wirthman. “With that in mind, that this is going to cost some of the esteem, some of the respect of you and your officers, do you still feel like this is the right thing to do?”

Wirthman answered “absolutely.”

“We’re here to protect the public, and I think this is one of the ways we protect our children,” Wirthman said.

Jefferson mayor Steve Quinn opposed the speed cameras, contending that alternative methods of reducing speed in school zones should be considered first.

Howell, the lone dissenter among the councilmen, said he wrestled with his decision to vote “no.” But discussions with his constituents, along with his own concerns, led him to oppose the speed cameras. Like Quinn, he said he felt other options needed consideration.

“I think all options are on the table when it comes to school safety and our kids, but at this point in time, I don’t think we’ve done everything that’s in front of us to be able to implement this technology,” Howell said.

Councilman-elect Clint Roberts also spoke against the speed cameras, expressing concern that the technology wasn’t bid-out. He also asked why radar wasn’t “good enough for enforcement.”

Jefferson resident Rob Shanahan voiced his disappointment with the vote, too, questioning the need for speed cameras. He noted that the ticketing hours discussed by the council coincide with “flashing light” hours in school zones. Traffic congestion around the schools is common during those hours.

“I’m not sure where the speeders are going to be,” Shanahan said.


In other business, the council:

•approved, with a 4-1 vote, 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. Howell voted “no.”

•approved city-ordinance amendments to better define guidelines for open burning.

•approved a resolution to amend and re-adopt fee schedules for the building, planning and development and fire departments.

•approved a resolution accepting a sanitary sewer line from Aldi, Inc.

Richardson keeps council seat

Incumbent Becky Richardson held on to her Braselton Town Council seat in the Dec. 3 runoff election.

Richardson defeated challenger Richard Mayberry in the District 1 race, garnering 98 votes to Mayberry's 61.

Richardson, Mayberry and Joy Basham faced off in the Nov. 5 election, with none of the three gaining over 50-percent of the vote which forced the runoff election.

Richardson and Mayberry have ran against each other before. In 2015, Richardson ousted Mayberry, who was the incumbent District 1 council member at that time.

Hoschton recall moves forward

The recall effort against two Hoschton City Council members will go forward following action by the Jackson County Board of Elections Dec. 3.

The elections board approved the "legal sufficiency" of over 400 signatures calling for Mayor Theresa Kenerly and mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland to be recalled.

A special election will be held Jan. 14 in Hoschton to decide if Kenerly and Cleveland should be removed from office. Early voting for the recall election will begin Dec. 23.

The elections board determined that there were 412 verified signatures calling for the recall of Cleveland and 422 signatures petitioning for the removal of Kenerly. Both were above the 342 signatures needed for the recall to move forward.

The background: Both Cleveland and Kenerly came under fire in May following a report that Kenerly had removed a job application for a city administrator that had been submitted by a black male candidate. Kenerly allegedly told a council member she wasn't sure the community was "ready for that," meaning a black city administrator.

Cleveland then defended Kenerly in a newspaper article and added that he didn't like to see interracial couples because it went against his religious beliefs.

A firestorm erupted following the comments and led to calls for both Kenerly and Cleveland to resign. When they didn't resign, a recall move was formed. That led to a first round of signatures calling for a recall. Kenerly and Cleveland challenged the move in court, but a judge found that there was sufficient reason to allow the recall to move forward.

That led to a second round of gathering signatures by recall proponents. It was those signatures which the board of elections approved Dec. 3.

Meanwhile, two new council members have joined the council following November's elections. One incumbent council member didn't run for re-election and the other was defeated at the ballot box.

What's next: If either Kenerly or Cleveland — or both — are recalled Jan. 14, a special election will be held in early March for a new mayor and/or mayor pro tem. But that election will not coincide with the March presidential primary, officials said. Both Kenerly and Cleveland would be able to run for re-election.

What's unclear is how, or even if, the Hoschton City Council could function without a mayor and mayor pro tem in the interim between January and March.

Industrial re-zoning recommended

The Commerce Planning Commission unanimously recommended the annexation and rezoning of land on the James Bouchard farm for industrial use despite one family’s opposition.

The commission recommended the item to the city council at its Nov. 25 meeting. The council will vote on the nearly 97-acre tract at its Dec. 16 meeting. The rezoning would be from AF in the county to M-1 in the city.

The request had been tabled at the October meeting because two of the commission’s members were absent.

The rezoning provision was adopted with two conditions, but those are modified and one more has been added at the planning administrator’s request.

The conditions adopted by the commission would create an 80-foot vegetative buffer, which would require 80 percent evergreen trees that reach a mature height of 20 feet and exterior light must be shielded.

Administrator Jordan Shoemaker recommended the buffer include specific kinds of vegetation and include the approval and monitoring of the buffer by the arborist and the building official. The additional condition, which was requested by  opponents, would forbid truck traffic on Lords Mill Road.

Commission member Melinda Cochran suggested the conditions for residential or agriculture zonings for adjacent property. Chairman Joe Leffew included them in his motion for the rezoning.

The Simmons family objected to the proposal. Parents and daughters spoke to the commission. More than one person said the property had been in the family since 1883.

Leffew noted the change has been developing since Interstate 85 was built through the area in the 1960s.

“This is going to be a reoccurring theme in our area for a good while,” Leffew said. The planning commission chairman made a lengthy speech about the changes in the area because of the interstate.

He said the change will come to all the counties near Atlanta with an interstate – Gwinnett, Forsyth and Dawson were among the ones he mentioned.

Andre Rollins, the vice-chairman of the commission, said the interstate is basically dictating what occurs. Leffew said land all around the Hwy. 98 exit on I-85 has been zoned, or thought of as, industrial property for years.

Leffew added the industrial zoning does not require any buffer because the land is all agriculture and noise abatement also is not required.

The county is evolving quickly from rural to urban, Leffew said.


In other business, the council:

•recommended annexing and re-zoning a parcel of about 57 acres for the Twin Creeks subdivision. It was recommended for rezoning from AR in the county to R-1 in Commerce. The commission recommended conditions with its approval. They included a permitting process for soil and water that goes through the state, a speed “hump” to slow traffic down near the entrance and a sign for the subdivision of about 100 square feet. The subdivision is proposed to have houses with 2,000- to 2,400-square feet. The planning administrator recommended different conditions. She recommended that new soil and water conservation plans be submitted because the property has been undeveloped for five years; elimination of the speed hump; plantings and landscaping to increase the greenspace to a city-approved 20 percent, beyond the recommended 12 percent; and a required variation of three- to five-house plans and facades.

•agreed to two re-zonings, one on Mt. Olive Rd to R-1 residential and one on Ila Rd. from mixed commercial and residential to commercial. The Mt. Olive Rd. tract is for the entrance of a subdivision. The Ila Rd. property is to allow a farm and equipment sales rental and repair for home construction business.

•denied a request for a variance for a building in the Oconee Pointe subdivision. Planning commission members said a variance would set a precedent for all other property in the city, Current city ordinances require a building to be in the rear of the property. This building, by Jerry Lee Cox, was on the side, next to a drive. Several other property owners opposed the variance.