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Hoschton abolishes planning board

The Hoschton City Council abolished the town's planning commission during its April 19 meeting.

In a time of unprecedented growth, which includes a record-breaking 115 building permits issued by the city of Hoshcton since January, processing annexation, rezoning and variances applications has become cumbersome and unnecessary, according to city officials.

By eliminating the planning commission, the city hopes to streamline the zoning process by having them go directly to the council for action.

City officials say the move will also provide monetary savings for property owners and development applicants while lessening the burden of preparing agendas, attending meetings and other public meeting requirements on its staff.

This move, initiated by Mayor Shannon Sell, necessitated amendments to the city’s Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance and Code of Ordinances.

The planning board didn't have the authority to make a final decision; that authority has always resided with the council.

The updates designate inspection authority to the city engineer, zoning administrator and land development inspector for things such as erosion control, stormwater facilities, tree protections and paving.

West Jackson’s new fire station to increase response times in area

The West Jackson Fire Board and the Braselton Public Facilities Authority held a ribbon cutting and open house at the new West Jackson Fire Station 2 located at 1875 Ednaville Road, Braselton, on Tuesday, April 20.

“We are excited to have the ability to have a closer station to serve the community,” said Ben Stephens,” West Jackson fire chief.

Stephens said the station will help to increase response time as the community continues to grow and as traffic increases in the county.

“Getting over I85 to get a call is starting to get a little trying so having a station on this side of the interstate will definitely cut down the response times for our guys. The West Jackson Fire Station One will cover Braselton, South of I85 and station two will cover North of I85, unless of course, there is a major accident where both stations would be on the scene.”

The station will also help improve its Insurance Services Office (ISO) fire rating to reduce homeowner’s insurance costs which have increased from $750-$800 to $3,200 a year.

Stephens said the new station has many improvements over its older station.

The newly built 7,200-square foot fire station is complete with sleeping quarters that include six bunk rooms, four bathrooms with showers, a meeting room, a kitchen and dining area, a public entry ADA bathroom, a watch room where blood pressure checks can be given to anyone needing assistance, a two and a half bay station and a dedicated storage room and tool area which is not present at station one.

“At our old station everything is kind of clumped against the walls,” said Stephens. “The bay station here at the new facility was designed after the Oconee County Fire Department and offers more room for equipment.”

According to Stephens, the station is expected to be staffed and in full operation soon with two full time employees and one part-time employee.

Sunbelt Builders and Precision Planning Inc. are the contractors of the project which cost 1.89 million.

“That’s a lot for a fire station,” said Stephens. “It was definitely a sticker shock for me but at the same time it’s also a facility that’s built to be here longer than I will be here. I am very grateful to my elected officials, community and the Braselton Public Facilities Authority for their assistance, work and support of this project.”

County GOP to re-do local leadership vote

Jackson County GOP chairman TJ Dearman said he does not plan to appeal Sunday's district GOP decision to have the county political party re-do its recent convention election for the party's local leadership.

Dearman said that he won re-election to the county chairmanship on April 10 in a "landslide."

"We won in a landslide the first time and will win again," he said, declining to appeal the district's ruling to the state GOP leadership.

Challenger Adam Ledbetter, who was disqualified during the county's April 10 voting, said all he wanted was a chance to stand against Dearman for the chairmanship of the county party.

"Looks like I got it," Ledbetter said of the district's ruling.

Sunday, the 9th District GOP board held an emergency hearing on the matter. The April 10 county results had been contested by four Jackson County GOP members who claimed the process used by Dearman was wrong and not transparent.

The district board ruled in their favor, saying the county GOP needs to re-do its elections process. 


Dearman blamed the situation on former county GOP chairman Ron Johnson.

"Ron Johnson has made a reputation of stirring the pot and thriving off the chaos," Dearman said. "The Jackson County Republican Party does not believe in that. We have outlined a clear set of goals that we will pursue.

"Let me be clear to everyone, myself and my team are not going to be pushed out like Katie Griffin (Dearman's predecessor as chairman) was. We have served with honor and integrity, and will continue to, and will not be intimidated by Ron Johnson."


One of those who filed the challenge of the April 10 convention vote, Sam Thomas, said he was happy about the outcome of the appeal, but said Dearman's reaction was wrong.

"This is a huge victory for the grassroots Republicans of Jackson County," Thomas said. "As conservatives, we strongly believe that we must follow the rules in conducting our elections, and this decision ensures we get it right.

