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Townhouse project pulled from Braselton agenda

A controversial townhouse project proposed for an industrial area in Braselton has been pulled from the town council's July 13 agenda at the request of the applicant.

The project is in an industrial area along Broadway Ave. where a rezoning from manufacturing to multi-family residential is required.

In an hour-long hearing on July 9, the council heard plans by the developers to build 161 upscale townhouse that would be rental units and not for sale to individual owners. It is the first proposed project of its kind in the town.

"It's a unique model we're looking at here," said councilman Hardy Johnson. "We're taking a rental unit here and trying to fit it into our construct. It's interesting."

The project calls for "upscale" town homes of 1,800 sq. ft. minimum. 

The council had been slated to vote on the rezoning application at its July 13 meeting, but town manager Jennifer Scott said it has been pulled off the agenda until a later date.

The Braselton Planning Commission had recommended denial of the project at its May meeting. Planning board members said they thought residential development in an industrial area was not a good fit.

"It's out of place," said Allan Slovin, chairman of the Braselton Planning Commission.

Planner Billy Edwards concurred, saying the proposal goes against the city's comprehensive plan and varies too much from the adjacent land's use.

Board planning board member Stephanie Braselton Williams voted for the project, saying it "might be a breath of fresh air" for the city.


News
Bottle Hunters: Braselton leaders use scavenger hunt to draw people to downtown

I’m small and clear with a scroll tucked inside,

For many weeks, downtown leaders have put me in places to hide.

“Hunters” solve clues and search for my hiding spot,

When they find me, they collect “Downtown Dollars” to shop.

---

Over the past few weeks, downtown Braselton leaders have used a creative way to draw people to the city’s downtown area.

Small bottles were hidden in various outdoor locations across downtown Braselton as part of the Bottle Hunt. Downtown leaders posted riddles each week on social media, offering clues to where the bottle was hidden.

The project will wrap up this week, with 13 bottles hidden in total.

Amy Pinnell, downtown director for Braselton, said they’d been planning a scavenger hunt in the town's downtown area for some time.

“This project was something our office had been working on for quite some time,” she said. “Jessica Payne had the original idea to create some sort of downtown treasure hunt.”

The COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March, forcing local businesses to close temporarily or scale back operations. Pinnell said their office started developing strategies to help support those businesses once they were able to reopen.

“When COVID-19 closed so many of our downtown businesses, we immediately began developing strategies to support them upon reopening and ways to drive foot traffic back into our downtown,” Pinnell said. “Once local authorities began encouraging outdoor activities, we wanted to give people a reason to come back into downtown so we felt it was the perfect time to launch the bottle hunt.”

Bottles are filled with “Downtown Dollars,” a gift certificate that can be used in downtown businesses.

“Downtown Dollars are funded by the Braselton Main Street as a marketing tool,” Pinnell added. “It doesn’t cost the business anything to accept them and they are reimbursed by the Braselton Main Street program.”

Pinnell said they also used the bottle hunt during Historic Preservation Month in May, allowing the town to highlight its historic facilities.

“The bottle hunt also worked in nicely with Historic Preservation Month,” said Pinnell. “Normally during the month of May, we highlight our history and historic buildings in downtown so we incorporated the hunt with a history lesson.  This project just tied together everything for us.”


News
featured
Jackson Co. Schools to delay start until Aug. 12

With the state under a public health emergency until Aug. 11, the Jackson County School System will delay reopening until Aug. 12 amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent April Howard made the announcement during the Jackson County Board of Education’s (BOE) July 9 work session. The BOE approved the change at its July 13 meeting.

“We’re planning to come back Aug. 12 as normal as we can under the guidelines that we have in place,” she said.

The BOE had originally planned for an July 31 start date with Aug. 3 as a back-up start date. 

The school calendar calls for 190 teacher days with no furloughs and 175 student days.

The Aug. 12 start date will, however, force the cancellation of a full-week fall break in October (students will have three days instead) since that break wouldn’t leave for enough days for instruction, Thanksgiving break and winter break within the first semester.

The system will offer a distance-learning option to students whose parents feel uncomfortable with in-person instruction during a pandemic. Students choosing distance learning will be issued a Google Chrome Book.

System leaders, however, ask that students commit to one option — either distance learning or in-person instruction — for at least one semester.

“Because once we establish that this is our distance-learning cohort and these are our classrooms, then it’s going to be difficult for kids to come in and out,” Howard said.

Assistant superintendent Todd Nickelsen, however, said the system would not force a student to stay within a learning model in which they don't perform well.

For in-person instruction, schools will follow social-distancing guidelines “to the greatest of our possibility,” according to Howard, but social distancing will not be guaranteed at all times. 

