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BOC nixes two subdivisions

July 19 was mostly a bad night for developers in Jackson County as the Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted to deny rezoning bids for two controversial residential projects in West Jackson and one smaller project near Commerce.

In a marathon three-hour meeting before a room packed with red-shirted citizens, the BOC voted to deny land use map changes for a proposed 340-lot subdivision on 170 acres at Boone Rd. and Hwy. 332 near Hoschton. It also voted to deny a rezoning to R-1 for a 99-lot development on 84 acres on Creek Nation Rd. near Jefferson. The BOC also turned down a much smaller proposal to subdivide 10 acres on Dan Waters Rd. near Commerce for three housing lots.

All three proposals drew fire from over 20 citizens who spoke during the meeting about growth issues in the county.

Many of those who spoke said that they weren't against development in general, but that the county should slow down the pace of residential growth.

Most of those who spoke said they had moved to Jackson County from Gwinnett County in recent years to get away from high-density subdivisions and the resulting traffic problems.

"Don't Gwinettify our Jackson," said Cindy Smith to applause from the crowd.

Several citizens who spoke pointed to how rapid growth in recent years was impacting the West Jackson Area, citing the mobile classrooms recently put in front of some area schools and problems with traffic on many West Jackson Area roads.

Others also commented about the changing aesthetics of the area due to development.

"This feels like the death of small town America," said one speaker, citing the song "Small Town" by John Mellencamp.

Density was a major point of contention for those opposed to the subdivisions.

"Keep dense subdivisions on major roads and not on small feeder roads," said Tawny B. King, executive director of The Open Space Council for Jackson County.

Multiple speakers called on the county to take a pause in development.

That idea did get some support by the BOC as it agreed, in an unrelated proposal from county staff, to limit future zoning actions to only eight per month, an action that should slow down the pipeline of proposed projects coming before the Jackson County Planning Commission and BOC.

The board also approved an amendment to the county's Unified Development Plan that tightens up some rules, such as requiring open space subdivisions to have both public water and public sewer and to no longer allow open space subdivisions in AR zoning districts. It also does away with master planned developments in the county and amends housing density and minimum lot widths.

APPROVALS

Although the BOC did turn down controversial projects, it did approve other zoning actions. Among those, it gave final zoning approval, with conditions, for a 62-lot development on 113 acres on County Farm Road near Jefferson. That project was initially delayed last year after developers found part of an old landfill on the property.

In other action, the board approved:

• a rezoning from A-2 to A-R for 4.5 acres at 833 Seagraves Mill Rd. to divide the property into two tracts.

• a map change for 5 acres at 644 Chandler Bridge Rd. to divide the property into two lots.

• a special use for a Verizon tower at 1524 Old State Rd.

• special use permission for new county radio communication towers at 515 Stan Evans Dr., 11917 Lewis Braselton Blvd., and 5217 Traditions Way.


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Renovations continue to original Braselton store space

The Braselton’s brothers’ motto for their downtown store was that one could buy anything needed “from the cradle to the grave.”

The original section of the Braselton Brothers’ Store — built in 1904 — is primed to return to its eclectic roots.

Ongoing renovations to the 117-year-old section of the building will allow for 18,000 square feet of multi-tenant space — from dining to offices — in downtown Braselton. The space, which originally served as a general country store, has been dubbed, “The 1904,” as a nod to its construction year.

The old mercantile housed a bank and offices and sold dry goods, clothes, gifts, groceries and many more wide-ranging items.

“That building is the most important landmark in Braselton’s history,” Braselton town manager Jennifer Scott said. “ … I love the fact that we’re putting businesses back in that allow people to come back into that space and shop and eat and do business.”

Renovations began in late 2020. Tenants will likely begin occupying the historic structure in August, according Scott.

Braselton Downtown director Amy Pinnell used the term “adaptive reuse” when talking about the project.

“It’s taking something that’s old and really finding a new purpose for it, and still keeping that historic integrity of it but making it more useful for today’s market,” Pinnell said.

A gift store and a bakery have already announced plans to locate in the space, according to Pinnell, while a café, wine bar and a home decor business are other possible tenants. Multiple professional offices are said to be going in upstairs.

