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Commerce nixes composting plant

A proposed composting facility will not be locating in the City of Commerce.

The Commerce City Council voted unanimously Monday night Sept. 21, to deny a request from Atlas Organics to build an organic composting facility on Yarbourgh Ridgeway Road.

The council had earlier agreed more time was needed to look at the proposal before taking a final action. The council also indicated that a tour of one of the facilities owned by Atlas would be useful. Atlas operates composting facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas.

“This project, although it is a good project, is probably not right for our city and not in that location,” said Mayor Clark Hill.

The city's planning board had recommended approval of the project with several conditions in place.


As expected, the council officially approved lowering the town's millage rate this year.

The 2020 millage rate will roll back from 3.88 mills to 3.86 mills.


City Manager James Wascher told the council the city is working on gathering information for the annual audit that will soon be underway.

Wascher said the general fund should report a surplus of a half million dollars. He said he would like for the council to use some of those funds for capital projects in the upcoming fiscal year.

The main reason for the surplus is due to proceeds from the federal CARES Act that will have specific uses tied to the funding.

The city's water and sewer will have a surplus of $700,000 and the gas fund should report a surplus of $398,000. The electric fund surplus will be slightly over $1 million.

Wascher reminded the council that each year the city puts aside a million dollars to help fund the Vogtle power plant, which is slated to come on line in November of 2021.

“That is going to drastically change the landscape of our financials in expenses for wholesale power," said Wascher. “Once that unit comes on line and we start drawing down surpluses and putting that money towards the wholesale power bill, hopefully our customers won’t feel as much of an impact.”


In appointments, the council appointed:

• Andre Rollins, Jimbo Stephenson, and Melinda Cochran-Davis to the planning commission for a term of four years

• Tracey Newcomer, Nicky Wilbanks and Christy Johnson to the library board for a term of 48 months.

• Jon Massey to the city recreation board.


In zoning actions, the council:

• amended the city zoning map to make the zoning throughout the city more consistent. The council further approved regulations that would allow any current or permitted use in an area that is changing to be allowed to continue for the life of the structure as a non-conforming use. The regulations will allow homeowners to replace their non-conforming residence with another non-conforming residence in the event of catastrophic damage as long as the structure is owner occupied at the time of the occurrence.

• approved an amendment to city regulations regarding subdivision improvement guarantees. The proposed changes will address the types of infrastructure that will require improvement guarantees. Developers will be required to present the city with a bond for 123% of the cost for infrastructure within a proposed development. The guarantee will allow the city to require performance bonds from developers to ensure any issues met by the city where the infrastructure is not completed by the developer, the city will have the resources to complete installation of the infrastructure. 

• approved annexation and rezoning from A1 in the county to R1 in the city of 2.069 acres on Lakeview Drive. The council also approved a lot size variance for the owner, Ritz Homes, LLC to divide the parcel into three separate lots.

• approved annexation and rezoning from R1 in the county to R2 in the city for 3.9 acres located at 91 Casey Court, for the purpose of constructing a home 2,300 square feet in size. This is the final lot in Whitehill Meadow subdivision.

• approved annexation and rezoning for parcels connected to the Bana Road development. The applicant, Brian Cardoza, requested annexation and rezoning of 47.432 acres from HI in county to M-2 in the city. This will bring the total for Rooker Development property to 350 acres.

• approved a request from Mary Beth ad Tommy Eason to place shipping containers on property located at 8494 Jefferson Road for use as a pool house. The structure must be covered by a building material that is acceptable for R1 zoning and cannot be used as a residence. The property owner will also be required to hire an independent third-party inspector to conduct all inspections for the structure. Hill said the request to use a shipping container for general purposes has brought attention to the possibility of similar requests coming before the council in the future. The council directed the city staff to prepare regulations that would address such structures.


In other business, the council:

• authorized Mayor Hill to enter into an agreement for Rooker Development to build Bana Industrial Road. The agreement will spell out how construction of the road will be completed in each phase. The agreement will also address bonding requirements to ensure construction of the road is completed correctly and in a timely manner once construction begins. Once completed and approved, the road will be deeded to the city.