"While I'm happy about the 9th District GOP's commitment to fair and secure elections, I was very saddened by our county chairman's response. His profanity-laced outburst was an embarrassment to our party and our family-centered values."


The appeals complaint said no copy of the county GOP rules were made available on April 10 and that some candidates for a GOP office were wrongly disqualified based on those rules.

 Ledbetter, a Hoschton city council member, was nominated by the GOP nominating committee for chairman of the local party against incumbent Dearman, but Ledbetter was disqualified by Dearman during the meeting.

Jeff Hughes, a member of the Jackson County Board of Elections, did challenge Dearman from the floor, but was defeated. That vote reportedly had to be held twice after the first vote showed more people voting than delegates who were present.

The disqualification of Ledbetter was based on a reference to a rule that GOP delegates and candidates have to volunteer for at least 10 hours during the year.

But the complaint appeal says the Jackson County GOP had broken ties with the Trump campaign in February 2020, making it impossible for local members to officially have volunteer campaign hours.

The appeal was filed by Thomas, Ross J. Harvin, Wesley Colley and Crystal L. Colley.

The local GOP organization has a long history of tumultuous leadership. Dearman's predecessor resigned as local chairman in protest over how the group was being run by shadow leaders who didn't support her.

Some years ago, a local chairman refused to release the names of those who had qualified to run for local office to the newspaper after qualifying had closed. He was later ousted from the job.

Braselton posts job for civic center director

Braselton is looking to hire a director for its new civic center, set to open this fall.

The town posted the job opening on April 21 and will accept applications until the position is filled.

Full details on the position and the application can be found at www.braselton.net/town_info/job_opportunities/index.php.

The new civic center is being constructed on Davis St. near the town's new parking deck.

"Upon completion in October 2021, this versatile facility will seat up to 504 attendees for banquets, weddings, reunions and conventions," town leaders said.

Doug Collins won't run for office in Georgia during 2022 elections

Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins announced Monday he will not run for any office in the 2022 election cycle, ending speculation over potential bids for top statewide seats.

Collins, who lost an open-format election for one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats last fall, said he aims to play a role in “shaping our conservative message” to help Republicans win back majorities in Congress.

“For those who may wonder, this is goodbye for now, but probably not forever,” Collins said in an announcement on social media Monday. “I believe that we, as conservatives, must be able to clearly communicate our values, and I will help keep that fight going.”

A Baptist pastor and U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain from Gainesville, Collins joined the Clarkesville-based law firm Oliver & Weidner in February after placing third in the open-party special election to replace retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson last November.

Collins waged a fierce battle for a majority share of conservative voters in the special election against then-Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to hold Isakson’s seat until the election. Loeffler then lost to Democrat Raphael Warnock in the Jan. 5 runoff.

Collins served four terms from 2013 until 2021 representing Georgia’s 9th Congressional District, which stretches from Gainesville and Athens northeast to the South Carolina border. U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde of Jackson now holds that seat.

Prior to his Senate campaign, Collins served a stint as ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, where he gained national attention as one of then-President Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters during Trump’s first impeachment inquiry in 2019.

Collins was Trump’s preferred pick over Loeffler for Gov. Brian Kemp’s appointment to the vacant Senate seat, opening a rift within Republican ranks between the president and Georgia’s governor that continued through the January runoffs and amid Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2020 elections that state officials and federal courts repeatedly rejected.

Georgia Republican losses this past election cycle prompted speculation Collins might challenge Kemp in his 2022 reelection campaign or seek a rematch against Warnock, who has already drawn several Republican challengers in recent weeks.

Collins’ backing out of 2022 races comes amid mounting speculation that former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker may challenge Warnock in the upcoming cycle.

Walker’s potential candidacy picked up steam last month after Trump urged him to run for the Senate as a Republican, calling the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner “fantastic” and “unstoppable.” Walker has not yet announced whether he will run against Warnock.

Hoschton approves rezonings for homes, commercial projects

The Hoschton City Council green-lighted several rezoning and variance applications April 19, allowing several residential development to move forward.

The rezoning of over 20 acres fronting the northwest side of Peachtree Road from low-density to moderate-density residential was approved, allowing for a 55-lot subdivision of detached residential homes.