Pinnell said The 1904 will meet a demand.

“This is going to be great,” she said. “We have so many people reaching out to us wanting to locate their small business here, and we just don’t have space … Knowing that we’ve got this already built, it’s a historic structure, it kind of anchors our downtown, that’s really exciting.”

The space was most recently occupied by an antique mall until the owner passed away in 2020.

The 1904 section of the Braselton Brothers Store block had been the only portion not yet rehabbed by the Braselton Urban Redevelopment Agency (URA) — an effort that began seven years ago with a $400,000 grant.

The Braselton URA is paying for The 1904 renovations out of its reserves. The project will cost an estimated $500,000.

The 1904 space was determined to be “enormously large” to have just one tenant, according to Scott. 

“And we had so many different smaller businesses that wanted to be in downtown that it just seemed to make sense to the URA to divide it up,” she said.

The building will feature a central public space and then the multiple business spaces. Scott, who serves as the Braselton URA’s property manager, said the hope was to have tenants moved in this month, but construction material issues — particularly with tile — slowed the renovation process.

She also noted that “it’s tough working on a building that’s 117 years old.”

The refurbishment has included modernizing a building unequipped with heating and air in its top floor. The space required all-new electricity, plumbing and HVAC. Air conditioning units were delivered to the building on Thursday (July 15), according to a Downtown Braselton Facebook post.

“The majority of the cost is in the mechanical functions,” Scott said.

The renovation process has also revealed some gems. Scott said the floors were “gorgeous” and the walls were in good shape. But when the plaster was removed, the brick underneath the plaster "was even more beautiful than the plaster,” Scott said.

“So, we’re leaving a good bit of that," she said. 

A grand-opening ceremony for The 1904 is planned once all tenants move in.

“I love seeing it come back to life,” said Scott, who expressed an affinity for old buildings. “The architecture of that section is very, very spectacular … And we’re keeping all of it. Every bit of it.”


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Calvin Watts named sole finalist for Gwinnett County Schools superintendent job

The Gwinnett County Board of Education voted 5-0 at its Thursday (July 15) meeting to approve Calvin Watts — a former Gwinnett County Public Schools assistant superintendent and current superintendent of Kent School District in Washington state — as its sole finalist for superintendent. He would replace J. Alvin Wilbanks, who spent 25 years leading Gwinnett County Public Schools.

Watts, who was selected out of 27 candidates for the job, worked for 13 years in the Gwinnett County school system.

The school board is required by state law to wait a minimum of 14 days before taking a final vote on Watts’ employment. The board is expected to take that vote on Thursday, July 29, during a called meeting. Wilbanks is retiring on July 30.

According to a press release from Gwinnett County Public Schools, Watts pointed to his tenure as a leader in Gwinnett as a highlight of his career and praised Wilbanks’ time as superintendent.

“He spoke of the great legacy retiring superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks is leaving and said he looks forward to leading GCPS into its next chapter,” according to the release. “In saying how humbled and honored he is to be named as the district’s next leader, he shared his motto, which is to ‘reach and teach all students as if they had his last name.’”


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Barrow BOC to reconsider rezoning request for large development in Hoschton area

A request — rejected by the Barrow County Board of Commissioners last fall — to rezone land in unincorporated Hoschton for a large mixed-use development of apartments, townhomes and commercial space will be reconsidered by the board next month under a settlement agreement between the county and the developer and property owner.

Following a closed session at the end of its meeting Tuesday night, July 13, to discuss pending litigation, the board approved the terms of a settlement agreement with Ridgeline Land Planning and the Stone Living Trust that calls for the county to reconsider a request to rezone and change the county’s future land-use map designation for 53.2 acres at 1308 Lec Stone Rd., about a mile south of the intersection of highways 211 and 124.

Developer Holt Persinger with Ridgeline Land Planning sought the rezoning last year in order to build 280 apartment units, 158 townhomes and set aside roughly 8.5 acres of the property for 130,000 square feet of commercial space. The BOC voted 5-2 during a contentious public hearing in October to deny the request, following along with the recommendation of the county’s planning commission.

