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Planning chairman: How much growth in Commerce?

How much and how fast should Commerce grow in residential housing?

That was the gist of comments from city planning commission chairman Joe Leffew made on July 6 to the Commerce City Council.

In a rare appearance before the council, Leffew said the town already has over 2,000 approved building lots that could be used for residential housing. There’s another 1,000 potential lots that could also be available, he said.

None of that includes current proposals for large developments, including a proposed 400+ residential community south of town along Hwy. 441 and White Hill School Rd.

Leffew questioned the amount of available resources in the city, including water and sewerage capacity. He said some of that had to be reserved for commercial and industrial growth in some areas of town.

City manager James Wascher echoed Leffew’s comments, saying that just because property is zone for housing doesn’t mean the city has the capacity to accommodate such development.

Leffew said he wished some developers would focus more on building out existing lots before acting to bring more lots online in the city. He suggested the city build out slowly to allow the town’s tax digest time to catch up with increased service demands and for the school system to be able to handle the growth of students.

He told the council there were some tools that could be used to regulate the pace of housing, such as lot sizes (increasing would lower density), house sizes (larger would bring in more money to the city), building materials used, limiting building permits and issuing rezoning moratoriums. Leffew said he wasn’t suggesting the city do any of those things, but that they were available if needed to slow the pace of residential development.

Although Leffew didn’t call for any specific council action, his comments come at a moment when the city is seeing unprecedented speculation for growth, much of it stemming from the development of the SK Battery plant that has gotten the city international attention. A lot of land in and around Commerce is currently on the market for development.


Related to Leffew’s comments, the council is slated to vote July 19 on the controversial Cook Communities proposal to locate 418 homes on 187 acres south of town. The project would require a number of density and setback variances.

A number of citizens recently spoke against the project at a recent planning commission hearing. The planning board recommended denial of the project, as have the city planning staff and other city officials.

City planner Jordan Shoemaker presented the proposal to the council July 6, but no council member commented about the project.


In other business July 6, the council reviewed:

• a request from Waste Pro for a hike in city residential garbage fees of around $8 per month. The council instructed Wascher to get more information on the current market rates for garbage disposal before it makes a decision.

• a proposal to increase connection fees for water and sewerage hookups in the city. Residential water tap fees would go from $2,200 to $4,382 and sewer tap fees from $3,500 to $6,000.

• a plan to transfer ownership of the town’s former landfill from the city to the town’s IDA for a potential lease arrangement for a business development.

• plans for a more flexible home occupation ordinance.

• an alcohol beverage license for Dos Bros Kitchen at 2195 North Elm St.

• a plan to close some city streets for the Tigers on the Town pep rally on Aug. 19.

Joe Martin and veteran, Bill (Smitty) Smith, pose together in front of the American Legion booth at the Pendegrass celebration. 

Emma waves an American flag during Braselton's Fourth of July festival.

Brad Hill named Hoschton police chief

Bradley Hill has been named Hoschton’s chief of police. The move will take effect Aug. 2 upon the official reactivation of the city’s police department.

The Hoschton City Council approved the move at a special called meeting June 29.

During a separate special called meeting July 1, the council approved the purchase of a silver 2021 Dodge Durango for $34,779 to serve as its first patrol vehicle and approved Hill’s annual salary at $75,000 as police chief.

Hill began his career in community service as a volunteer at the West Jackson Fire Department (WJFD) shortly after graduating from Jackson County Comprehensive High School in 2000. While volunteering at WJFD, he held the rank of rescue chief and lieutenant and was offered a job as a detention officer at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO).

In 2004, he was promoted to deputy sheriff and was again promoted in 2008 to patrol corporal. In 2012, he was named patrol sergeant and later became patrol lieutenant in 2015. He received his most recent promotion in 2017 as an investigator, which is his current position at JCSO.

“I took an interest in it at 19 years old and here I am 20 years later still working at the sheriff’s office. It's a great place to work,” he said.

Throughout his tenure at JCSO, Hill has logged over 1,900 training hours and has received specialized training in laser and radar operation. Hill is a certified law enforcement instructor and firearms instructor and has completed all three levels of supervision provided at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.

His ultimate goal as police chief is to create the most community-oriented police department as possible. “With the city’s recent growth, the community deserves a police department,” said Hill.

