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Braselton planners recommend denial of rezone for large rental development

Reaching a consensus opinion that the proposal doesn't fit with adjacent properties, Braselton planners recommended against a rezone for a large rental development along Hwy. 124.

The Braselton Planning Commission voted 5-0 Monday (Aug. 23) to recommend denial of a request from Lyons Group Acquisitions, LLC, to rezone 32.51 acres to multi-family residential for 219 rental units. The property, situated between Hwy. 124 and Davis St., is currently zoned R-1 and sits between other R-1 zoned properties.

“I like the development as a multi-family; I just don’t like it on this piece of dirt,” planning commission member Keith Kloiber said.

Those in attendance who wore red shirts to signal opposition to the project applauded after the planning commission made its recommendation. Lyons Group’s request will go to the Braselton Town Council in September for a final decision.

Lyons Group proposes a mix of stand-alone and duplex-style residences for this development. Braselton’s planning staff placed 10 conditions on the proposal, including one that would limit the number of units to 191.

Included in this proposal are some two-floors units with under-dwelling garages. Mike Price, representing Lyons Group, said no more than 20 percent of the residences would have two stories.

Units would range between one, two and three-bedrooms with a price range between $1,500 (one bedroom) to $2,500 (three bedroom). Lyons Group requests a minimum of 750 square feet, instead of 800 feet, for one-bedroom lots.

Price said these units are typically rented by cross-section of people: young singles, young couples, those who are divorced or retired and couples with kids no longer at home, as well as couples with children.

The development would have 25-foot buffers and 40-foot setbacks around the perimeter, which Price said is “more than you typically get” compared to a single-family development.

Access points would be located on Hwy. 124, Pinecrest Ln. (where a curb cut already exists) and Davis St. All three entry points would be gated.

Planning staff added a condition stipulating that a road connecting the two areas of this property — which are bisected by a stream — be installed. Lyons instead proposes a multi-model pedestrian walkway, including a bridge, between the two sections of the development.

Price fielded questions from planning commission members about the proposal — sufficient parking, traffic concerns, golf cart accessibility and the request for 750 square-foot lots were among the issues discussed — before four residents spoke in opposition to the project. The speakers’ objections included concerns about traffic and traffic safety, guarantee of the stated rental prices, parking and the contention that the project doesn’t fit the surrounding area.

“Our feelings are there’s no need for this type of development in this area,” resident Lee Baker said. “It’s surrounded by residential, which is R1 through R3.”

Price contended that the project, which calls for 5.9 units per acre, meets the requirement for medium density under Braselton’s comprehensive plan.

Still, some planning commission members expressed their reservations about where the project is planned.

Chairman Allan Slovin said he didn’t have a problem with the proposal, but the location.

“When you compare this to a multi-family (development), it looks great,” he said. “It’s really a great concept. My problem is where it is when it really comes down to it.”

Similarly, Stephanie Braselton Williams said she liked the plans presented by Lyons, but called it a “very difficult project” to place in between two single-family residential areas, pointing to the Keys Crossing subdivision and Pinecrest Ln.

Kloiber said he didn’t think the development aligned with the spirit of the town’s comprehensive planning regarding medium-density residential areas, despite meeting the unit-per-acre requirement (5.9). His reasons included the project not being a mixed-use development.

The Braselton Town Council will consider Lyons Group’s request at a Sept. 9 public hearing at 4 p.m. It will then vote on the matter on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.

In a separate matter, Abernathy Development Company, LLC, has postponed a public hearing before the planning commission to request a rezone for a proposed 322-lot single-family residential community on 91 acres located at Hwy. 53 and New Cut Rd.

Abernathy requests a residential (R-3) zoning for this proposal, which includes both attached and detached single-family dwelling units. The land is currently zoned agricultural.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Braselton is using a mobile tent to help handle overflow in the emergency department driven by the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Area COVID spike continues as hospitalizations and cases increase

COVID-19 cases continue to soar locally as the highly-contagious Delta variant drives a fourth wave of the pandemic.

As of Monday (Aug. 23), the Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) was treating 240 COVID-19 patients, up from 195 a week ago and from 32 a month ago. The 240 patients well exceed the 179 patients treated during the second peak of COVID in August of 2020.

Sixty-two of NGHS’s current COVID patients are being treated at NGHS’s Braselton hospital, up from 59 last week. The facility added a 10-bed mobile unit tent on Aug. 11 to handle overflow in the emergency department.

Eighty-six percent of COVID patients in NGHS care are unvaccinated.

