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Barrow projected to get $16M in federal pandemic relief money

Barrow County will likely receive more than $16 million in federal coronavirus relief money under legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden last week.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed along with party lines, with all Republicans in both congressional chambers and one House Democrat voting against the legislation. In addition to direct $1,400 payments to most Americans and several other measures, the legislation also includes $65 billion to be split between each county in the nation and another $65 billion to be split between non-county municipal governments.

An analysis from the National Association of Counties projects that Barrow County will receive $16.14 million in direct funding, which will be split into two payments, one this year and one in 2022. The U.S. Treasury Department is required to pay the first tranche of money to counties no later than 60 days after the March 11 enactment of the legislation and pay the second round no earlier than 12 months after the first payment.

According to projections from the Georgia Municipal Association, out of the $19.53 billion earmarked for municipalities with populations below 50,000, Winder will be allotted $5.65 million, followed by Auburn ($2.41 million), Statham ($894,469), Bethlehem ($228,442) and Carl ($74,040). However, those jurisdictions with populations below the 50,000 threshold will not be able to receive more than 75 percent of their annual general fund operating budget.

According to the NACo analysis, the federal funds can be used to respond directly to public health efforts and negative economic impacts related to the pandemic and help deliver premium pay to essential public workers. Local governments are also allowed to make water, sewer and broadband infrastructure improvements.

The funds must be spent before the end of 2024, and local governments are required to make “periodic” reports accounting for their spending of the money. Governments that fail to comply with any of the bill’s provisions will be required to repay the Treasury.

Barrow County received roughly $2.7 million last year through the CARES Act pandemic relief legislation that was passed by Congress and signed by then-President Donald Trump. Municipalities in the county also received smaller shares of funding, with Winder ($934,000) receiving the most.

Local funding went primarily toward road improvements and public safety salaries as well as replenishing money that had been spent on pandemic-response efforts.


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Changes proposed to planned residential development next to Barrow Crossing

The developer of a residential community planned to the east of the Barrow Crossing shopping center hopes to change the scope of the project by eliminating all 300 proposed apartment units and replacing them with 250 additional townhomes for a total of 349. But those plans could run into significant complications, according to a representative for the developer, if the Winder City Council backs a recommendation made Tuesday, March 16, by the city’s planning board.

In a discussion Tuesday night on proposed changes to conditions for the rezoning of 67 acres at 399 Carl-Bethlehem Rd. on the south side of Highway 316, the panel voted to recommend denial of Farm Development LLP’s request to reduce the required front- and side-yard setbacks from 35 to 13 feet. Shane Lanham, a Lawrenceville attorney representing the applicants, said his clients were seeking the reduction in order to allow the development to have a more traditional townhome community “feel,” but also to provide for “more efficient” design and cut down on construction-related costs.

Without the reduction in the setbacks, the city’s requirements would present the developer with “unnecessary hardships,” Lanham said.

The planning board’s recommendation now heads to the city council for a public hearing at its April 1 work session and a scheduled vote at its April 6 meeting.

The city council last August approved a rezoning request by the applicants for the property for 300 apartment units and 99 townhomes along with several amenities — including a pool and community clubhouse of at least 5,000 square feet, nature trails, dog parks and pedestrian paths that would connect the development to the shopping center. Instead, Lanham said, the developer now intends to build only townhomes with 349 units, adding that the developer “sees a strong market” for a 100-percent townhome project in the city and has had success with similar developments elsewhere.

Because of the proposed change from apartments to townhomes, the developer requested eliminating the 5,000-square-foot clubhouse and instead having two separate swimming pools with smaller clubhouses of a bout 1,200 square feet. The planning board recommended approval of that change by a 3-1 vote.

But the request on the reduced setbacks, which Lanham said would leave 25 feet between front doors and the back of the sidewalks, hit a snag when no one seconded planning board member Russell Shepley’s motion to approve the request. Instead, the board voted 3-1 in favor of Taffy McCormick’s motion to deny with Shepley opposed to that motion. Stephen Keller and Justin Bailey supported McCormick’s motion. Members David Brock and Brian Deaton were absent, and chairman Robert Lanham (no known relation to the applicants’ attorney) typically does not vote, except to break ties.

If the city council upholds the planning board’s recommendation for denial of the setback variance, that could potentially end up impacting the total number of townhome units built on the property and could relate to concerns raised by the Barrow County School System about the project.