The homes will be in the range of 1,700 to 2,600 square feet on a minimum lot size of ¼ acre. The subdivision will include a small park site and golf cart path to eventually connect the Twin Lakes development to Hoschton’s downtown.

In addition, the council approved two plats in Twin Lakes. First, the final plat for Phase 2 of Cresswind was approved. It will consist of 157 lots on 86.99 acres.

Second, a preliminary plat for Twin Lakes Phase 7 was approved. It will be a mix of 66 townhouse lots on 8.57 acres and three commercial tracts on 3.42 acres

The approved preliminary plat is expected to expand the city’s economic base with additional retail, restaurant and related commercial space.

The council also approved an 18-unit multi-family townhouse development on Railroad Avenue fronting E. Broad Street and Hwy. 53. The council’s approval comes after the application was tabled in March and February.

The applicant, Shea & Company, Inc., also applied for two corresponding variances for the project.

In other business, the council:

● heard that engineers and city staff working on the sanitary sewer construction project at Panther Court have concerns over rock found during excavation in low-lying areas near streams. Engineers propose the city consider placing advance borings at strategic locations in the project sites prior to completing the bid documents. The cost of placing borings is estimated to total around $12,000, according to project engineers.

● learned that the 23 property owners on Panther Court from whom the city seeks easement rights to construct the sewer should expect statements of estimated values and donation forms, which ask permission to allow workers to access their properties. The methodology used for compensating property owners for easement rights considers square footage of easement and property values.

● approved repealing “Signs” of the city’s Code of Ordinances and adopted a “Signs and Advertising Devices” ordinance in efforts to make the sign code more business friendly. Changes include deletion of lighting provisions, such as the use of laser or strobe lights, allowing animated signs and allowing signs on fences.

● heard that due to high demand, the city is reviewing the processes and requirements for reactivating a city police department. The city hopes to have the department operational by early fall.

Planners turns down drive-in plans

With one commissioner absent,  the Braselton Planning Commission deadlocked on April 26 on an application to allow a drive-in restaurant off Old Winder Hwy.

The commission’s 2-2 vote on the application essentially translates to a recommendation of denial, according to the city’s legal counsel.

The town's planning staff had recommended denial of the project based on the nature of the proposed use and design as presented in the application, accessibility to the site and compatibility with planned development.

The applicant’s legal counsel brought up several points to counter staff’s recommendation for denial, focusing primarily on accessibility and impact on neighboring properties by pointing to the access easements already in place.

But even with the easements, accessibility and parking will be an issue on the property regardless of its use due to the way the property was developed.

“That’s, quite frankly, outside of our control,” he said.

In other business, the commission voted to recommend approval for:

• annexation and rezoning of .875 acres owned by VDC Development Group, LLC., currently in Gwinnett County, in order to combine this tract with adjacent incorporated property to serve as the parking area for a proposed assisted living facility. 

• rezoning 5.03 acres owned by Oaks Senior Living, LLC. from commercial to multi-family residential in order to develop a 40-unit senior living apartment community, which will be located adjacent to Oaks at Braselton. In addition to the condition the apartment community be limited to seniors, the commission added an amendment for six additional parking spaces for golf carts.

Braselton plans tour of historic district

Braselton will offer tours of the town's historic district this May.

"Join us for a stroll through the historic district of downtown in May," town leaders said. "We are offering walking tours for free as well as trolley rides for $10 per person. Tickets are required for all tours for anyone over the age of 2."

Walking tours are scheduled Tuesday, May 11, at 10:30 a.m. and Monday, May 17, at 6:30 p.m. The walking tour is 1.5 miles and attendees are asked to wear comfortable shoes.

Trolley tours are planned Wednesday, May 12, at 2 p.m. and Thursday, May 13, at 6:30 p.m. Trolley tours will have limited capacity. Everyone over 2 years old will be required to purchase a ticket. The trolley cannot accommodate car seats.

In the event of bad weather, the event will be rescheduled.

Get your tickets at http://www.downtownbraselton.com/walking-tour-tickets.html.

Braselton Woman's Club to meet May 5

The Braselton Woman's Club will meet Wednesday, May 5, at noon at the La Quinta Inn

Attendees are asked to bring a bag lunch.

A program on the "Opioid Epidemic" will be presented by Scott Carpenter.

La Quinta Inn is located off Hwy. 53, at 200 Kaival Ln., Braselton.

For more information, call Sylvia Schurr at 706-684-0280.