• approved Home Development Resources as a third party developer to construct homes under the city CHIPS grant program.

• approved setting rental fee of $40 per practice for use of recreation department fields by non-recreation teams.

Hoschton to face lawsuit over impact fees

The Hoschton City Council will likely soon face a lawsuit from its biggest developer over its Sept. 21 decision to impose impact fees on new residential construction.

Attorney Paul Mitchell, who represents Kolter Acquisitions, the developer of a huge 1,400-acre planned community in the town, said Sept. 22 that a lawsuit would be forthcoming.

"Even though we sent the City four reports from one of the nation’s preeminent impact fee experts showing that the impact fees were illegal and unnecessary, the City’s actions have left us no alternative but to challenge the impact fee ordinance in court," Mitchell said.

Kolter had been pushing back against efforts by the city to impose impact fees since the issue first came up in June.

After a brief delay, the city council voted 3-2 on Sept. 21 to proceed with imposing impact fees on new construction in the town despite those objections.

Mayor Shannon Sell broke a tie vote on the issue, agreeing to move forward with city impact fees. Council members Shantwon Astin and Adam Ledbetter voted to approve the fees while James Lawson and Tracy Carswell voted against the plan. The council had earlier in the month delayed a vote on the matter.

The vote came after the council went into an executive session to discuss "litigation."

"Unfortunately, Mayor Shannon Sell and councilmembers Shantwon Astin and Adam Ledbetter voted to impose illegal impact fees that will ultimately lead to property taxes on all of the City’s residents," Mitchell said.

The fees will add nearly $3,000 to the cost of a new home in Hoschton. Money raised from the fees will be used for infrastructure projects for fire, police and recreation.

The council fast-tracked the process to impose the fees in a bid to have it in place to capture as many new homes as possible as Kolter began gearing up home sales. The massive Twin Lakes development is a high-end residential project that will add around 2,600 new homes to Hoschton in the coming decade. 

The creation of impact fees usually takes 12-18 months, but Hoschton did their process in just three months. For a short time, the town imposed a three-month building moratorium on new residential construction in an effort to get a many impact fees as possible. But the council soon backtracked on the moratorium, lifting it after just a month.


Lawyers and executives from Kolter have been attending council meetings since the idea was proposed in June. A court stenographer has been taking notes for Kolter's law firm at recent council meetings and the council has held several closed executive sessions to discuss litigation apparently related to the impact fee controversy.

During the town's second public hearing about the fees held Aug. 31, Mitchell urged that a decision on the impact fees be delayed.

"Put the cart behind the horse and give this a little more time so there can be a more thoughtful product, so there can be more public discussion and input," Mitchell said.

During his remarks, Mitchell said Kolter had a study done of Hoschton's proposed impact fees and that they didn't meet the state's "proportionally rule." That rule says impact fees have to be in proportion to the impact of a development on a community.

Kolter annexed 1,464 acres along Hwy. 53 and Peachtree Rd. into Hoschton in November 2018 for the project. About half of the homes planned will be in a gated, age-restricted community while the remainder will be in a traditional family subdivision. Commercial space is also outlined in Kolter's plans.

Earlier this year, Kolter began to market and sell homes in its development. It has sold around 100 homes so far, officials say.

Kolter representatives said the move by Hoschton to impose impact fees and the imposition of a building moratorium were unexpected and weren't part of the original discussions with the town during the annexation and approval process. 

SK hires its first employees

SK Battery has hired its first 60 employees for its Commerce facility according to a Sept. 21 news release from the firm.

"These employees include production supervisors, production/process/electrical engineers and quality/logistics specialists who will set up, work and serve as the trainers for the EV battery production workforce at the two SK Battery America plants under construction at the site," the release stated.

The firm said it plans to have 150 employees by the end of the year and to hire 900 more employees in 2021.

SK projects it will have 2,600 employees by the time both of its facilities in Commerce are in full operation in 2024.

The first SK plant is scheduled to begin initial operations in 2021 with mass production in 2022. A second plant at the same site is expected to begin mass production in 2023.

The exterior of the first plant is completed and work has  begun on the second facility.

