No decision has been handed down yet by the court in a lawsuit filed by Kolter against the City of Hoschton over the town's decision to implement expensive impact fees on new construction.
A court hearing was held Oct. 22 in Jackson County Superior Court on the issue.
Kolter is Hoschton's largest landowner and is developing a 2,600 master planned community in the town known as Twin Lakes.
The suit seeks an injunction to stop the city from collecting around $2,900 in impact fees on new homes in the city. The impact fee system was created over the summer in an effort to collect funds from the Kolter project.
The lawsuit says that Hoschton has "been engaged in an ongoing crusade to extract as much money out of Plaintiffs as possible..."
In the suit, Kolter said it had to threaten litigation against the town over the summer to have the city council lift an unexpected building moratorium.
The lawsuit says that Kolter has invested millions of dollars in its massive residential project, including providing funds to upgrade Hoschton's water and sewerage infrastructure, and was blindsided by the city's move to put impact fees on the development.
Kolter argues in the suit that its development will pay for the increased cost of city services without impact fees being put into place. While the city does not currently levy a property tax, it does collect a share of county sales tax income.
In the suit, Kolter also said that the city had not lived up to its side of a contract to develop water and sewerage infrastructure for the development and that existing water pressure in the development is very low. It says the city was notified in April that it was in breach of its contract with Kolter over water and sewerage development.
Among other things, the suit alleges that Hoschton:
• rushed the impact fee process "without any meaningful input from either the public or members of the development community."
• had published conflicting legal notice advertising about the dates and times for public hearings.
• had created an illegal advisory committee for the impact fees that didn't conform to state law.
• held a public hearing on Aug. 10 for the impact fees, but left that off the city's published agenda until the time of the meeting.
• failed to publish legal advertising for the town's second public hearing about impact fees.
• failed to distinguish the impact fees for various kinds of residential developments, i.e. single-family, townhomes, apartments, age-restricted, etc. The suit points out that the city did distinguish between various kinds of commercial projects in its impact fee ordinance, but failed to do so in its residential fees.
• created impact fees for a non-existent police department. The suit included a recent Facebook statement by Hoschton Mayor Shannon Sell that says the city has not decided to defiantly create a police department. (The city has since deleted its Facebook page.)
• failed to consider that residents in the Kolter project would be paying property taxes to the West Jackson Fire District for fire protection and that the city itself does not have a fire department.
The City of Hoschton is mulling the addition of a police department, but if population projections come to fruition one might be inevitable.
Hoschton mayor Shannon Sell told a crowd of 30-40 citizens who gathered Tuesday (Oct. 20) for an outdoor town hall meeting that the city could have 10,000 residents between the next four to seven years.
“From our research, and talking to law enforcement, I doubt there is a city in the state of Georgia, maybe not in the country, with 10,000 people in it that doesn’t have a police department,” Sell said.
The need for a department will be unavoidable, according to Snell.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of whether we should, it’s a matter of when,” he said. “As the city grows, we’re going to need a police department.”
Nevertheless, most of those on hand at the meeting didn’t feel the city of around 2,000 residents currently warranted a police department.
Sell took a show of hands of how many wanted a police department now, and only two residents raised their hands.
More hands went up, however, when he asked if Hoschton with 5,000 residents should have a department and almost all hands were raised when he moved the population figure to 10,000.
Hoschton is currently served by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, though a city department would allow for prompter response times.
“Our sheriff has told us, she said, ‘Shannon we’re going to be there for you, but we may not get there as fast as your own police department should,’’’ Sell said.
But Sell warned that a police force would be expensive. Based on the city’s research, the cost for each officer would be $100,000 per year once all expenses are tallied.
The city actually provided a police force for years. But financial woes forced the city to scrap its police force about a decade ago and Sell said there’s not a sufficient revenue stream to re-institute the police department. Hoschton doesn’t levy a property tax.
“If we want it, we’ve got pay for it,” Sell said. “There is no revenue stream coming into Hoschton to pay for a police officer.”
Resident Michael Bagwell pushed back against that, though, asking the city to investigate how it afforded a police department previously. Bagwell said if more revenue is required for a police department, that money needs to be justified.
A handful of other residents spoke to the council about police service.
Bart Taylor asked if Hoschton could simply pay neighboring Braselton to provide that service.
“We have addressed that,” Sell said, “and they’ve said ‘no.’”
Doug Hunt asked what level of property tax would be required to start a police department. Sell wasn’t certain, saying the city is still running numbers.
Jimmy Freeman asked why the city hadn’t sought a five-year, $535,000 federal grant for a police force. Sell said no one has informed the city of such a grant.
“If you’ve got an address, we’re willing to call them,” Sell told him.
Sell also used the town hall meeting to discuss various other ideas, which included:
•building new city hall offices to alleviate space constraints in the current city hall, which Sell called “old” and “feeble.”
•increasing council member and mayor pay from the current rate of $25 per meeting to attract future candidates.
•changing the city charter to transition to a city manager-run government; adding two council seats; and electing council members from districts rather than at-large to protect representation on the council in the downtown area.
•implementing a city property tax. “We do not have a sustainable revenue source to operate this city long-term,” Sell said.
•the formation of a downtown development authority.