A large contingent of area residents were strongly opposed to the proposed development with their concerns ranging from the impact it would have on traffic in the area, to stormwater issues and a potential negative effect on their property values. The group packed the board’s meeting chambers with signs indicating opposition to the development, cheered boisterously for comments from those opposed and booed the attorney who was representing Persinger during the public hearing. Persinger’s attorney argued before the board that the request was an issue of property rights and that the board would not be just in allowing strong public resistance to control its decision.

TERMS OF AGREEMENT

The developer and property owners, who are under contract for the sale of the property, filed suit against the county and the parties have agreed to stay the litigation while the requests are reconsidered by the board. The developer is also seeking a variance on stream buffer setback requirements, from 100 feet to 50 feet.

Because “contract zoning” is not allowed in Georgia, the county’s agreement to reconsider does not guarantee that the board will approve the applicants’ requests. If it does, the plaintiffs have agreed to file for dismissal of the suit within 35 days of the decision. If the requests are not approved, they reserve the right to resume the litigation.

If the requests are approved, they would likely come with 19 conditions. Some of the key ones include:

•that a traffic study be prepared by a registered engineer in Georgia and submitted to the county’s planning department, and that the developer must comply with any and all recommendations, standards and requirements set by the county and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

•that the owner/developer dedicate right of way necessary to “safely realign” the intersection of Highway 211 and Freeman Johnson Road.

•that the commercial component of the development not include any mini-warehouses or storage units or “grocery stores smaller than 30,000 square feet.”

•that the residential portion of the development have restricted gate access.

•that the attached residential units be a minimum of 1,800 heated square feet with no vinyl siding.

•that there be a mandatory homeowners’ association and that the residential streets be privately owned and maintained.

•that there be amenities for residents — including a pool, clubhouse, fitness center, walking trails and open space.

The new terms and conditions will not be put before the planning commission, but will go straight to the BOC for an Aug. 10 public hearing and vote, county attorney Angie Davis said.

The public hearing is set for 6 p.m.


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Proposed train route would go through Barrow, Jackson and Madison counties

An initial environmental study of a proposed high-speed passenger train from Atlanta to Charlotte chose the most southern route for the train, the Greenfield Alternative, a route that would take the train through Madison, Jackson and Barrow counties in northeast Georgia.

That route, if it is eventually approved, would take the train south of Royston into Madison County, south of Danielsville and into Athens. From there, the route would go through a part of western Jackson County and eastern Barrow County to approach Atlanta.

The Tier 1 environmental impact report for the project was released July 9.

The exact approach from Athens to Atlanta is being deferred for further study, the study said.

Two ideas in the study suggested the train leave Athens and run through West Jackson and the Braselton-Hoschton area to Suwanee. The other idea would be for the train to run through a smaller part of southwestern Jackson County and part of Barrow County to Lawrenceville.

No stations are proposed for Jackson, Barrow or Madison counties, but a station is proposed for Athens.

The Greenfield route was one of three proposed routes considered in the report. One of the rejected routes would have had the train follow I-85 all the way through Jackson County with a station in Commerce. That route was rejected, in part, because of the high cost.

The Greenfield route has the potential for the highest speed, up to 220 mph, the study said. That's because of the geography of that route is more gentle than the other alternatives. The Greenfield route would also allow for more trips, the study said.

"GDOT determined that the Greenfield Corridor Alternative would support the most round-trip frequencies among the Corridor Alternatives and, therefore, would generate the highest ridership," said the report.

The proposed Atlanta-Charlotte train is part of a larger rail development project dating to 1992 to connect Washington D.C. into the Southeast.

The cost is expected to be between $6.4 and $8.4 billion.


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Illegal sewage dumping a rising concern

 Jackson County Water and Sewage Authority manager Eric Klerk discussed a problem of statewide sludge dumping brought on after landfills began raising tipping fees. The higher fees were reportedly due to stricter EPA restrictions and rising fuel costs.

As a result, some municipalities and private companies resorted to illegally dumping sewage into random systems.

According to Klerk, JCWSA has fallen victim to such illegal dumping in some of its far-flung manholes, a situation that greatly increases the county's sewerage plant’s load and creates other problems.

