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Commerce planners recommend denial of large subdivision

A proposed subdivision of over 400 homes got shot down June 28 by the Commerce Planning Commission.

In a 3-1 vote, the board recommended denial of the project by Cook Communities on Hwy. 441 South at White Hill School Rd. The issue now goes to the Commerce City Council for final action.

A large crowd of around 150 people packed the meeting room Monday night for the board's hearing and vote on the proposal. It was the third time the planning board had faced the issue with the first two meetings leading to postponements.

Last week, the developers hosted a meeting with citizens in an effort to win community support. But all of those who spoke at the June 28 hearing voiced opposition to the project, citing traffic problems, questions about city water and sewer availability and the impact of the project on the small Commerce City School System.

It is the largest residential project ever proposed for Commerce, something noted by those who spoke in opposition and by members of the planning board.

"It is large and it's more than what we've been used to in Commerce," said planning commission chairman Joe Leffew.

Leffew said he thought the project would bring quality homes to Commerce, but noted that it was obvious the public doesn't want it.

"Are we ready for that (high density)?" Leffew asked. "The community says 'no'; that's what I've heard tonight."


Under the project's proposal, the development would be built in five phases with 112 townhouses built first. Those are proposed to have 1,600 sq. ft. with a two-car garage and costing $240,000 and up.

Phase two would be 131 single-family homes of 1,800-2,600 sq. ft. costing $300,000 and up.

Phase three would be the community's amenity area, which calls for a pool, clubhouse, two pickleball courts, a community garden, playground, dog park and walking trails.

Phase four would be the remaining 175 single family homes of 2,000-3,200 sq. ft. each priced at $400,000 and up.

Phase five would be the development of 14.5 acres of around 10 commercial businesses.

The initial proposal called for over 600 homes in the development, but that was scaled-back following the first hearing before the planning board in April.


Among those who spoke in opposition to the project this week were Rep. Tommy Benton and Commerce school superintendent Joy Tolbert.

Benton said he and his sister own property neighboring the proposed development, property that is used for a cattle farm. He said he worried about what residents in the development would think about the odors coming from nearby farms like his.

Benton also echoed concerns about traffic, saying Hwy. 441 had been designated by the state as a "freight corridor" with a high speed limit.

"The DOT has no knowledge of this project," he said.

Benton noted that the state would not be putting a traffic light at the intersection of White Hall School Rd. and Hwy. 441.

Benton also questioned the potential cost to Commerce for infrastructure upgrades.

"It's going to mean more city services," he said.

Those cost money, he noted.

"I can tell the people here that taxes are going up," Benton said. "...I have never had my taxes go down because of growth."

Benton also commented on the likely impact of the development on Commerce schools. He questioned the developer's data that claimed the project would only add around 150 students to the school system.

That assertion was also questioned by superintendent Tolbert, who handed out a cost analysis sheet that indicated the school system would lose money for each house built if those homes have more than one child in the school system. Her data indicated that it cost around $2,200 to $2,500 in local property taxes for each student in the school system. A $400,000 house in the project would pay for one student, but not two students from the same household.

Overall, the average is 1.5 student per household, meaning the proposed project would add over 600 student to the system over time.

Tolbert said she agreed with the idea that Commerce needs additional housing.

"But I do not agree with the extent of this development," she said.


Many of those who spoke in opposition to the proposed development said they know growth is coming to Commerce, but were opposed to the high density of this project. Several indicated they had moved to Commerce in recent years from other areas where rapid growth and high-density subdivisions had motivated them to leave for a more rural environment.

Lisa Farnham said her family had moved to Commerce three years ago from a similar subdivision development in Canton.

"They were horrendous," she said. 

Farnham said her previous experience in large subdivisions had been negative with traffic and crime problems.

"I'm floored that this is even on the agenda here," she said. "The is not Commerce; this is not why we moved here."


Commission member Andre Rollins, who voted against the motion to recommend denial of the project, said growth is coming to Commerce and that these kinds of residential projects aren't going away.

"We actually had another one on the agenda tonight, had it not been tabled," he noted.

That project is of similar size and design as the Cook proposal. It's on 162 acres on Ila Rd. and proposes 287 single-family homes and 194 townhomes. Action on that project was tabled by the commission pending further staff review.