“So we’re going to implement it to the greatest extent possible, but I wouldn’t want a parent feeling like they were receiving a guarantee that their children were going to be six feet away from somebody all day long,” Howard said.

System leaders expect teachers to wear masks when social distancing is not possible, and students will be encouraged to wear masks. But Howard said the system would not “create a battleground” over facemarks.

“We’re going to encourage it,” Howard said. “We’re going to expect it. But we’re not going to police and be punitive if children don’t.”

The system has also presented protocol for dealing with COVID-19 cases.

Students or teachers with confirmed COVID-19 cases with symptoms can return to school after 72 hours have passed since recovery and at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared. Recovery is defined as the resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms.

Those without symptoms but have confirmed COVID-19 cases can return to school after at least 10 days have passed since a positive test and the person remains asymptomatic.

Those exposed to a person with COVID-19 after having come into close contact (less than six feet for more that 15 minutes) and having not worn personal protection equipment (PPE) can return to school after 14 days of quarantine and having met all requirements outlined in the department of health guidance for COVID-19 exposure.

Those with known exposure to a person with COVID-19 without wearing PPE but the contact was not close may return to school, but should wear a mask and self-monitor for symptoms, including temperature checks twice a day for 14 days.

Jackson County, as did other schools around the state, had intended to formulate their re-opening plans based on a level of community spread (low, moderate or high) as determined by the department of public health.

But the school system never received that information. Howard said the department of health has since moved away from that guidance and plans to provide a “decision tree” to help systems determine how they’re to reopen. But Howard said the “decision tree” has not yet been received.

“To be very candid with you, we’re trying to make decisions as the information is changing,” she said.

“What we’re presenting to you is what we think is the best plan now,” Howard added.

Should Gov. Brian Kemp extend the public health emergency, the system would either begin the school year with remote learning or move to a modified approach, which would bring in half of the students onto campuses for two days and the other half for two days.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the BOE:

•discussed limiting outside use of school facilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

•discussed implementing an app program called PikMyKid to dismiss students for car pick-up. School leaders look to avoid congregation of students at the front of schools at the end of the school day.

•heard that the system’s SPLOST earnings for May — $769,195 — were among its highest ever.

•heard that the system ended the fiscal year with nearly $17.83 million in reserves, an improvement of approximately $4.3 million over last year. That increase will nearly offset state-funding cuts for the system in 2020-21.

•reviewed teacher salary schedules, which were unchanged from last year, and a non-teaching salary schedule with minimal changes. Supplement schedules were reviewed as well.

•heard that the system’s July registration reflects an enrollment of 8,386. Jackson County Comprehensive High School’s enrollment has jumped from 1,294 at the end of last school year to 1,443. That increase has Howard “very concerned.”


News
Gwinnett schools to require mask; start date delayed until Aug. 12

Gwinnett County school leaders will require students, staff and visitors to wear a mask or face covering in the upcoming school year.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education recently discussed the requirement, along with other plans for reopening, during a special called meeting July 7.

“Medical professionals recommend social distancing and the wearing of a mask or face covering as two primary steps to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” the district said in a news release. “As social distancing will be a challenge in schools and on school buses, GCPS is asking those who attend and/or work at its schools— as well as those who drive buses and work in other GCPS facilities— to wear a face covering or mask to minimize the spread of illness, and keep students and staff members safe. A lower incidence of illness also will contribute to schools being able to return to normal operations.”

Students unwilling to wear a mask are asked to consider digital learning. (Accommodations will be made for students or employees unable to wear a mask for documented health reasons.)

The district will also delay the first day of the 2020-21 school year until Aug. 12 to allow more time for the district to “review and adjust its return to school plans to best meet students’ needs and to reflect the most updated guidance from public health officials.”

An additional five days of pre-planning are set for teachers to allow for COVID-19 protocol training; professional learning for digital instruction; virtual open houses; orientation; and more.

The district has also decided to cancel the in-person graduations previously set for the week of July 13-19. Virtual graduations were held in May.

“Plans moved forward to hold the (in-person) ceremonies but the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Gwinnett County led district leaders to make the difficult decision to cancel these ceremonies,” the news release said.

“In making these decisions, the board and school district staff did their due diligence and reviewed all relevant information concerning our people’s health, safety, and educational needs,” said CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. “We balanced what we learned in that review with what we heard from parents and our employees in the feedback we asked them to provide. Ultimately, we made our decisions based on what we believe is in the overall best interest of the district’s students, families, and staff. In the weeks to come, we will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation in Gwinnett County and, if necessary, will revise our plans as conditions warrant.” 

On June 25, the district announced it would allow parents to choose between in-person or digital instruction for their children for the first semester of the 2020-21 school year. That information, coupled with ongoing review of the current and anticipated COVID-19 situation in Gwinnett County, will guide school district leaders as they continue to assess and respond to COVID-19 and adjust plans as needed for the coming school year, the news release indicated.


