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County looks to make 1-acre minimum residential lot size

Pending changes to the Jackson County zoning codes would set the minimum lot size for new single-family homes in unincorporated areas of the county at 1 acre and would do away with "open space" subdivisions that allowed smaller building lots in return for the preservation of greenspace in developments.

The proposed move, which got a green light  by the Jackson County Planning Commission on Dec. 16, would be a significant change to the county's zoning codes if it is approved by the board of commissioners in January.

Previously, residential lots could be as small as 1/2 acre with public water and sewer in the county's main residential zoning codes.

The proposed move comes as the county is revising its zoning rules during a one-year residential moratorium. That moratorium came following intense public pressure and complaints about overcrowded schools and roads, especially on the county's west side. In a number of public meetings, citizens also complained about small lot subdivisions in the county.

If approved, the new rules wouldn't go into effect until September 2022.

One of the side effects of the move is that it might spur some developers who want to build small-lot subdivisions to seek annexation into one of the county's nine municipalities which set their own zoning rules and currently allow for higher-density single-family lots. Legislation is slated to come before the Georgia General Assembly in 2022 that seeks to stop city governments from annexing property to help developers circumvent county zoning regulations.

In tandem with the proposed 1-acre lots, the JCPC also recommended the BOC approve doing away with slab houses, except in limited circumstances, and to also amend stream buffer and land disturbance rules. Of note, the move would allow earthen berms to be used for privacy separations in addition to traditional fences.


 In other action, the JCPC approved:

• a map amendment for 2.2 acres at 5259 Brocktn Loop Rd. from intensive agricultural to agriculture/forestry for residential use.

• a map amendment for 8.2 ares at Ed Bennett Rd. and Hwy. 441 South from residential to commercial for a potential hardware store project.

• a rezoning of 17 acres at 2909 Ila Rd. Commerce from A-2 to GI to get the property in conformance with its current use as an auto repair shop.

A nativity scene lights up the night outside this Jefferson residence.

The Commerce Christmas tree sits in Spencer Park in downtown Commerce.

Hoschton council narrowly approves Pirkle Farms project

Plans for a large-scale development on nearly 400 acres on Josh Pirkle Rd. found favor with Hoschton leaders after controversial attempts to develop the land in 2018 failed.

The Hoschton City Council voted Monday (Dec. 17) to approve annexation and rezoning requests from Pirkle Farms Development, LLC, which plans to build 1.36 million square feet of light industrial space and a large subdivision on a family farm that dates back to the mid-1800s.

Pirkle Farms received approval for an M-1 zoning for the industrial development with 20 conditions and a planned urban development (PUD) zoning for the residential component with 21 conditions via 3-2 votes from the council.

The controversial project drew a large crowd to Hoschton’s cramped city hall space with some forced to stand in the aisle during Monday’s proceedings. At least one resident voiced his displeasure with the decision on his way out of the door following the narrow vote.

“I hope y’all have fun,” the man said to the council as he left the meeting room. “I’m moving tomorrow, and I hope everybody else is.”

In 2018, a developer attempted to annex the property into Braselton and rezone it for multiple warehouses but was met with citizen backlash and a unanimous rejection by the Braselton Town Council. A later attempt in 2018 to request a land use change in Jackson County for the warehouses — which sparked similar citizen pushback — was also denied unanimously.

But plans for the Pirkle property were different this time around.

Developers representing Pirkle Farms pitched a residential component — in addition to the light-industrial use — consisting of 168 townhomes and 331 detached homes. Also proposed was an amenity package that includes a clubhouse, pool, pickleball courts, pocket parks, golf-cart paths and four-to-five miles of public-access trails. Additionally, Pirkle Farms will dedicate 95 acres of greenspace to the city, including nearly 14 acres that could be used as a park.

It also plans $5 million of improvements to Josh Pirkle Rd. and the road’s intersection with Hwy. 124.

A phase-in plan would limit the development to no more than 100 residential units by 2024.

Property owner Steven Pirkle, who lives in Illinois, spoke and provided a history of the farm. He said the property now needs to serve a new purpose, saying the project would “creative a diversified economy for further growth.”

The Pirkle Farm plans were presented to the public last week in a forum hosted by those planning the development. But a host of residents expressed their displeasure with the project during that gathering and many of the same concerns were voiced in Monday’s meeting.

Potential traffic issues resulting from the development — adding volume to Hoschton’s already-congested corridors — was again a major point of contention.

“(Hwy.) 211 is going to choke,” Christina Brown said. “There’s no question about that.”

Joe Vogt expressed concerns about industrial property abutting single-family residences, the burden of the development on local infrastructure, light and noise pollution and the effect on adjacent residential property values, citing some reports that indicated a 30% drop.

