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UPDATED: County commissioners to reconsider rezoning request in Hoschton area under settlement agreement

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.


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.

That public hearing, set for 6 p.m., will be advertised in The Barrow News-Journal.

Harrison Foundation pledges $1M to new UGA poultry science building

The R. Harold and Patsy Harrison Foundation has pledged $1 million toward the construction of a new poultry science building on the University of Georgia’s Athens campus, expanding the legacy of the Harrison family in Georgia’s poultry industry.

The $1 million commitment is the first seven-figure gift to the poultry science building campaign and the foundation’s first gift to the University of Georgia.

“My father graduated from the College of Agriculture, and he would tell stories about walking up Ag Hill. UGA and education were very important to him,” said Bobbie Ann Harrison Reynolds, who established the R. Harold and Patsy Harrison Foundation in her parents’ honor in 2019.

A Bethlehem native, R. Harold Harrison earned his bachelor’s degree in agribusiness from the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 1941. At graduation, Harrison received a blank piece of paper as he crossed the stage because he could not pay the $5 required for his diploma, returning later to pay the fee. Today, that framed diploma hangs in the Harrison Poultry headquarters, Reynolds said.

“With this generous commitment from the R. Harold and Patsy Harrison Foundation, CAES is able to continue leading the way in poultry research and education. We are excited about the future of our poultry science building, and it would not be possible without support from industry partners like Mrs. Bobbie Ann Harrison Reynolds and the entire Reynolds family,” said CAES dean and director Nick Place.

The estimated $54.1 million project will increase the size of the department of poultry science’s facilities to more than 70,000 square feet, modernizing instructional and lab space; providing centralized, student-focused facilities; and helping to attract and retain world-class researchers. The new building will be located on what is currently a parking lot between Boyd and Conner halls.

State-of-the-art learning labs will bolster the traditional classroom experience with production courses, demonstrations and relevant field-learning exercises and contribute to the department’s expanding FFA, 4-H and other youth programs, as well as assist with student recruitment efforts. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring 2022 with completion in fall 2023.

After graduating from UGA, Harrison was commissioned into the U.S. Army and served in World War II in Europe as a platoon leader and company commander and was honorably discharged as a captain in 1945. Returning to his hometown, Harrison built his company from a small operation selling chicks to feed dealers in the area to broiler production and processing and was a pioneer in automation, building a feed mill, hatchery, and the processing facility still operating today.

“Harrison Poultry now contributes approximately $100 million annually to the local economy and is the largest nongovernment employer in Barrow County with nearly 1,000 employees and contracts with more than 100 growers in several surrounding counties,” said David Bleth, president and CEO of Harrison Poultry. “We are proud to be associated with the continuing innovation that will be a part of the R. Harold Harrison legacy.”

During his career, Harrison served as director of the National Broiler Council and was awarded the Agri-Leader of the Year in 1984 by the Atlanta Farmers Club. He was a member of the Barrow County Board of Education for 24 years, serving as chairman for 12 years. As a state senator, he represented Gwinnett, Barrow, Jackson and Banks counties. He was inducted into the Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2001.

“My father was such a community leader — serving as a state senator, on the bank board, on the school board, on the hospital board, all while building his business at the same time,” Reynolds said. “It seemed a perfect fit for the conference center at UGA’s Poultry Science Building to be named for him and for my mother. It will be a place where all of the leaders of the industry will come together for the benefit of everyone.”

Establishing the R. Harold and Patsy Harrison Foundation was a way for Reynolds to honor her parents. Her mother also attended UGA.

“Knowing how much Daddy valued philanthropy and giving back, this means a lot. Honoring them both in this way and being a donor to this project are important because of the example that they set for me,” Reynolds said.

The poultry science building campaign is a public-private partnership. Thus far, the State of Georgia has allocated a total of $23.9 million for planning and construction of the new building. A final request to equip the building is slated to be included in the University System of Georgia’s fiscal year 2023 capital budget request.

Ranked the No. 1 poultry science program in the nation, the CAES Department of Poultry Science has been a major contributor of research and university-trained experts that have led to the exponential growth of the state’s industry for many decades, and the department and its faculty are well-known for their industry-focused advances, leaders said.

