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Town defers vote on affordable senior apartments

Braselton leaders deferred action this week on a rezoning that would allow an affordable, age-restricted apartment community in the town. The request raised opposition from area residents, who donned green shirts at the council’s May meetings.

The Braselton Town Council voted unanimously May 10 to defer the rezoning request for 5 acres off Thompson Mill Rd. near The Oaks at Braselton. In making the motion to defer, councilman Hardy Johnson said he’d like to get more information on the application. The council could take action on the item in June.

Landbridge Development, LLC, is requesting a change from general commercial to multi-family and wants to develop a 40-unit senior housing community on the parcel.

Gary Hammond, who spoke for the request, described the project — named The Peaks of Braselton — at the council’s May 6 work session.

Hammond said the three-story building would include 18 one-bedroom units and 22 two-bedroom units, totaling 750 and 950 square feet. A handful of amenities — a computer and fitness center, covered patio, gazebo, picnic tables and grills, community gardens and a walking trail — are also proposed.

Of the 40 units, 36 of those would be rented to households with 50-60% of the area median income (the other four would not have income restrictions). These 36 units would rent for between $520-$770 per month to households with monthly incomes ranging between $1,700-$2,900, Hammond added. The community will be financed through state and federal credits.

Hammond noted there’s a pent-up demand for affordable senior housing in the area.

“Your community, just like many others across our great nation, has a shortage of housing for retirees with modest savings and incomes,” said Hammond.

He noted there are four similar developments in the surrounding area, each of which is 100% occupied and said some have waiting lists.

Hammond added that residents must be able to prove a source of income and said many will still be in the work force, while others will rely on Social Security income or other forms of retirement funds. He noted there will be strict qualifications on income, criminal background checks, credit checks and landlord references.

But some local residents voiced concerns over the project.

One resident, Diane Basham, said project’s design isn’t suitable when looking at surrounding developments. She added that other nearby apartment developments have larger floor plans and a more robust amenity package.

“Noble Vines apartments adjacent to this property has unit sizes almost double the square footage of these proposed apartments,” said Basham.

Another resident, Beth Henry, echoed that.

“More apartments will only adversely affect the existing usability of nearby properties,” she said. “If these apartments are allowed, there’s no question that more apartments will follow on the undeveloped property on Thompson Mill leading to Napa Ridge Rd.”

Henry also cited issues with traffic on Thompson Mill Rd., a two lane road often used as a cut-through.

“Traffic on Thompson Mill (Rd.) is already problematic and will only get worse as development continues and life gets back to normal,” she said.

Henry also discussed previous plans for the property and said those proposals were a better fit for the location. The property is located next to The Oaks at Braselton and had been slated as a second phase for that development. That plan included more residential units (a two story building with 60 units and 12 quadroplex units with 1,000 sq. ft. of living space), but it was never constructed.


In other business, the council voted to approve the final site plan for a residential development near Chateau Elan.

Meritage Homes of Georgia plans to construct 318 detached single-family homes on the 141 acre property, located off Duncan Creek Rd.

The council approved the annexation and zoning request for the development last year.

Three homeowners later filed an appeal, challenging the zoning decision. And in April, the council voted to defer the vote on the site plan amid the pending litigation.


Town leaders also voted Monday (May 10) to reject a request for a drive-thru off Hwy. 211.

Johnson-Knight Development, LLC, had requested a conditional use for the property at 2705 and 2709 Old Winder Hwy. to allow a restaurant with a drive-thru.

The request was denied by the town’s planning commission and staff also recommended denying the request “due to reasons of the proposed use and designs presented in the application, accessibility to the site and compatibility with the planned development for which the subject parcels are a part.”


Also at its meeting, the council approved:

•a request for annexation and a request for de-annexation at 5950 Thompson Mill Rd., allowing two developers to swap a small amount of acreage and square off their properties.

•a Georgia Department of Transportation reimbursable contract for right-of-way acquisition for the Hwy. 211 widening.

Braselton students create Earth Day buzz with ladybug release
Braselton students create Earth Day buzz with ladybug release

Students at Carrington Academy in Braselton have been buzzing with excitement for Earth Day.

On April 22, students celebrated Earth Day and helped take care of the planet by releasing 3,000 ladybugs throughout the schoolyard and back into the environment on plants, flowers and trees. Students were dressed for the occasion in the likeness of ladybugs, wearing red and black clothing.

Leading up to Earth Day, students learned that ladybugs serve as a natural pesticide by feeding on insects that could otherwise harm the health of gardens, trees and shrubs.

Dearman re-elected GOP chairman

TJ Dearman was overwhelmingly re-elected as chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party Saturday. It was the second vote taken by the county group following a ruling by the district GOP committee that the elections had to be redone due to problem with the April county convention.

“I am excited to say that the era of chaos and division we’ve seen in this party for so long has come to an end. Our team has outlined a clear vision that, with the help of our hardworking members, can become a reality," Dearman said. "When united, as a team, we can achieve the impossible.”

Dearman was challenged by Hoschton city councilman Adam Ledbetter.

"TJ is a passionate GOP chairman and I wish him luck," Ledbetter said. "I will continue to work with the TJ and the young Republicans GOP to try and win in 2022. I hope he takes the time to reach out to our younger Republicans and I will help in anyway."

Eagle Ranch names new executive director

Eagle Ranch has named John Shackelford as its new executive director. Shackelford will begin the new role in July.

Prior to joining Eagle Ranch, Shackelford spent 10 years at Chick-fil-A’s corporate headquarters, most recently leading Chick-fil-A’s brand planning team.

