Madison County commissioners turned down a request by rezoning request Monday that would have paved the way for four new homes on 12 acres off Sanford Road and Helican Springs Road.
The board voted 3-0 to deny a request by Manuel Robledo to rezone his 12.43-acre property from A-1 to R-R to subdivide into four parcels. Commissioners Dennis Adams, Terry Chandler and Derek Doster voted against the action. Commissioner Brian Kirk was absent, and one seat, formerly held by Theresa Bettis is currently vacant, pending a special election in November.
The county planning commission recently voted 7-0 to recommend approval of the rezoning with certain conditions: that the homes be stick built with a square footage of least 2,000 feet and not be used as rental property.
Chandler voiced concern about the rezoning, saying that the property is surrounded by large A-1 tracts. Adams echoed Chandler, saying he felt the rezoning is not in line with the use of surrounding properties.
Though the conditions proposed by the zoning board included “stick-built” only, Robledo addressed the board and spoke of putting new mobile homes on the land. Doster asked Robledo if he would still seek the rezoning if the stick-built condition was upheld. Robledo said he wouldn’t. He said there are nearby mobile homes and that he doesn’t understand why that wouldn’t be allowed, adding that each house will be on more than three acres.
Commissioners and zoning board members on hand Monday both addressed the fact that the BOC had gone against the planning commission’s recommendation, with both sides expressing no hard feelings. Zoning board member Lee Mitchell said he’s interested in getting more input from the BOC, so the zoning board has more clarity on what the group seeks from the recommending body.
In a separate zoning matter, the board approved a request by Bannister Sexton to rezone 1.36 acres of his 20.68-acre property on Wesley Chapel Road from A-2 to R-R to combine with his adjoining property.
NO MILL RATE INCREASE
Also Monday, the board discussed a recent county advertisement in this newspaper, which is mandated by law, announcing a tax increase. Chairman Todd Higdon emphasized that the board is not increasing any tax rates this year. However, local property tax revenues will be up in 2021 due to higher property assessments and new construction in the county, which adds taxable value for the government. While there is no rate increase, the assessed value of homes and other properties has gone up over the past year, adding to the county’s overall taxable value, which means more tax dollars. By law, counties, schools and cities must advertise a tax increase if they do not roll back tax rates to offset increases in assessed value. For years, the Madison County government did exactly that, annually rolling back the tax rate to offset property value increases, but the county government also began to run an annual revenue shortfall, with revenues falling around $1 million short of expenditures some years. The board eventually had to dramatically raise its tax rate several years ago to bring revenues in line with actual expenses. And the BOC has not rolled back its mill rate to offset value gains since then.
BROADBAND READY COUNTY
Madison County commissioners have been focused this year on bringing broadband services to the county. That includes updating the current comprehensive land use plan to make Madison County a “broadband ready” county, which is necessary to qualify for grant funding.
The amended comprehensive plan will state that “a large portion of Madison County is currently unserved by broadband with an even greater area lacking reliable access to wired or wireless service.”
“Leaders from Madison County’s largest industry (agriculture, poultry) have identified limitations in the implementation of new technologies and other necessary upgrades to their operations due to unreliable internet service in the county,” the amended plan states.
The plan will also state that: “Partnerships with private providers and/or EMCs would expedite installation and activation of the broadband infrastructure necessary to serve areas of the community that are unserved or underserved….The Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Broadband Ready certification would help identify Madison County’s readiness for broadband expansion and enhance competitiveness when applying for state or federal funding to support those efforts.”
Chairman Higdon has been negotiating with service providers on potentially using federal stimulus money to make broadband available to all residents.
“I don’t see any reason why 85 percent of the county won’t be hot and online with high-speed internet within three years,” said Higdon recently regarding the planning.
Madison County commissioners discussed the upcoming update to the county comprehensive land use plan. Board members talked about potentially having a firm help the county develop a “Unified Development Code” (UDC), which a more detail-oriented planning process instead of simply updating the existing comprehensive plan. The UDC would be more expensive and more time-consuming than the standard comprehensive plan update through the Regional Development Commission, but commissioners talked about how it could help set clearer definitions on what is appropriate in what place. This is seen as a particularly pressing need with neighboring counties seeing rapid growth, which is moving toward Madison County.
Board members attended a meeting with other county leaders at Jackson EMC Tuesday morning to discuss the comprehensive land use plan. (See the July 22 issue for more on that meeting and the comprehensive land use plan.)
TSPLOST VOTE TO COME NOV. 2
Higdon reported that intergovernmental agreements for a proposed referendum on a one-cent transportation sales tax for county and city transportation improvements are being returned from local municipalities.
“We are on schedule to have this on the Nov. 2 ballot,” said Higdon.
NEW PROGRAM FOR PLANNING, PERMITTING OFFICE
Higdon reported that the computer program for the planning office is way overdue for an upgrade, with the current system in place since the late 1990s. There is no backup to the system.
“The way they wrote the program, we can’t make any changes; we can’t adjust fines or anything,” he said. “None of the wording can be changed in house. So we are locked in to a 22-year-old program.”
The chairman said a company called MyGovernmentOnline oversees a program that can be used by citizens and builders, not just county employees, which he said could expedite the permitting process. The fee is about $800 a month, which includes tech support, including for the public.
“It’s something we’re looking at; we’re still in the early stages,” he said.
NEW ELECTIONS OFFICE
The chairman said Aug. 2 is the tentative date to move the county elections office to the old funeral home on Albany Avenue.
“The server is in place; it’s online and working,” he said. “There’s cameras being installed.”
Higdon gave an update on security at the county government complex. He said that there have been 31,800 people in the building so far this year, with 16,179 over the past three months. Thirty people have been denied entry, two removed, with 482 weapons such as pocket knives collected and returned to the owner.
OLD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Madison County commissioners spoke with Mike Stanley of Novelty Wood Specialty, a specialty lumber company, about possibilities for the old Presbyterian Church at Hwy. 29 and Albany Avenue in Danielsville.
“Parking at the church is minimal to none, best use of that in my opinion would be some sort antique/furniture business,” said Stanley. “If it were mine, it would be custom furniture built and stored in the building and use the building as retail space.”
He said there’s only one door in the building and he said for fire safety purposes another door would have to be put in the back.
Madison County Historical Society member Linda Fortson said there are some funds that were willed to the group to use for the building, though she wasn’t sure of a dollar figure.
Higdon said it would be good to find out if the building could be put on a historic registry and become eligible for grants to cover renovations.
In other business, the board discussed surveys for the county-owned land at the Danielsville and Collins Volunteer Fire Departments. The county is looking at transferring those properties to the departments, which will allow the departments to use the property as collateral when seeking loans for equipment. However, by law, the property much be put out to bid. The county had the properties surveyed, and the board discussed Monday the need to maintain part of the properties for access purposes.