The board also tabled action on a proposal for 64 towhomes on Waterworks Rd.

While waiting for the fireworks display, children passed the time by blowing giant bubbles at one of the many booths at Jefferson’s Freedom Festival. An Independence Day Celebration will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, July 2, in Spencer Park in downtown Commerce. Pendergrass will hold an Independence Day Celebration on Saturday, July 3, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. in downtown. 

Celebrate Fourth of July in Jackson County

Jackson County residents have a number of opportunities to celebrate the Fourth of July over the weekend.

Braselton, Commerce and Pendergrass all plan celebrations over the weekend. Details include:


The Independence Day Celebration in Commerce will be held on Friday, July 2, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Spencer Park with the American Legion Albert Gordon Post 56 performing a patriotic introduction to kick off the festivities.

There will be music, vendors, inflatables, food, fun and fireworks.

The schedule of events will include:

•6 p.m., American Legion Albert Gordon Post 56 performs.

•6:30 p.m., Commerce Dance performs.

•7 p.m., The Fly Betty Band plays.

•Dark, Fireworks.

•Food vendors, inflatables, craft vendors.

Commerce Main Street is sponsoring the event.


Braselton is gearing up for its weekend festivities in celebration of the Fourth of July.

Kickoff for the weekend begins Friday, July 2, with the farmers market staged on the patio of the Braselton Brothers store at 9924 Davis Street. Visit the Main Street Braselton tent to get an American flag to wave in Sunday’s parade. The market runs from 4-7 p.m.

North Winds Symphonic band will present a free patriotic concert on the Town Green on Saturday evening, July 3, at 7 p.m. Chairs or blankets are encouraged for the family event.

On Sunday, July 4, a daylong celebration begins with an outdoor artisan market at Countryside Antiques on Frances Street at 10 a.m. followed by a free concert, parade and fireworks show. Food trucks will arrive at 5 p.m. with the parade starting at 6 p.m. GlowBand will perform after the parade until the fireworks begin at dark.

Event parking is available at YearOne Muscle Car Parts and Free Chapel Braselton starting at 5 p.m., and the Braselton Trolleys will shuttle guests to the festivities downtown.

“As always in Braselton, we’re celebrating America and invite all to celebrate with us,” said Tourism Director Nikki Perry. “We look forward to welcoming everyone back to Downtown Braselton for this annual event.”


Pendergrass will hold an Independence Day celebration on Saturday, July 3, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. in downtown. The event will include food vendors and fireworks.

Planners give initial nod for major WJ subdivision

A request for a large subdivision in West Jackson crossed a hurdle last week.

In a split vote, the Jackson County Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of two map amendments for 170 acres off Hwy. 332 at Boone Rd. The applicant is requesting a change in the future land use from ag/forestry to residential and a change in the character area from suburban to urban.

Planner Steve Wittry was opposed to the recommendation for approval. Planning commission member Harold Mull was absent.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners will consider the requests at its July meeting.

Stanton Porter, an attorney who spoke for the applications, outlined plans for the project at the planning commission’s June 24 meeting. Approximately 340 lots are proposed, which would be constructed in phases over 5-6 years. Green space and a number of amenities are also planned.

If the map amendments are approved, developers plan to seek an R-2 zoning.

A number of area residents voiced opposition to the project, mostly citing issues with traffic in the area and lack of road infrastructure, specifically on Boone Rd.


Also at its meeting, planners unanimously recommended approval of a rezoning request from Genuine Mapping and Design for 113 acres on County Farm Rd., Jefferson. The applicant is requesting a rezoning from A-2 to A-R.

A 64-lot subdivision is planned on the property.


Planners also voted to recommend approval of a rezoning — also from Genuine Mapping — for 84 acres on Creek Nation Rd., Jefferson. The applicant is requesting a change from A-2 to R-1.

Plans for the property include a 99-lot open space subdivision.

A handful of residents voiced opposition to the project, citing concerns with environmental impacts, stormwater runoff, among others.


Also at its meeting, the planning commission voted to recommend approval of:

•a map amendment request from Jasmine Stribling for 5.15 acres at 644 Chandler Bridge Rd., Nicholson. Stribling requested a character area change from rural to suburban and plans to divide the property into two lots.