“We need innovation in the industry and my father was an innovator,” Reynolds said. “This is an exciting project for the Poultry Science program. It is all about educating the next generation of leaders for the industry. My family and I are blessed and thrilled to be involved in this investment in infrastructure for the future.”

To make a gift to the Poultry Science Building Fund, contact Mary Ann Parsons, senior director of development for CAES, at 706-542-3390 or go online to the CAES website.

The Varsity plans new location in Barrow County

Barrow Countians who may be pining for The Varsity since the fast-food restaurant chain closed its iconic Athens location last month won’t have to go very far for their next serving of chili dogs and onion rings. In fact, they won’t even have to cross county lines.

The company officially announced this week it will open a new location on Exchange Boulevard at The Gateway development along Highway 316. A Barrow County location for the famous restaurant, founded in Atlanta in 1928, had long been rumored, but officials have confirmed in social media posts that ground will be broken “soon” at The Gateway. The company also announced a new location on Parkway Boulevard in Oconee County.

The Gordy family, who own The Varsity, in 2012 purchased a 1-acre parcel that is now part of The Gateway and is near the corner of Exchange Boulevard and Exchange Circle, situated in front of the AMC movie theater. The parcel, which has remained undeveloped, is located within the City of Winder, though it is being marketed by the company as being in unincorporated Bethlehem. 

The Varsity, which has a handful of locations across metro Atlanta and north Georgia — including its main location on North Avenue across from the Georgia Tech campus — was also a longstanding institution in Athens dating back to 1932 and at the corner of West Broad Street and Milledge Avenue since 1964.

Late this spring, though, the restaurant announced the Athens location would be closing, and the final order was served June 20. The building is now set for an upcoming demolition to make way for a long-planned mixed-use development that reportedly is proposed to include a Publix and apartment units.

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.

House had another stellar season as a senior at Winder-Barrow this spring, setting him up to be drafted in the first round. 

GBI: 11 have been charged in connection with Delgado murder case

Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials clarified Thursday that eight people have been arrested and three suspects remain at large in connection with the April murder of a Bethlehem woman.

A GBI spokesperson said three people — Shawn Callaway, 38, Terri Garner, 37, and Eva Galacia Martinez, 26 — have been charged under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act in connection with the killing of Rossana Delgado, 37, whose body was found April 20 at a cabin in Gilmer County. Callaway and Garner, both of Georgia, were arrested in Texas in late April, and Martinez, of Winder, was arrested by the Barrow County Sheriff's Office on May 7.

Callaway and Garner were charged with tampering with evidence, while Martinez was charged with tampering with evidence and two counts of making false statements. 

The GBI had not previously confirmed the involvement of Callaway, Garner or Martinez in its updates on the case.

Delgado, who worked as a taxi driver in Gwinnett County, was last heard from the night of April 16 and later seen on surveillance footage from that night at a store in Chamblee. Her body was discovered at the cabin in Cherry Log on April 20 after the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office responded to a request for a welfare check there. The body had been burned and dismembered, according to authorities’ court testimony at a hearing in Gilmer County.

In all, 11 people have been charged in the case, including seven for murder, four of whom have been arrested. The GBI announced July 3 that Juan Ayala-Rodriguez, 35, of Gainesville, was arrested June 26 in Mexico and has been charged with murder. Three other suspects — Megan Colone, 30, of Stone Mountain, Oscar Manuel Garcia, 26, of Austell, and Juan Antonio Vega, 25, of Cobb County — were arrested on murder charges May 15 in Mexico. And three additional suspects — Mario Alberto Barbosa-Juarez, 29, of Oklahoma, Carolina Jazmin Rodriguez-Ramirez, 28, of Oklahoma, and Maria Katherine Chavez Encarnacion, 28, of Marietta — remain at large on murder charges and are also believed to be in Mexico.

Another person, 28-year-old Calvin Harvard of Covington, was arrested in connection with the case April 28 and charged with tampering with evidence and theft by receiving stolen property after Delgado’s vehicle and two suspects’ vehicles were found in his possession.

Authorities have not yet publicly commented on a potential motive of the suspects or the relationship between any of them and Delgado.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the at-large suspects or with information on the case is asked to contact the GBI. Tips can also be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS (8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.