News
Hall County schools plan Aug. 12 start date; offers draft calendar for first 15 days

The Hall County School District has updated its proposed school calendar, with a planned start date of Aug. 12.

The district also sent out a survey to families, allowing them to choose between in-person instruction on-site at school or a virtual option.

Superintendent Will Schofield also addressed the district's back-to-school plan in a video on the district's website.

Schofield noted that there will be no in-person orientation events this year, but virtual orientation is planned. (Exceptions include incoming kindergarten students, sixth graders, ninth graders and students who are new to the system. Those students will be allowed on-site for orientation.)

The district also plans to limit the number of visitors to the district's schools.

Team members will be required to wear masks when interacting with students and staff. But the district hasn't yet decided if it will require students to wear a mask.

Training session are planned for students and staff on hand-washing, social distancing and the proper way to wear a face covering. Cleaning and sanitizing is also planned.

Schools will be equipped with isolation rooms for students or staff who have a fever or COVID-19 symptoms.

The district also released a calendar for the first 15 days of school, but the details could change.

It is important to note that all dates on the calendar for the first 15 days of school are subject to change due to the changing nature of the COVID19 situation.

“In times of unprecedented change, if we are thoughtful and deliberate, we have an opportunity to emerge stronger and better as a school system,” Schofield said in a news release. “I believe we can do just that and find ways to better serve our students and community.”

The current plans include:

•Aug. 3-11: Pre-planning

•Aug. 10: New student orientation from 3-7:30 p.m. In-person orientation will be held for kindergarten, sixth grade, ninth grade and new students. Online orientation will be held for everyone else with last names A-M.

•Aug. 11: New student orientation from 3-7:30 p.m. In-person orientation will be held for kindergarten, sixth grade, ninth grade and new students. Online orientation will be held for everyone else with last names N-Z.

•Aug. 12: First day of school. Orientation for student body with last names A-M.

•Aug. 13: Second day of school. Orientation for student body with last names N-Z.

•Aug. 14: No school (planning day).

•Aug. 17-20: Full school.

•Aug. 21: Full school. Final day for families to declare virtual or in-person.


News
Town defers vote on new comp plan

The Braselton Town Council deferred a vote on an updated comp plan for the town on July 13. The council deferred the vote to give additional time to get some questions answered about the plan.

If approved, details over implementing parts of the plan could be controversial in the coming months.

The town's comp plan outlines thousands of broad suggestions about how the community could grow over the next 20 years, but the details of that will be tied to the town's zoning and development codes.

Those codes are in the process of being rewritten, a process that is expected to take 18-months.

What could be the most controversial aspect of the code rewrite is an effort to make the codes more friendly to greater housing diversity in Braselton.

Among the ideas outlined in the comp plan are lowering minimum housing sizes in the town's zoning codes and to allow housing with only one-car garages in future residential construction.

"Braselton has a goal to diversify housing options that accommodates its varying target market," states the comp plan. "One way to encourage housing diversity is to identify and change the regulations for residential uses that prohibit the creation of more affordable or more flexible housing types through reducing minimum house sizes."

The plan also calls for allowing mixed housing sizes and lots within some developments. The comp plan says that town's current strict regulations could "turn off" some developers of quality projects in the community.

But members of the town council seem cool or unsure about the idea of smaller garages and smaller house sizes during an update of the comp plan given to the council on July 9.

The code overhaul will involve input from citizens, said town manager Jennifer Scott. She also said that the council itself would be involved as the rewrite process moves forward.

"It's a balance," Scott told the council.

Once a draft of the codes has been produced, it will go to the town's planning board for review before coming to the city council for final action in early 2022.

WAREHOUSES

The town's proposed comp plan also acknowledges that citizens surveyed showed little support for more warehouses in the town. That finding wasn't a surprise given the large amount of citizen complaints at zoning hearings about proposed warehouse projects.

Partly as a result of that dynamic, the town's new planning map now shows a "condensed" area for Transitional Employment Center, the area designated for warehouses. That area runs west of downtown along I-85, the west side of Hwy. 53 and part of the way down Hwy. 124.

The plan also mentions that in the future, the warehouses could be discontinued for their current use and perhaps could be converted to serve the state's growing film industry.

PROJECTS

The comp plan also outlines a wish list of projects for the town in the coming years, a list that would cost over $46 million if all the projects were done.

Among the top projects outlined are:

• an addition to the library.

• a 71-acre recreation area on Hwy. 124; additional parks; extension of Riverwalk.