“For me, this is personal,” Vogt said. “I’ve worked hard all my life to have the property that I currently live in. To know that the city council is willing to reduce the value of my property by possibly a couple hundred thousand dollars, that’s unconscionable.”

Kurt Ward, the mayor-elect of neighboring Braselton, also weighed in, saying Hoschton council members hadn’t engaged Braselton council members in “substantive conversations” about the Pirkle project.

“The major industrial part of this project is going to land on Braselton,” Ward said. “And we are your neighbor. To the extent I can speak as I private citizen, who will no longer be a private citizen in the future, I ask that you consider deferral to allow us to consider collaboration on what you’re going to bring to your town and bring to our town.”

The arguments against the Pirkle development weren’t enough to sway the council’s decision.

Mayor Shannon Sell and council members James Lawson and Tracy Carswell voted in favor of the annexations and rezonings for both the commercial and residential components of the project. Council members Shantwon Astin and Adam Ledbetter voted against both requests.

The Hoschton council also reached decisions on two other zoning matters Monday in a meeting that lasted over two hours.

It unanimously granted a request from Sri Kumar to rezone 11.55 acres on the south side of Industrial Blvd., west side of Hwy. 53 and east side of White St. from general commercial/highway oriented to a PUD, with 15 conditions, for a mixed-use development of 225 residential units and 56,200 square feet of commercial building space.

Opponents of the project pointed to traffic problems they said would come with the development.

“There’s no plans to widen (Hwy.) 211 in the works, no plans to widen (Hwy.) 53 and no traffic control plans down there near Peachtree and (Hwy.) 53,” Brown said. “We’re creating a mess.”

The council also approved, with a 4-1 vote, a request from Hog Mountain Properties, LLC, to rezone 0.93 acres on the east side of Peachtree Rd. from single-family low-density residential to a PUD with seven conditions. The proposed use is commercial driveway access and a project monument sign for a shopping center – said to be a Publix – to be developed within the Twin Lakes Planned Unit Development fronting Hwy. 53. Astin voted against the request.

Residents expressed concerns about truck traffic and noise and light issues with the proposed the road.

Monday’s meeting was the last for Sell, who took office in early 2020, but lost his re-election bid for mayor to challenger Lauren O’Leary.

O’Leary will take over as mayor in January along with two new council members — Fredria Sterling and Scott Mims — joining as Hoschton expands from a four-person to six-person council.

In other business, the council:

•approved the final plat for Phase 3C of Twin Lakes subdivision.

•approved an ordinance, in accordance with state law, to impose license fees on insurers conducting business in the city.

•approved a proposal to outsource the printing, stamping and mailing of the city’s water bills.

•approved a budget of just over $3 million for fiscal year 2022. Sell said back in November that this is the largest budget in the city’s history. Hoschton levies no property tax on its residents.

•approved an update of the city’s personnel policy.

•ratified a combined $2.28 million worth of payments on GEFA loans. The payment will cover the remaining balance of two loans, leaving the city with one GEFA loan with an approximate $3 million balance to pay off.

Richardson won't run for re-election

Jackson County District 3 commissioner Ralph Richardson announced Dec. 20 that he doesn't plan to run for re-election in 2022.

Richardson represents the west side (Braselton-Hoschton area) of Jackson County and made his announcement during the regular meeting of the board of commissioners.

"I've enjoyed my time and I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family," he said.

Richardson has served seven years on the BOC and was previously a councilman for the Town of Braselton.

Two candidates have already announced plans to run for Richardson's seat: Chad Bingham and Steve Wittry have said they will toss their hats into the ring.

Marty Clark has also announced his plans to run for the new District 5 seat on the BOC as well. The district is being created due to growth in the county on the west side.

Wittry running for BOC District 3

Steve Wittry has announced his intention to run in the 2022 election for the Jackson County Board of Commissioner's District 3  position currently held by Ralph Richardson, Jr.

“Strong leadership and clear thinking is necessary to successfully navigate and manage the changes Jackson County is experiencing," Wittry said. "My focus is on contributing to the development of policy that supports balancing the special quality of life that Jackson has traditionally offered with the challenges of managing growth. I sincerely believe that while growth is inevitable and important, with wise and thoughtful policy-making, it can be managed to maintain and even enhance the character of our very special county. I believe that my experience and my passion for Jackson County uniquely qualify me to provide that leadership and serve the citizens of Jackson County in the role of county commissioner.”

Wittry and wife of 39 years, Karen, have resided in Hoschton in unincorporated Jackson County since August of 2012. They worship at 12 Stone Church in Braselton. Their granddaughter Kassandra, her husband Derek Worley and their children, Asher and Mila, also reside in Jackson County.