“We looked at a number of attributes for a new executive director, in addition to someone who would bring fresh ideas and build upon the solid foundation of the past 36 years. We believe John is that individual for our next season,” said Eagle Ranch Founder and current executive director Eddie Staub.

“First and foremost, John is a follower of Christ. He is humble, dedicated to serving others, and is extremely competent,” continued Staub. “The responsibilities given to him during his career with Chick-fil-A speak to his talent, creativity and business acumen.”

Staub will continue in a leadership position as founder to guide Shackelford’s transition and launch Eagle Ranch’s new community facility, The James W. Webb Wings Center. Opening to the public in the fall, the center will serve individuals, families and others in the community through outpatient counseling, retreats and organizational mentoring.

The announcement is the culmination of long-term planning and a year-long search. The Eagle Ranch board of directors unanimously confirmed Shackelford’s appointment at the Ranch’s annual board retreat.

“I am excited and grateful for the opportunity to continue the strong legacy of faith, innovation and leadership at Eagle Ranch,” said Shackelford. “Chick-fil-A’s commitment to excellence, purpose, and servant leadership has helped prepare me to join the Ranch team. The Lord has grabbed hold of my heart towards Eagle Ranch’s mission, and I’m honored to lead the organization into this new season.”

Shackelford spent 10 years at Chick-fil-A in the corporate marketing department. In his most recent role, he led Chick-fil-A’s brand planning team, responsible for the strategy driving all customer-oriented marketing messaging. Prior to brand planning, he was team leader for the sponsorships and events marketing team, leading Chick-fil-A’s national partnerships with ESPN, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame.

“John is a demonstrated leader with a gift for mission-focused work. The children and families served by Eagle Ranch will be further cared for by John’s innovative mind and faithful heart,” said Chick-fil-A chairman and CEO Dan Cathy. “I’m delighted to see John and his family have this incredible opportunity.”

Shackelford and his wife, Stephanie, along with their two children, will be moving to Eagle Ranch from the Grant Park neighborhood of downtown Atlanta. In the community, Shackelford has initiated and volunteered with several ministry projects reaching children and families. He served on the board of directors of Beloved Atlanta and as a community group leader at City Church Eastside.

Staub and Shackelford will work together to make a transition within the organization. Longer-term plans for Staub include continuing his work with Eagle Ranch’s Wings Initiative, providing counsel and mentorship to people who are starting or retooling children’s programs and other nonprofits. To date, the Wings Initiative has assisted more than 1,000 organizations.

A biography and a video introducing John Shackelford may be viewed at EagleRanch.org.

Area vaccine rates still lag behind state average

Braselton area counties are still below the state average when looking at the number of residents vaccinated.

Gwinnett County has the highest vaccine rate in the four-county area and is just shy of the state average.

Details include:

•State: 36%, at least one dose; 28%, fully vaccinated

•Barrow: 24%, at least one dose; 19% fully vaccinated

•Gwinnett: 35% at least one dose; 27%, fully vaccinated

•Hall: 28%, at least one dose; 22%, fully vaccinated

•Jackson: 27%, at least one dose; 22%, fully vaccinated


Northeast Georgia Health System was treating 42 positive COVID patients as of May 10, up slightly from the week prior (May 3), when the system-wide total was 36.

But the number of COVID patients at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton decreased this week, down from 12 on May 3 to seven on May 10.

County BOE approves steps toward new elementary school

The Jackson County Board of Education approved the preliminary steps toward building a new elementary school on the west side of the county near the new high school during its meeting on May 10.

The BOE approved modifying an existing school design for the facility.

"Southern A&E was hired to design a middle school on Hwy. 53 in 2017," read a report about the proposal. "After completing the design, there was a shift in priorities and that project was placed on hold. We would like to use that design for a new elementary school on Skelton Road."

The board had previously discussed designing the school to be flexible such that it could be used for either a middle school or an elementary school.

In addition to approving A&E as designers of the new school, the board also approved using the construction manager at-risk system for building the facility.

The Georgia Department of Education requires school system to outline what kind of construction system will be used to build new facilities.

BOE chairman Don Clerici said the system may have to "do some things we've not done before" in buying and securing supplies for the project. A shortage of building materials has driven up construction prices and the county may have to pre-purchase some materials to avoid rapid price hikes during construction.


The construction of the new elementary school comes as the system is seeing a large amount of growth in student numbers. Just about all of that growth is on the county's west side.

Since the end of the last school year, the system has added 360 students through April, a growth of 4.3%. The system now has 8,717 students and will likely break the 9,000 mark next year.

Most of the system's schools on the east side of the county have lost students during the year, or remained stagnate. However, on the west side the growth has exploded.

West Jackson Middle Schools, for example, has gone from 1,146 students at the end of last year to 1,261 this year. Jackson County Comprehensive High School has grown from 1,294 to 1,465 students over the same period.


In other business, the BOE approved:

• hiring Primero Staffing to provide custodians for the new high school. System leaders say it's been difficult to hire custodial staff during the pandemic.  "During the past year, our efforts to hire custodians has been strained, due to the pandemic and the present situation with stimulus funding, getting applicants for many positions has been extremely difficult," system leaders said in a report to the board. "Primero Staffing is able to offer a larger pool of candidates and process them quickly, as they are able to complete background checks, get the candidate hired, trained and in our schools in a timely manner that is most effective for our schools."

• an updated salary schedule for some non-teaching positions.

• created the positions of HVAC foreman, HVAC supervisor, maintenance supervisor, and project manager.

• approved the system's teacher pay scales with local supplements that range from 8% to 9.3%.