“NGHS emergency departments are extremely busy due to the recent surge in COVID-19,” said Dr. Douglas Morrison, medical director of Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Braselton. “On August 11, the 10-bed tent at NGMC Braselton was put into use to help alleviate the influx of patients seeking treatment at the hospital’s ED (emergency department).

"With our ED currently treating an average of 170-200 patients per day, we have increased staffing and are safely treating patients in the tent, waiting room – wherever they may be.”

Morrison stressed that those facing a medical emergency not let COVID-19 concerns prevent them from seeking medical care.

 “If you experience symptoms of stroke, heart attack, serious injury or other life-threatening medical conditions, the emergency department is the safest place to be since those patients are seen first,” he said. “Do not delay emergency medical care because of concerns about COVID-19. In a medical emergency, don’t wait — the ED is open, and our staff is prepared to care for patients as safely as possible during the pandemic.”


The average number of new COVID cases per day continued to increase in Jackson, Hall, Barrow and Gwinnett counties over the past week. Jackson, Hall and Barrow counties also saw their highest single-day totals since January on Aug. 20.

Jackson County’s seven-day moving average rose to 65.9 on Aug. 23, up from 50 on Aug. 16. That new average included 116 new cases reported on Aug. 20, the most since Jan. 12.

Gwinnett County increased to a seven-day moving average of 240 on Aug. 23 — with 362 new cases on Aug. 19 — up from an average of 212.4 on Aug. 16.

Hall County jumped to a seven-day moving average of 104.7 on Aug. 23, up from an average of 76.7 on Aug. 16. The county recorded 149 new cases on Aug. 20, its highest total since Jan. 26.

Barrow County showed a seven-day moving average of 58.4 on Aug. 23, up from an average of 44.7 on Aug. 16. It reported 108 new cases on Aug. 20, its highest single-day total since Jan. 26.

Empower Center opens in Jackson County

An innovative new school has opened its doors in Jackson County.

The Empower College and Career Center celebrated its inaugural first day of school July 30, serving 1,500 students from East Jackson Comprehensive and Jackson County high schools. Empower, or EC3, is housed in the former Jackson County Comprehensive High School, which relocated to West Jackson this year.

The new college and career program is the culmination of several years of work between local education and business leaders.

“There was a movement to understand that the community needed to do something more to prepare the future workforce, not only for Jackson County but the surrounding region and to do a better job of meeting our students’ needs,” said John Uesseler, CEO of the Empower Center.

He was brought on shortly after the EC3 board secured a $3 million grant from the Technical College System of Georgia.

“We knew it was going to be here at the old Jackson County (Comprehensive) High School, but what’s it going to look like,” Uesseler asked.

A major component of the program is to ensure students find their passion and learn what careers and opportunities are available to them in Jackson County.

“We want (students) to find those things to do what they love,” said Uesseler. “We don’t want them to go to work a day in their life. We want them to find their passion.”

A diversity of pathways are offered on campus including advanced technology and engineering, supply chain management and logistics, agriculture (from vet/animal science to horticulture and ag mechanics), film and television, entrepreneurship, teaching as a profession, architectural drawing and engineering drawing and design, computer science, construction trade and healthcare.

Faith Hatcher, a senior at EJCHS in the healthcare pathway, said the program is helping her advance into her future career. She plans to attend Georgia College after graduating and hopes to become a neonatal nurse.

“I love kids. I’ve always loved kids. For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a teacher,” Hatcher said, noting several of her family members are teachers. “…But ever since I was 3, I’ve been fascinated with the medical field.”

Hatcher said that something really solidified that was seeing the nurses during her own experience with cancer.

“And I knew: I wanted to be that,” said Hatcher. “I wanted to be that for somebody else.”

Hatcher said EC3 is helping her reach that goal by giving her more hands-on experience.

“This is not a regular classroom at all,” she said while looking around the healthcare classroom, which is setup as a miniature medical office from waiting rooms, to exam spaces, to a mock pharmacy. “…It makes it more fun. Makes it feel real.”

One of her teachers, Whitney Canup Hardigree echoed that, highlighting the hands-on experience that students get to have at EC3.

“When I bring (students) in here, their eyes just light up,” she said. “They are visibly excited. It’s great.”

Hardigree started her education career at EJCHS and said she really enjoyed working at the school, but noted EC3 allows for more opportunities for students.

“There are more opportunities here because the county could kind of combine those resources, too, instead of having to split it between the two schools,” said Hardigree.