According to the news release:

"The new jobs that will be created in Jackson County include a range of technical roles from production operators to senior engineers focused on manufacturing highly sophisticated lithium-ion battery cells at scale. To help begin the process of hiring and training workers, SK Battery America has signed a partnership agreement with Quick Start and Lanier Technical College in Georgia."

SK will manufacture batteries for electric vehicles with two neighboring facilities along I-85 in Commerce. Total investment is said to be around $2.6 billion, one of the state's largest  manufacturing investments.

“This is a transformational economic development project that will fuel new job opportunities for our region, spur more spending across Jackson County and establish Commerce as a center for innovation in a fast-growing part of the economy," said Commerce Mayor Clark Hill. "The impact is even more significant as the region and entire U.S. look for hope and job growth coming out of the pandemic.”

BOC approves Galilee residential project

Jackson County leaders recently approved a residential project off Galilee Church Rd.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a handful of rezoning requests for 27 acres on Galilee Church Rd. near the Jefferson bypass at its Sept. 21 meeting. Developers requested a change from agriculture to R-3 to allow a multi-family residential project.

Kenny Whitworth, with Galilee Springs, LLC, previously said the development would include 216 apartment units.

At the Sept. 21 meeting, Whitworth said he wanted to modify the request to include townhomes and single-family residences.

A handful of area residents have voiced opposition against the development, citing concerns with traffic, property values, increased crime and the impact on the character of the area.


Also at its meeting, the board approved:

•a rezoning request for 79 acres at 1904 Hwy. 124, Jefferson, from A-2 to R-1. Whitworth, who was also the applicant for this project, said they plan approximately 125 lots in an open space subdivision.

•adding a request to remove a waiting period on 2567 Brock Rd. to the board’s October agenda. Developers plan a Stripling’s General Store on the property. A waiting period had been placed on the site after previous attempts to rezone the land. The Stripling’s request would still need a rezoning.

•appointing Rachel Duke for a 5-year term to the Jackson County Department of Family and Children Services District 3. Commissioner Ralph Richardson Jr. was previously named for the spot, but state law prohibits him from serving on that board.

•accepting an upgraded portion on Joe Bolton Rd.

•accepting right of way on Hwy. 124 at a single-family residential development previously approved at Boone Rd.

•a rezoning request for 20 acres at 3920 Winder Hwy., Jefferson. Applicant Gary Garvin requested an R-1 zoning and plans a 20-lot subdivision.

•a map amendment for 4.6 acres at 625 Curk Roberts Rd., Braselton. The applicant, Omar Ramirez, plans to split the tract and build a residence.

•transmitting the proposed 5-year comprehensive plan update to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and Georgia Department of Community Affairs for review. The update will come back to the county for final adoption.

COVID deaths hit 30

The number of people from Jackson County who have died from the COVID virus hit 30 this week, two more than last week.

The overall trend of cases in the county has been below what it was in early September and August, but the number of positive cases continues to remain in the moderate range at 321 per 100,000 people.

A total of 152 people in the county have been hospitalized since the virus hit in March with nearly 1,900 total confirmed cases on record.

COVID impact on local schools mostly down last week

The number of students and school employees affected by contact with a COVID positive case was mostly stable or down last week, with the exception of Gum Springs Elementary School.

At GSES, 24% of its in-person students and staff were impacted by quarantine from contact with a positive case. That was far above the rate at other schools in the Jackson County School System where the numbers were stable or slightly down from the week before.

In the Commerce City School System, the number of students and staff under quarantine went down to 23 last week with three positive cases noted. That was down from 41 people under quarantine the week before.

The Jefferson City School System reported 67 students absent due to quarantine last week, up slightly from 59 the week before.

Jefferson woman dies in fall

A Jefferson woman was reportedly the victim of a fatal fall while hiking on Sept. 11.

Rachel Marie Koning, 21, of Jefferson died while hiking in Dawson County. According to published reports, she had gone to get help for her boyfriend who was injured on the hike when she fell.

Koning was a 2018 graduate of Jackson County Comprehensive High School and was attending the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, according to her obituary. She also worked part-time at a dog training facility.