“I want to lead a community-oriented police department so the citizens look forward to dealing with us and come to us in a time of need,” he said.

Depending on the community’s needs moving forward, the city plans to add at least one officer and patrol vehicle every six months to a year.

In other business, the council:

● approved MHM Construction’s bid for sidewalk repairs throughout The Village at Hoschton community. The approved bid will cost the city $18,144.

● tabled selecting bids for roof repairs at 153 Mulberry Road, a property the city recently purchased. The council will make its division on the matter during its regular council meeting July 19.

Dragway property under contract

The former Atlanta Dragway site at Banks Crossing is under contract to be sold. A rezoning application for the property could come before the Banks County Planning Commission as early as August, officials said this week.

The exact plans for the site haven't yet been announced. The area, however, is designated by Banks County for commercial or industrial development given its proximity to I-85.

The firm of JLL is representing the National Hot Rod Association in the sale of the property.

Development of the site has is being closely watched in Banks and Jackson counties. The 318 acres, which is in Banks County but abuts the Jackson County line, is near the new SK Battery plant in a corridor that is rapidly developing with industrial growth.

The NHRA initially said it wanted the property to stay as a dragway, but it was marketed by JLL for other uses.

"The City of Commerce is experiencing exploding growth alongside the construction of the $2.6-billion SK Innovations manufacturing facility, one of the largest economic developments in Georgia’s history," stated JLL. "The Banks Crossing intersection where the Atlanta Dragway is located has been designated by Banks County as a targeted industrial, commercial and residential development corridor."

Banks County Board of Commissioners chairman Charles Turk said last spring he would like to see the raceway kept running, but if not, commercial development that generates sales taxes would be another good option for the county.

JLL is also marketing the nearby 85-acre Commerce Exchange property along Steven Tanger Blvd. behind the outlet mall and Ridgeway Church Rd. One industry has already located on the site.

BOC discusses new park, admin building at retreat meet

An archeological greenspace park, a new administrative building and buying the remainder of the Gordon Street Center were among the topics discussed during a day-long meeting of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners last week.

Although the board took no votes on any of the various subjects it discussed, there was a consensus for county manager Kevin Poe to pursue purchasing land for an archeological park that has rock mounds reportedly created by Native Americans. The county had previously discussed the proposed park and negotiated terms with landowners for the project.

The BOC also had a consensus for Poe to negotiate with the Jackson County Board of Education to purchase the remainder of the Gordon Street Center for the purpose of expanding the county elections offices. The county currently owns part of the facility and uses that for its recreation offices. The BOE has used the remainder of the facility for some of its administrative and IT offices.

The board also discussed continuing the county's SPLOST beyond 2023 with a SPLOST 7 referendum in November 2022.

Some of the proposed uses of the SPLOST funds would be for a new 35,000 sq. ft. county administrative building to be built on county property near the courthouse, a renovation of the county jail, and additional funding for county roads, bridges, recreation, public safety and airport upgrades.


Among other items discussed by the BOC were:

• upgrading and realigning the intersection of Skelton Rd. at Hwy. 332, a project the county hopes to complete by the start of the 2022 school year.

• expanding the county solid waste transfer station, a project that would cost around $2 million. The amount of trash being handled by the current facility has grown in recent years. The facility set a new monthly record in March of handling over 7,191 tons of trash.

• buying a quick response vehicle for EMS use.

• an update on a plan to expand the county animal shelter. Bids for the project came in high, so officials are now looking to do the project in phases. This year, the county wants to fix some maintenance problems at the facility that have drawn violation notices from the state.

• a planned expansion of the county Senior Center.

• considering a parking fee for those using Hurricane Shoals Park. Poe reported that the park had record crowds this year.

• the potential use of federal rescue funds to help pay for the county's new public safety radio system.

• the future of the county's transit system and if that system  should continue to accept some state funding with its strings attached, be locally funded or discontinued.

Hwy. 332 back open

Hwy. 332 between Pendergrass and the Braselton area was slated to reopen early this week.

The Georgia Department of Transportation announced it had completed work on replacing two bridges on Hwy. 332, a situation that had the road closed for detours in recent months.

The corridor is a key link from the North Jackson Area to West Jackson, especially with the impending opening of the new Jackson County High School located off of Hwy. 332 on Skelton Rd.