• transportation projects including new sidewalks, bike paths, new street lighting, highway widening, additional highway signage and a multi-use bridge over Hwy. 211.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Other highlights in the updated comp plan include:

• an acknowledgement of the key role Chateau Elan plays in the area's economy.

• says that the I-85 and Hwy. 211 interchange will be "the central gateway to Braselton" and should "boast high-quality development."

• promoting additional conservation, walking and greenspace areas in the town, including possibly annexing land west of Hwy. 53 to "strengthen preservation efforts."

• consider a Community Improvement District for the Hwy. 53 corridor and for the downtown areas to raise money to pay for projects in those areas.

OTHER BUSINESS

Also at its July 13 meeting, the council:

•approved civic center bid award recommendations.

•approved an EDA project recommendation of award.

•denied a request from Skot Waldron to remove licensing late fees.


News
Hoschton to vote on new overlay regs

The City of Hoschton is poised to adopt a total rewrite of its regulations for businesses locating inside the town's Hwy. 53 overlay district at its July 20 meeting.

The Hoschton City Council held a public hearing on the rewrite July 13. The issue had previously been heard by the town's planning commission, which recommended approval.

The rewrite does not change the boundaries of the overlay district, but does include some exemptions for small buildings under 1,000 sq. ft. and for manufacturing and industrial buildings not facing Hwy. 53.

The main focus of the overlay will now be on building design standards, including materials used. Provision dealing with development characteristics (internal roads, grading, etc.) have been removed from the overlay procedures. Those items are included in land disturbance and development permitting process.

Also removed from the old language is the listing of permitted and prohibited uses in the overlay. Some of  those conflicted with each other and with the underlying zoning regulations in the district.

Under the rewrite, determinations will be reviewed by the planning commission before a final decision is made by the city's zoning administrator.

The goal of the overlay district is to regulate new commercial development along Hoschton's main corridor.

One citizen, Mike Bagwell, spoke during the public hearing and asked about how the overlay would impact land in the industrial park that is off of Hwy. 53. He said the city's website had incomplete information about the district. He also said he was unaware that the district went as far back as 500 ft. off of Hwy. 53, a situation he said would affect industrial building construction in the park.

City planner Jerry Weitz said that a text amendment in the new overlay regulations exempts industrial buildings that don't face Hwy. 53. Weitz said that was a quicker fix to the issue than attempting to create a new overlay map.

MORATORIUM ENDED, TAXES QUESTIONED

The council also voted 3-1 (with Shantwon Astin opposed) to end its moratorium on issuing building permits in the city.

The council had previously issued the moratorium to allow city planners to develop a city impact fees system on new construction, especially new residential construction in the massive Twin Lakes community development.

Money generated from the impact fees will be used to pay for some major capital projects, one of which is building a police station.

However, the city doesn't currently have a city police department.

Citizen Tammy Ranus asked the council where the money would come from for operating a city police force.

"The impact fees may cover the buildings, but what about the operational costs?" she asked.

Ranus wanted to know if the city planned to implement a city property tax, something the town does not now have.

"Will that expense fall on the citizens with city taxes in the form of a millage rate? How do you plan on paying for this?" she said. "... Are there plans for a public meeting on a city tax or millage rate and if not, why? If we are going to have one, when? It needs to happen quickly if you're going to because people have a lot to say about it. You all may not be out in the community, but I am and I'm getting an earful. People are upset and are concerned about what the millage rate could do to them."

OTHER PENDING ACTION

In other business slated to be voted on July 20, the council will:

• act on an updated 5-year water purchase agreement with the Town of Braselton. The new agreement doubles Hoschton's allotment to 200,000 gpd.

• consider an updated building permit ordinance that requires certificates of occupancy within 18 months on commercial projects and 12 months on residential projects. Extensions could be granted if there are unusual circumstances.

• consider an updated performance bond ordinance to raise the amount from 110% to 135%.

• act to surplus two old city trucks.


News
Democratic candidate for Congress spends weekend in jail

A Democratic candidate for the 9th Congressional District, which includes Jackson County, reportedly spent the weekend in a Gwinnett County jail.

According to the Gwinnett Daily Post, Brooke Siskin was jailed on contempt of court charges for not having turned in her gun and ammunition to authorities as previously ordered. Siskin is reportedly in a divorce dispute with her ex-husband and has a protective order against her.

Siskin was reportedly arrested in March on criminal trespass and disorderly conduct charges at a bank in Gwinnett County, according to the Post.

Siskin faces Devin Pandy for the Democratic nomination to the 9th Congressional District in the Aug. 11 runoff.


Early voting for runoff begins July 20

Early voting for the Aug. 11 runoff begins on July 20.

Your ballot and polling location will be different depending on which portion of Braselton you live in.

For information on polling places and to see a sample ballot, visit www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.