Steve has served on the Jackson County Planning Commission since his appointment in February of 2014 and on the Board of Adjustments since January of 2019.

Additional service includes serving on the Board of Directors of Piedmont CASA, membership in the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, the Braselton Rotary Club and the Hoschton Area Business Alliance.

He is also a graduate of the Leadership Jackson class of 2021.

Nicholson City Hall has a large Christmas light display.

Multiple houses are aglow with Christmas lights and decorations on Rice Street in Commerce.

Work begins on animal shelter expansion

Work has begun to expand the Jackson County Animal Shelter. Crews broke ground on the first phase of the project earlier this year.

Animal control director Brad Richards outlined the details for the first phase, which is estimated to total $1.5 million. Plans include a new lobby, office spaces for animal control officers, an indoor interaction room for dogs/cats to allow human/animal interaction, and a new feline room.

Crews are also working on the grading for phase two of the expansion, which will increase capacity with new kennels.


It’s been five years since the county purchased the animal shelter site on Galilee Church Rd.

“When we started — we got the shelter five years ago — that was the first shelter Jackson County had ever had,” Richards said.

At the time, both Richards and now assistant county manager Gina Roy said the county had reached a large enough population that an animal shelter was necessary.

Jackson County purchased the facility — which had previously been used as a kennel for dog and cat boarding — in 2016 and renovated the building for a county-wide animal shelter.

“At first, we were only going to do 50 animals,” Richards said. He added they weren’t completely built-out at that time, so he approached county manager Kevin Poe about expanding capacity.

“The county’s growing and we need space because at the time, I was staying full,” he recalled telling Poe.

Even after building out the facility to full capacity, the need continues to grow. Richards pointed to the rapid growth occurring across Jackson County and noted that when population grows, so does the need for services, from utilities to animal shelters.

“We’re getting impacted that way with all the growth in the county,” Richards said. “So it was time to step up.”

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners awarded the project in October to Spratlin & Son and work began in November. Richards said there’s a 365-day contract, but he’s hoping the first phase will be finished sooner than that.

“They’re moving along,” he said. “They actually started good (earlier this month).”


In the meantime, the shelter has been waiving adoption fees for dogs and cats as it tries to clear out the shelter for the expansion.

All fees have been waived and include spay/neuter, microchips, the first round of vaccines, dewormer, rabies shots, a three-month supply of flea and tick medications, 30-day insurance, a free office visit, heartworm prevention and feline leukemia and FIB testing.

The shelter still has a handful of animals available for adoption who are looking for their forever homes.

“We are the voice for the animals,” he said. “They can’t speak. They’ve got a special place in our hearts and we try to get these babies in their forever homes. That’s our main goal is to get them their forever homes.”

Find out more and stay updated by visiting the Jackson County, GA Animal Shelter Facebook page.

Bingham running for BOC District 3 seat

Chad Bingham has announced his intention to run for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners District 3 seat in 2022. The seat is currently held by Ralph Richardson Jr.

"Jackson County is a beautiful county with incredible family-oriented cities and towns, and this is a unique time in its history," Bingham said. "We are one of the 20 fastest growing counties in the state and in the top 75 in the US according to Georgia News and Stacker. As we embark on a new year, great challenges face our proud community: Higher taxes, lagging infrastructure, and business growth that requires an expanded workforce are just a few. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: 'The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew.'

"It’s time to think anew," he added. "To meet these challenges, we need input from our most valuable resource, the residents of Jackson County. I believe that my background, local experience, and civic involvement, show a track record of collaboration and an understanding for what matters most to all of us who call Jackson County home. The solutions we need will require a unique partnership between city leaders, business owners, and the great citizens of Jackson County. We don’t need another ten years of top-down business as usual. What we need is strategic leadership that does what’s best, first and foremost, for the citizens and businesses of Jackson County."

Bingham has owned Bingham Insurance Group since 2013. He's been a member of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce for nine years and has been on the Chamber board of directors for the past six years with three of those as an executive. Bingham was also a member of the Empower College and Career Center steering committee for four years, a board of directors member for two years and was chairman of the board in 2021.

Bingham is an 8-year member of the Rotary Club of Braselton where he served as president. He currently serves as Rotary assistant district governor, district risk manager liaison and as a member of the board of directors for the district. He is also a Fellowship of Christian Athletes board member for Greater Hall FCA and chair of the board for the Jackson County FCA.

Bingham and his wife of 16 years, Sarah, have four children ages 13, 10, 5 and 3. The family has attended Free Chapel for the past 13 years and helped launch Free Chapel Braselton.

Bingham can be reached at 470-543-1087.