A new, $5 million Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS) building is planned for the old county school board office in Danielsville, but a rezoning for that facility remains on hold.
The Danielsville City Council postponed a decision on a request by the Madison County Board of Education Feb. 10 to rezone 7.38 acres at the old board of education office off Mary Ellen Court from residential to commercial to open the door for the construction of a DFACS building off Hwy. 29. The group will take the matter up again at its March meeting.
Several neighboring residents voiced concern at the council meeting that the entrance to the facility, across a 20-foot easement at an adjoining property, is not sufficient for the amount of traffic that will be in and out of the DFACS property. Neighboring residents also worry that the location of DFACS next to their residences will hurt their property values.
Council members looked out at a packed meeting room with audience members lining the wall and some standing in the lobby. The council received some conflicting information with surveys related to the easement at the site. The council unanimously agreed to table a decision in order to seek clarification on the surveys and additional information.
“We definitely need clarification on the easement before we move forward — where it sits and its impact on citizens and property owners,” said council member Joe Federico.
Local attorney Al Stone represented a neighbor of the proposed facility, who requested that the DFACS entrance be put on the 7.38 acres, not across adjoining property by way of easement.
Don Chandler of Municipal Development Services explained that his company was awarded a state contract to construct a DFACS facility in Madison County. He said the state is covering the entire expense of the facility.
“This is a $5 million building they (the state) are trying to put here for you,” he said to the audience and the council. “Basically, there’s a $5 million check sitting on the governor’s desk. Do you want it or not?”
Chandler said Tuesday that the facility could be operational “within the next 10 to 11 months.” He said records show that the property has an established easement and thus whoever owns the property has the right to the existing entrance. He said it is cost prohibitive to put a new entrance on the property.
School board chairman Robert Hooper said the school system will seek a rezoning whether the land is used for DFACS or not, adding that the schools don’t want to see the old school board office sit and become dilapidated. He said the school board would prefer to see a functional use for the property.
Chandler said he has found no record of when the old school board office was rezoned to residential. The board of education is in the process of selling the property to Chandler’s firm. After the payments are made on the facility, the structure will be deeded to the county, becoming county property.
The DFACS building will be 13,800 square feet and sit slightly farther back on the property than the old school board office. The old building will be demolished to make room for the new structure. Chandler said there will be a 75-foot buffer, where no vegetation will be disturbed, from the creek at the back of the property and a neighboring property. The developer said the facility will include 28 initial employees and 39 when full.
Julian Brown of Transwestern, who is serving as the realtor on the project, told audience members that he anticipated adjoining property values going up, not down, by having a $5 million facility in close proximity to their homes.
There has been some recent friction in relations between the city, the schools and the county. The city provides water and sewer services for the school system and the county government. It has an old sewer system and city leaders have said the sewage pond is in need of serious attention. They have approached the county and schools about financial help in dealing with the situation. The financial assistance the city sought has not materialized.
In January, the council dramatically increased water rates on the school system, by 148 percent, and the county government by 42 percent (according to a comparison of pricing on old and new rates for December 2019 usage). City clerk Susan Payne explained that the difference in the increase is due to the fact that the schools are within the city and some of the county services are in the out-of-city zone, which already had higher rates.
Those rate increases included sticker shock for both the county government and school system. And leaders for both the school system and the county were on hand Monday. The water rate issue was not directly discussed during the council’s consideration of the school board’s rezoning request, but commission chairman John Scarborough referenced the matter when he asked the council to consider the rezoning and not let the other matter — the water rates — come into play on that decision.
New mayor Michael Wideman responded that “no one said anything about the water and sewer rates.”
Payne and other city officials have cited engineering sources in saying that the city sewage pond is near capacity and needs upgrades. Chandler said he has talked with city engineers and received word that the pond can handle sewage from the DFACS facility. Scarborough said that until he gets data backing up the assertion that the pond is near capacity, he can’t consider it a fact.
Wideman asked why the DFACS building needs to be within the city limits. Chandler said the state wants the facility to be near a courthouse and to be close to the existing building which is on the old courthouse square.
In other business Monday, the council agreed to consider how to re-invest $60,000 in a trust fund from Christine Burroughs for the upkeep of the Old Danielsville Cemetery at its Feb. 24 work session.
The council also heard a report from City Police Chief Jonathan Burnette, who reported that there were 275 calls for service in January. The department issued 22 citations and 65 verbal warnings for the month. The department handled five incidents, including a motor vehicle accident, a report of terroristic threats, possession of marijuana, harassing communications and a prisoner transport. Jacob Hill was welcomed to the police department in January.
“Hill is a highly motivated officer and a welcomed addition to our staff,” said Burnette.