Hardigree teaches introduction to healthcare, pharmacy tech, phlebotomy tech and allied health and medicine. The healthcare department consists of five members with other specialties in sports medicine, exercise physiology, essentials of healthcare, surgical tech and biotechnology.

“We have so many different healthcare professionals with different backgrounds, so it’s really nice to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and support each other,” Hardigree said.

The program also helps students standout in their professional fields with a number of credentialing options.

“Now, if you want to go to nursing school or you want to go to medical school, you have to have a leg up,” said Hardigree. “You’ve got to stand out from the crowd and those credentials will help you do that.”

EC3 has a partnership with Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, which recently donated $75,000 to the program, along with equipment and supplies. Empower is also working with the medical center to get students in the hospital’s facilities for shadowing and clinical hours (as COVID-19 restrictions allow).

That business partnership is a major tenet of EC3, Uesseler said.

“Empower isn’t just an educational initiative. It’s not just a school system initiative,” he noted. “It is truly a community-based educational partnership through business and industry.”

The major focus of the program is to provide students with the skills and knowledge for their post-secondary goals, whether that’s a four-year college, a technical college, the military, an apprenticeship or going straight into the workforce. But the program is also aimed at providing local industries with a solid labor pool.

“We want our young people to understand what all these opportunities are so that when they go off and get whatever training, whatever post-secondary education they’re going to get, that they’ll want to come back here and raise their families and work here…,” Uesseler said.

In addition to the pathways, the campus offers dual enrollment at the University of North Georgia and Lanier Technical College, along with work based-learning programs. Two library-funded Pre-K classes and a special needs preschool class are also housed on campus. Foothills Charter School and Jackson Connect are also located in the facility.

Uesseler said he hopes the campus can expand to include programs for the community, including weekend programs; continuing education and diploma/certificate offerings; and traditional four-year classes in the evenings. He also hopes they’ll be able to expand the “pathways” for high school students.

“As (the community’s) needs change, we need to be able to change and offer programs that help,” he said.

Learn more about the Empower Center at https://www.empowerc3.com.

November elections set in Braselton, Hoschton

Nov. 2 elections, including two mayoral races, are set for Braselton and Hoschton after qualifying wrapped up last week.

In Braselton, Hardy Johnson, who is a first-term councilman in District 4, and Kurt Ward will run for the mayoral post. They seek to fill the seat of third-term mayor Bill Orr, who is not seeking re-election.

In Hoschton, incumbent Shannon Sell will face opposition from Lauren O'Leary in the mayoral race. Sell became mayor in 2020, filling the unexpired term of former mayor Theresa Kenerly, who resigned in 2019 ahead of a recall effort.

As for council races, Braselton has two seats up for grabs. District 2 incumbent Peggy Slappey, who is in her third term, will face challenger Richard Harper, while James Murphy and Jeff Gardner will run against each other for the opening in District 4.

Meanwhile, Hoschton has four at-large council seats with four candidates qualifying to fill those spots: Tracy Carswell (incumbent), James Lawson (incumbent), Fredria Carter-Sterling and Scott Mims.

Hoschton is adding two seats its council per a July 1 city charter change.

Barrow SPLOST could fund additions to planned Braselton park

The Town of Braselton stands to receive an approximate $2 million cut of Barrow County’s 2023 SPLOST, and that money that could mean additions to a planned 71-acre park on Hwy. 124.

The first phase of the park, estimated to cost a little over $1 million, is scheduled for bid soon, according to town manager Jennifer Scott. But amenities not included in that first phase can be paid for through the town’s share of the 2023 Barrow County SPLOST.

The town wouldn’t have all the money in hand until 2029. Barrow County has proposed SPLOST with an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the cities that will allow collections for six years. The Braselton Town Council voted at its Aug. 16 to authorize mayor Bill Orr to sign the IGA, and the Barrow County Board of Commissioners was set to vote on the IGA on Aug. 24.

While Braselton leaders voted to allot money from this SPLOST to parks, it is not locked into spending that money on the Hwy. 124 park.

“There could be a different park that’s identified, but it would have to be a park in Barrow County,” Scott said.

The first phase of the park will cover infrastructure (including parking, driveway and restrooms), a dog park, walking trails and a pavilion.

One of the highlights of the second phase is the amphitheater, which was projected to cost $402,000 back in 2019 when plans were drawn up. Phase 2 also calls for additional walking trails and playgrounds.

The 2023 SPLOST funds wouldn’t cover the entire price tag of everything proposed for Phase 2, Scott said. So, between now and the end of the 2023 SPLOST, the mayor and council must decide "which items to do if that’s the park that they decided to do,” Scott explained.