•a rezoning request from Wendy Burns for 4.531 acres at 833 Seagraves Mill Rd., Hull. Burns requested a change from A-2 to A-R and plans to divide the property into two lots.

•a special use request for Fortified Telecom Services for 20 acres at 1524 Old State Rd., Pendergrass. The applicant requested a special use to allow construction of a Verizon Wireless tower on a small portion of the property.

•several special use requests for Motorola Solutions to allow construction of a radio tower for the upgrade to the county’s public safety radio system. The planning commission voted to recommend approval of the requests located on .22 acres at 515 Stan Evans Dr., Jefferson; 6.72 acres at 11917 Lewis Braselton Blvd., Braselton; and 2 acres at 5271 Traditions Way, Jefferson. The planning commission also tabled a similar special use request for 8.7 acres at 4345 Plainview Rd., Maysville.

•a text amendment to the unified development code. The move would delete the master planned development from the UDC. It would also change requirements for open space subdivisions; amend the number of allowed residential units per acre; and change the minimum lot width for single-family homes.

Planners policy limits monthly zoning hearings, aims to speed up process

Jackson County is growing, along with the length of time spent in recent zoning meetings.

A new policy aims to control the number of cases heard during any given month and help speed up the process for county staff, the planning commission and the board of commissioners.

The Jackson County Planning Commission informally approved a policy at its June 24 meeting, limiting the number of zoning items that will be on future agendas to 8. (Items that don't meet the 8-item cut will be scheduled for another month.)

Public Development Manager Jamie Dove said the policy is flexible and can be changed at any time if needed. Dove also noted that multiple zoning issues for the same project (a rezoning and a special use for one development; multiple rezonings for several parcels in one development; etc.) won’t be split between two meetings if one or more of the related zoning matters doesn’t meet the 8-item cut.

Recent zoning meetings have been lengthy as the number of cases increases. The June 24 planning commission meeting had 12 agenda items and lasted just under 1 hour and 30 minutes. There are 13 agenda items scheduled for next month.

The amount of opposition that speak at meetings also seems to have increased. There were only 3 zoning items on the Jackson County Board of Commissioner’s Agenda on June 21, but two of those had opposition. That meeting lasted nearly 2 hours, between the zoning matters and other business handled by the BOC.

Julius Mack (center) recently celebrate 50 years of employment with Mainstreet Newspapers. Mack started  started in the newspaper's job printing shop, working his way up to pressman and now as shop foreman. Mack is shown here with Mainstreet co-publishers Mike Buffington (left) and Scott Buffington (right).

Hoschton DDA plans for farmers market, downtown revitalization

Plans for a farmers market in Hoschton are under way.

The Hoschton Downtown Development Authority is planning a farmer’s market, which will be at its train depot in early August. Plans are also in the works to incorporate community art and murals into the downtown area, host community clean-up days and create new signage at the city’s entrance from Hwy. 53 next to Hoschton Park.

The DDA is working with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the Georgia Mainstreet Program, which have been successful at revitalizing many of Georgia's small towns.

According to Tara Bradshaw from the DCA’s Office of Downtown Development, who spoke to the authority during its meeting June 28, in terms of growth and residential development, she is unaware of any other community in Georgia that is experiencing the level of development and residential growth that the city of Hoschton is experiencing.

“It’s exciting but it's also very challenging,” said Bradshaw.

In its early stages, the DDA is focusing on preserving the city’s historical charm as they move forward by accumulating collections of historical materials and photographs and incorporating them into future projects. Plans for historical testimonials from lifelong Hoschton residents, for example, are being discussed for the DDA website, which is currently under construction.

“Building pride in our community is one of our hard and fast principles in downtown development,” said Bradshaw, “and our sense of community and pride are centered in our historic areas."

The group is also gathering inventory of the city’s businesses to determine what types of businesses it currently offers versus what types it needs to bring into the city. The DDA will also be initiating an effort to create a high school volunteer or internship program from nearby high schools to further enhance a sense of community among local youth.

“You can accomplish anything you set your sights on,” said Bradshaw, “downtown development is a marathon, not a sprint."