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.
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.
A backpack may not seem like much to most people, but for some children, it’s all they have. A local nonprofit, Adventure Bags, is expanding its reach in the community, getting backpacks filled with essentials and comfort items into the hands of children in crisis situations.
The Barrow County-based group has been working with the Jackson County Department of Family and Children Services for years and recently partnered with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Jefferson Fire Department through its “Help Us Help Heroes” program.
Since its start, Adventure Bags has served over 40,000 children across the state of Georgia. The group assists in 145 counties and partners with over 150 agencies.
Before the pandemic hit, 80% of the nonprofit’s service area was through DFCS sites.
“The pandemic did affect us serving DFCS because the brick-and-mortars were closed down, staff was not coming into the offices,” said Adventure Bags executive director Misty Manus.
Manus noted they had to find alternative ways to get backpacks to the children who need them.
“You’ve gotta find a way,” Manus said.
The group started the "Help Us Help Heroes" program at the beginning of this year, a program funded through local churches. Adventure Bags had already been working with the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office for several years, but the new program allowed the group to expand into Jackson County.
Bags filled with essential items and comfort items are provided at no cost to participating public safety agencies to give to children in need.
“At the end of the day, our first responders — whether it’s a DFCS case, whether it’s an auto accident — they are on the front lines,” Manus said. “They are going to get to those kids before anyone else.”
Adventure Bags was founded in 2011 by Debbie Gori, after her daughter went to Los Angeles to pick up three siblings who DFCS had obtained custody of. When Gori’s daughter and her coworkers got there, they noticed the children’s belongings were packed in a black trash bag.
“She had heard about the black trash bag story…but she had never actually physically seen it,” said Manus. “And it just kind of hit her the wrong way.”
As they got ready to board the plane, one of the children had an asthma attack and the group couldn’t board until they got medical clearance and wound up staying overnight in a hotel. The children had some belongings in their bags, but not everything they needed for the night.
“What was supposed to be a red-eye flight out there and back turned out to be an overnight stay,” Manus said. “So she and her co-workers went through the airport to the gift shop and put together backpacks with overnight essentials and comfort items for these three kiddos.”
The next morning, the children packed up their old and new belongings in their backpacks. One of the children was “so proud of her new backpack,” Manus said, and the bag was almost as big as she was.
“(Gori’s daughter) had to hold the loop at the top so she wouldn’t topple over with the backpack on her,” Manus said.
When they returned, Manus said the daughter went to Gori and told her about the heartbreaking situation.
“They both agreed that no one’s belongings should be in a black trash bag, but especially children going through a traumatic situation,” said Manus.
Gori took the idea and ran with it and was a “one-woman show” for eight years. “She built this organization with the help of her board and lots of volunteers and the community,” Manus said.
Gori passed away in 2019 after a short battle with lung cancer that was discovered after a fire in the former Adventure Bags' facility.
“It was through the fire that they found her lung cancer,” said Manus. “She ran back in. She was trying to save the products.”
Prior to Gori’s passing, she had asked Manus to take over the nonprofit. Manus had been working with the organization since its beginnings, serving behind the scenes as a fundraising coordinator.
“I was honored to be successor,” said Manus.
Manus has seen first-hand the impact these bags have on the children who receive them. She and her husband fostered for 10 years and Manus recalls giving a 9-year-old boy one of the bags.
“He looked and me and said, ‘do you mean this is mine and no one’s going to take it from me,’” Manus recalled. “In that moment, it really clicked that this is his. No matter where he goes, no matter what he does, this and his contents belong to him.”
Manus said the bag doesn’t just help the children. It also gives foster parents, case managers, first responders and families a way to comfort and connect with the child(ren).
“Adventure Bags as a whole, we don’t want the glory. We want to be able to empower whomever is working directly with these children,” Manus said.
Manus said the group is always looking for volunteers.
Those who wish to help, can find more information on Adventure Bags and contact information at www.adventurebags.org. You can also follow them on Facebook at Adventure Bags.
A request for a major residential development on the south side of Commerce was rejected this week.
The Commerce City Council voted unanimously Monday (July 19) to deny a controversial request from Cook Communities for a mixed use project on 180 acres on Hwy. 441 south at Whitehill School Rd. Developers proposed 306 single-family homes and 112 townhouses, along with a commercial section that would have been located on 14.5 acres on the site.
The project would have required a number of density and setback variances.
This is the first major residential project that’s come before the city and the request sparked significant opposition in the community. Around 150 people packed the room at the Commerce Planning Commission meeting in June.