While the overall number of dwelling units would be reduced from 399 to 349 under the proposed change in scope, the number of bedrooms would likely increase by more than 200. When the city council approved the rezoning last summer, it did so with the condition that at least 40 percent (120) of the apartments be one-bedroom units and no more than 5 percent (15) be three-bedroom units. Under the new proposal, Lanham said all 349 units would be at least three bedrooms with the possibility of some four-bedroom units — meaning there would be at least 1,047 bedrooms in the development. If the project were developed under the original plan with the city council stipulations in effect, even if the remaining 165 apartment units all had two bedrooms, that would only total roughly 800 bedrooms for the entire development.

School district officials raised those concerns in a letter to the city, projecting that the development would add 346 children to already-crowded nearby schools and require 14 additional teachers and more than $1 million in additional educational expenses, only about half of which would be covered through property-tax revenues. District officials asked for larger lot sizes to cut down on the number of units.

City administrator Mandi Cody said Tuesday she had not independently verified the school district’s calculations. Lanham told the council in August that the development wouldn’t exclude families but that it would be targeted toward young professionals without children and “empty nesters” and older adults looking to downsize.

School district leaders also raised concerns about traffic and on-street parking plans for the development. Cody noted that a homeowners' association would be in charge of the development’s internal streets.

It’s not yet clear whether denial of the variance request on setbacks would reduce the number of townhomes that can be built on the property and thus alter the school district’s projections. When McCormick asked that of Lanham, he didn’t directly answer but said that the smaller setbacks would provide a more efficient design and a workaround on issues like the size, shape, layout and topography of the property. Adhering to the “strict” setback requirements would mean more impervious surfaces, resulting in higher construction and stormwater-retention infrastructure costs, Lanham said.

When McCormick asked if sticking with the apartments would present a similar hardship, Lanham said the hardship “applies generally to the property,” but that going more vertical and consolidating units with the apartments might help mitigate some of the challenges.

RECOMMENDATIONS MADE ON PROPOSED ANNEXATIONS

In other business Tuesday, the planning board:

•recommended approval of a request to annex 3.59 acres at 851 Loganville Hwy., Bethlehem, into the city from the county and rezone the property in order to build a 2,700-square-foot coffee shop and a 3,751-square-foot restaurant. The back part of the property would be reserved for potential future development. The property is to the south of a planned RaceTrac gas station and convenience store on the west side of Loganville Highway (Highway 81) and is to the north of the 81/316 interchange. The applicants told the panel they are wanting the property to be annexed into the city because trying to develop it under current county zoning would present them with an economic hardship. County setback requirements under the current zoning would only allow the property to be developed into two separate parcels, while the applicants are seeking to develop it into three, they said.

•recommended denial of a request by applicant Mike Rice to annex 0.83 acres at 241 and 247 Hwy. 211 NW into the city and rezone the property in order to build a convenience store with groceries. Neither Rice nor a representative for the application were on hand Tuesday night to address the panel, and one neighboring resident spoke against the request, saying a store at the location would add to traffic issues along the stretch of road near Highway 211’s intersection with Cedar Creek Road.

The annexation requests will also be taken up by the city council at its April 1 work session and are scheduled to be voted on April 6.


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Vehicular homicide arrests made in pair of unrelated crashes in county

The Barrow County Sheriff’s Office last week reported the arrests of two people for vehicular homicide in a pair of unrelated accidents in the county in recent months.

Christopher Aaron Atkism, 27, of Winder, was charged March 9 with second-degree homicide by vehicle, no insurance and failure to obey a stop sign following a Jan. 29 accident at State Route 11 and Shenandoah Drive in Winder.

According to a Georgia State Patrol incident report, Atkism was attempting a left-hand turn onto SR 11 and hit the passenger side of a vehicle traveling north on the highway. That vehicle then traveled into the southbound lane of SR 11 and struck another vehicle before overturning on its driver’s side.

The passenger in the vehicle Atkism hit, 57-year-old Fong Yang of Monroe, died at an area hospital the next day from injuries sustained in the accident.

The sheriff’s office also arrested Kevin James Connelly, 42, of Atlanta, March 10 on charges of second-degree homicide and following too closely for his involvement in a fatal accident Nov. 22 on State Route 316 near Kilcrease Road.

According to a GSP report, Connelly was traveling west on 316 and rear-ended a vehicle that had stopped for a traffic signal to change before beginning to proceed through a green light. One of the passengers in the vehicle Connelly hit, 23-year-old William Gamble of Winder, died at the scene. Connelly, who was treated for injuries at an area hospital, told authorities he attempted to apply his brakes for the red light but that the brakes didn’t stop.