“We’re fortunate we have a huge basin that is less susceptible to shock loadings; if we had a smaller basin, it would be causing us some serious problems right now,” said Klerk.

OTHER UPDATES

Also during its July 8 meeting, JCWSA associate engineer Nathan Hester provided an engineering projects update including details on the Doster Creek interceptor and Bear Creek Dam water line projects, among several others. Hester also provided projections on items in its queue for years to come.

Doster Creek Interceptor Project

The Doster Creek interceptor will consist of nearly a mile of 24-inch sewer line near the intersection of Hwy.124 and Creek Nation Road in Jefferson and will eliminate the authority’s largest pump station.

With the anticipation of a lot of rock, engineers project the cost to total over $50 million, which will be funded with bond funds. The project is currently at 90 percent design completion and in acquisition of three access easements. Due to the project’s complexity and large size, the authority will be adding an additional step to its bidding process by pre-qualifying contractors allowed to bid.

According to Hester, the Doster Creek interceptor is a large and fairly complicated project.

“There’s a lot of rock, it's a flat sewer and it's large in diameter so we want to make sure we get a good contractor,” said Hester.

Bidding is anticipated to begin no later than spring of 2022.

Bear Creek Dam Water Line

The Bear Creek Dam water line will consist of 2,700 ft. of 8-inch water main across the dam for the Bear Creek Reservoir. Once complete, the water line will enable the authority to serve more customers. Currently, the authority purchases water from Barrow County in order to serve customers living on that side of the dam.

“It’s been very problematic for us over the years,” said Hester. “So we're going to put in this line and sell our own water to our own customers at that point."

The design will be atypical as the water line will cross the ridge on Savage Road and will be inside the dam itself. The project is approaching 90 percent design completion, upon which the authority will submit and set up plans with Georgia Safe Dams (GSD), a division of the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency. The official review and approval from GSD will take three months, said Hester, who wasn’t able to provide an opinion of probable cost just yet.

The anticipated bid date is January 2022.

Park Creek Dam Reservoir, Intakes and Pipelines Project

 Klerk provided updates on the work performed to date at the Park Creek Dam as well as upcoming tasks, the project’s schedule, financials and an overview of the preliminary subsurface investigation at the dam site.

So far, the authority has performed a site visit of the dam and potential water treatment location and developed a conceptual layout of a potential water treatment plant adjacent to the dam. Subsurface drilling and rock coring and a geological evaluation have also been performed.

More recently, subsurface explorations were initiated May 4, a geophysical study within reservoir limits began June 22 and test pit explorations of potential borrow areas began July 5.

A field run surveying the dam site is currently underway.

Upcoming tasks include a topographic survey of the site, a quality control review of soil test boring logs and rock cores, development of estimates of permeability for the site’s rock foundation, initial risk register for the project and a site visit to proposed river intake and pipeline route.

So far, the project financials are in good standing as the amount spent-to-date totals $129,279, which falls well below contract amounts totaling over $1 million.

The bid phase is projected to be complete September 2022, with the construction phase to follow, which is projected to be complete by the end of 2023.

Other engineering projects discussed:

• Construction has begun on SPLOST Projects at the Hwy. 129 loop, Pleasant Acres and the project at Southwest Jackson and Lewis Roberts/ Ebenezer loop project has just kicked off. The tank pump at Jarrett Road is next in line to begin construction.

• The water resource master plan from 2009 is being updated with the immediate goal of choosing a future reservoir site. Three potential reservoir sites are highlighted in the master plan and under evaluation. According to Hester, all three sites are in eastern Jackson county, although the authority is still looking at several additional possibilities. The final master plan is projected to be completed in Nov. 2021

• Flow monitoring and flow forecasting methodology are completed, which showed JCWSA’s sewer system conditions are overall very good. The authority has come up with how they will forecast future flows and determined where the most growth will take place. They are currently trying to allocate their determinations to a model for future scenarios. Sewer master planning is projected to be completed Fall 2022.

• Agreed to move forward with a request from the Jackson County School System to put its logo on the water tower at Traditions of Braselton off Hwy. 124 as long as the school system agrees to cover all associated costs, which will include repainting the tower in 5-10 years. The next steps for JCWSA will be working towards a lease agreement with the school system.


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