During citizens’ comments on Monday, Rob Jordan, a Commerce-area resident, pressed the council to deny the request, noting concerns with the high-density project and the impact it would have on the city.
“Commerce doesn’t need to grow at this rate,” said Jordan. “Commerce needs quality, large, single-family homes that will attract upscale residents.”
Jordan echoed many of the concerns cited by citizens and the planning commission in previous meetings. Some of those concerns included traffic; pressure on the city’s water/sewer infrastructure; the impact on the school system; and changing the atmosphere of the community.
“Please don’t destroy Commerce,” Jordan said. “We love this town. And we like it just like it is.”
Prior to the vote on Monday, Jane Range, an attorney for Cook Communities, noted the proposed homes were larger (on average) than those in surrounding neighborhoods.
The proposal included 112 townhomes totaling 1,600 sq. ft. starting at $240,000; 131 single-family homes totaling 1,800-2,600 sq. ft. starting at $300,000; and 175 single-family homes totaling 2,000-3,000 sq. ft. and starting at $400,000; along with amenities and commercial sections.
“The homes that are being proposed are in fact — by and large — larger than what’s already in that neighborhood,” said Range, who added that developers would also be required to make a number of infrastructure improvements for the project.
Range also stressed that the council has to balance the impact on the community with the landowner’s rights to sell their property for a reasonable economic use, an argument often cited by attorneys during controversial development hearings. She added that ag property along Hwy. 441 is priced too high for the property to be sold for some uses.
“You reach a point where there is no buyer out there left to put a chicken house or to put cattle on the property because the price per acre is too high,” said Range. “For a landowner to obtain a reasonable economic return, they’ve got to be able to sell the property for a use that is in fact economically feasible.”
Several large capital project acquisitions were approved by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners on July 19.
Among the projects was the acquisition of 65 acres on Pocket Rd. for a passive greenspace park in the county.
The property is being acquired from Sidney and Victor Tanner for $800,000. The Tanners are donating $100,000 back to the county of that with the remainder being financed through 2023.
The BOC also agreed to buy the remainder of the Gordon Street Center from the Jackson County Board of Education for $800,000. After the school system vacates its offices from the facility, the county will use the extra space to expand its voter registration offices.
The facility was originally the Bryan High School, the county's high school for black students before schools were integrated in the late 1960s. It was later used as the home of Jackson County High School when it first moved to Jefferson in 1980 and later for an evening school and other education endeavors.
The school system gave the county part of the facility earlier to be used for the county's recreation offices and recreation facilities.
In a third capital outlay, the board approved buying two trucks for $137,800 to be outfitted as Quick Response Vehicles for the county's EMS operations. One vehicle will be located on the county's west side and one on the east side. They will be staffed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and will respond to calls that may not require an ambulance.
The ongoing cost to operate the vehicles will be $233,500 per year.
In other action July 19, the BOC approved:
• adding a new deputy clerk position to the Clerk of Court's office.
• modifying the county's alcohol ordinance to allow for farm-based wineries.
• the annual aging services contract with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission.
• the annual transportation services agreements with NGRC.
• a Coronavirus appropriation from the federal government that will go to the local airport's operations.
• a pre-trial diversion service being added to the district attorney's office.
• a tax district for street lights in Camden Farms Subdivision.
• a contract with Plainview Recreation Center to lease ground space for a communications tower.
Jackson County has seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases over the past couple of weeks. The rise mirrors state and national trends as the Delta variant of the virus spreads.
Jackson County has had 65 new COVID cases over the past two weeks. That’s 87 new cases per 100,000 residents, which is higher than the state average of 79 new cases over the past two weeks per 100,000 residents.
The number of new COVID cases plateaued across the county from late May through the end of June. There were several days during that time period that showed no new cases across the county.
While the numbers are nowhere near as high as they were during the highest peak in December and January or even the smaller peaks from July 2020-September 2020, they are up from last month.
On July 19, there were 9 new cases reported with a rolling 7-day average of 6.7 cases per day. The month prior (June 19), there was 1 new case reported with a 7-day average of 1.3 cases per day.
Since the start of the pandemic, the county has had 8,719 confirmed cases, 139 confirmed deaths and 13 probable deaths.
In Jackson County, 37% of residents have gotten at least one dose of the vaccination with 34% fully vaccinated. That’s below the state average which shows 44% of residents having at least one dose and 39% fully vaccinated.