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Barrow County Health Department plans weekly vaccinations at rec center

Starting Wednesday, March 17, the Barrow County Health Department will begin providing COVID-19 vaccinations on a weekly basis by appointment only at the Victor Lord Park Recreational Center, 175 2nd St., Winder, officials announced this week, adding that the move would “greatly increase” vaccine availability for local residents.

Appointments at the recreation center will be available every Wednesday for the next several weeks, supplementing the vaccination services provided at the health department headquarters, according to a news release.

During the first several weeks of the expanded availability, health department staff will be contacting pre-registered, eligible individuals to schedule appointments at the rec center and health department headquarters. After the initial wait list has been cleared, additional appointments will be made available, officials said. To locate other vaccination sites in the meantime, individuals who have not already pre-registered may go to

https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine.

The announcement comes on the heels of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s announcement last week that the state was again expanding eligibility for the vaccine. Eligible groups now include:

•Health care workers (physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, EMS personnel, environmental services, etc.) 

•Residents and staff of long-term care facilities 

•Adults aged 55-plus and their caregivers 

•Law enforcement, firefighters, first responders 

•Funeral home workers who come into direct contact with the deceased   

•Educators and staff (Pre-K, K-12, DECAL licensed or exempt childcare programs) 

•Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers 

•Parents of children with complex medical conditions who are at high risk for COVID complications.  

•Individuals with disabilities 

•Individuals age 16 years and older with certain medical conditions that increase their risk of severe illness from COVID-19, such as asthma, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Cystic Fibrosis, diabetes, hypertension, heart conditions, immunocompromised state, liver disease, neurologic conditions, obesity, pregnancy, Pulmonary Fibrosis, sickle cell disease and Thalassemia. Note: Pfizer is the only COVID vaccine currently approved for children ages 16 and older.

To locate other COVID-19 vaccination sites, go to https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine.

For local COVID-19 information, go to  

https://publichealthathens.com/wp/programs/infectious-disease/coronavirus-covid-19-information/.

For more coronavirus information, you can go to dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.  

According to the latest available data from the Georgia Department of Public Health on Monday, March 15, 3,717 Barrow Countians had been fully vaccinated, while 6,871 had received their first of two doses, for a total of 10,588 doses administered.

The Barrow County School System and DPH’s Northeast Health District held a vaccination event at Apalachee High School on March 11, where more than 1,000 school system employees received their first of two scheduled doses.


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Federal COVID Relief to help fund Hwy. 211 widening

Governor Brian P. Kemp recently announced the availability of $277 million in Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act 2021 funds to the Georgia Department of Transportation to fill in projected revenue gaps caused by the impacts of COVID-19.

One of the funded projects includes the Hwy. 211 widening project in Braselton, which will expand the busy road from two lanes to four lanes and include the installation of roundabouts. It will provide traffic congestion relief for over 22,000 vehicles per day in a growing suburban area of Braselton.

The Town of Braselton is funding design of the project. The estimated construction cost is $12 million with a total investment of $14 million. The investments accelerate the project from an anticipated construction start date in late 2023 to mid 2022.

“As the city of Braselton continues to grow, the expansion of State Route 211 is crucial to our economic development,” said Representative Terry England. “I commend Governor Kemp and the Georgia DOT for recognizing our need and allocating the resources for these improvements.”

MORE ABOUT CRRSAA FUNDS

The CRRSAA was passed by Congress in December 2020.

These additional funds allow Georgia DOT flexibility to advance several strategic transportation improvements in predominantly rural areas in Jefferson, Jasper, Putnam, Upson and Barrow counties. Most of these investments will be on the state’s freight network, which are corridors that play a vital role in moving agriculture commodities, manufacturing inputs, and consumer goods between production, distribution, and retail locations in all areas of Georgia. These projects were previously in Georgia DOT’s outer-year delivery plans but will begin construction a cumulative total of 13 years early, advancing the safety and freight reliability benefits they will provide.

“I am thankful for these one-time federal resources that will help keep Georgians working while also keeping our economy on the road to recovery,” said Governor Kemp. “Georgia DOT will be able to further enhance the state roadway network to increase safety for motorists and trucks by advancing critical projects throughout the state. These important roadway improvements will help Georgia continue to be the top state for business thanks to a world-class logistics infrastructure. Both the freight and logistics industry and Georgia residents benefit from this much-needed funding, particularly in light of the challenges of COVID-19.”


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