According to Sell, the council could not address the construction of Twin Lake, a development which will bring close to 3,000 homes into the city, due to the city being in litigation with The Kolter Group, which is developing the subdivision.
The council also fielded complaints about traffic and speeders through town.
The City of Hoschton delayed action Oct. 26 to give what is usually a routine approval for a preliminary plat for Phase 4 in the Twin Lakes development.
The city is locked in a legal tangle with Kolter, the developer of Twin Lakes, over the town's recent decision to impose impact fees on new construction. Kolter sued Hoschton over the move last month.
The preliminary plat was a separate issue until the city's planning board recently recommended denial of the plat approval, saying it had questions about the impact fee lawsuit.
Former council member Scott Butler is chairman of the planning board and led the move to stop the plat's approval despite a recommendation of approval from city planner Jerry Weitz.
The council voted to delay the Kolter plat approval, asking the city attorney to find out why the town's planning commission recommended denial.
The city's move to delay action on the plat came after another closed door session of the council to discuss litigation. The council has had a number of executive sessions in recent months to discuss litigation, apparently about its dealings with Kolter.
Kolter has also sent attorneys and a court recorder to recent council meetings, along with some Kolter executives, to monitor the council's actions.
"The City’s actions are causing real harm to real people without any justification," said Kolter attorney Paul Mitchell of the city's delay in approving the plat.
Kolter is the town's largest landowner and developer. Once built to completion, the Twin Lakes development will have 2,600 homes, massively increasing the size of Hoschton's population.
Some council and planning board members, however, appear to believe that the city's agreement with Kolter, done by a previous city administration, is flawed.
Hoschton is supposed to improve its water and wastewater services for the development, but Kolter has argued that the town is behind schedule on those projects.
in other action, the council approved putting a $3 per month fee on recycling bins ($3 per bin) that some city residents use. Councilman Shantwon Astin was opposed to the fee.
The council also approved:
• contracting with the county magistrate court to handle code enforcement issues for the city. The town currently has no way to enforce its codes.
• contracting with Emery and Garrett to do well site exploration for a new city water well.
• software for the city's inspection department.
• a contract for preventative maintenance on the town's lift station generators.
The total number of COVID-19 patients being treated at Northeast Georgia Health System again rose slightly this week.
As of Monday, Oct. 26, there were 93 positive COVID patients across the hospital system with 24 at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton. The week prior (Monday, Oct. 19), NGHS was treating 85 positive COVID patients with 23 at NGMC Braselton.
NGMC Braselton currently has 119 occupied beds with 39 available. The ICU department has 24 occupied beds with none available. (Across the hospital system, there are 619 occupied beds with 92 beds available.)
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the hospital system has discharged 2,584 patients.
There have been 364 deaths.
Across the state, there have been 351,881 cases; 7,827 deaths; and 31,087 hospitalizations.
In Braselton’s four county area, there have been:
•Barrow: 2,579 cases with 180 in the past two weeks; 50 deaths; 263 hospitalizations.
•Gwinnett: 30,383 cases with 1,488 in the past two weeks; 442 deaths; 2,868 hospitalizations.
•Hall: 10,605 cases with 471 in the past two weeks; 173 deaths; 1,085 hospitalizations.
•Jackson: 2,361 cases with 192 in the past two weeks; 40 deaths; 192 hospitalizations.
The 2020 voting season is nearing its end as Election Day approaches next week for the Nov. 3 General Election.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day in Braselton’s four-county area.
Ballots and polling locations will depend on the county you live in.
Find your sample ballot and your polling location at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.
Early in-person voting continues this week through Oct. 30. Details include:
Early in-person voting in Jackson County for the Nov. 3 General Election is being held through Oct. 30 at the Gordon Street Center in Jefferson and in Braselton and Commerce. Locations include:
Eligible voters in Gwinnett County may vote advance in person every day through Oct. 30 at the following locations:
Voters in Hall County will be able to cast their ballots through Oct. 30 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the following:
In-person advance voting will take place through Oct. 30 at the Barrow County elections office. During this final week of early voting, the elections office has expanded hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Northeast Georgia Health System recently released COVID-19 safety guidelines for this year’s Halloween festivities.
The recommendations were developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses,” according to the recommendations. “You can reduce the risk of spread by making smart choices for Halloween fun.”
The CDC released the following low-risk activities:
According to the CDC's recommendations, the following are moderate risk activities:
The CDC recommends avoiding the following higher risk activities:
Those with COVID-19 or those who've been exposed are asked to not participate in in-person Halloween festivities, including handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.
The CDC recommends that those who plan to host a Halloween celebration assess current COVID-19 levels in the area to determine whether to postpone, cancel or reduce the number of attendees.
The CDC also recommends wearing a proper cloth face mask.
For more information, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus.
Braselton area schools saw mixed results on the 2020 ACT.
The Georgia Department of Education released the 2020 ACT scores earlier this month.
While most schools topped the state average, there were several Braselton area schools that fell below that composite average including Jackson County Comprehensive, Cherokee Bluff and Winder-Barrow high schools. WBHS was also below the national average.
Composite scores include:
Halloween festivities may look a little different this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Braselton News would like to see the unique ways the community is celebrating Halloween this year.
Those who would like to submit a photo for an upcoming issue of the paper may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the name(s) of people in the photographs.
The deadline is noon on Monday, Nov. 2.