BOC discusses new school zoning for BOE

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – During their June meeting, the Gilmer Board of Commissioners saw an item requesting a rezoning to PI-1 for the Gilmer County Board of Education.

This item is a part of planning and preparations for a new school to be built on the school’s Clear Creek property next to Clear Creek Middle School (CCMS). The school is set to replace the current Ellijay Primary School (EPS) as part of a plan to reorganize the school system.

This item is far ahead of any concrete plans on construction as the BOE is awaiting approval of a new ESPLOST referendum before they could move forward with this construction project.

During their work session, the Board of Commissioners discussed the item. With all three in favor of the school, the only discussion came from understanding what impact the project would have on the counties surrounding infrastructure. Post Commissioner Dallas Miller asked what changes would need to be done to the roads like Clear Creek Road and Yukon Road. Miller inquired if they would need deceleration lanes or traffic lights. While no solid answer is available at this time due to the project not even being out of idea stages without ESPLOST money to support it, there did become an understanding between the two entities for continued communication.

With CCMS already at the location, there may not be much, if any, change in school vehicle traffic like buses on the road, however, effectively “moving” EPS to the new location would obviously increase traffic on Yukon Road and Clear Creek Road from staff and parents.

While the BOC did approve the rezoning request, Miller’s comments at the work session made it apparent that they will be looking for constant communication on the project so that they may prepare the streets accordingly. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs and two members of the Board of Education, Chairman Michael Bramlett and Vice Chair Ronald Watkins, were on hand during the BOC Regular Meeting to speak with the Commissioners before the meeting.

FYN’s current understanding of the project is that discussion is still going on how to maintain the communication. There is no information yet on if this would take the form of a report during commissioner’s meetings, a liaison between the two boards, or something else.

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Chamber hosts Candidate Forum in Ellijay

Election 2018

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to meet the candidates in Gilmer’s two major elections this year.

First, the Post 2 County Commissioner race saw candidates Karleen Ferguson, Woody Janssen, and Jerry Tuso speak about Gilmer specifically and their own lives and qualifications while 7th District State Representative candidates Rick Day, David Ralston, and Margaret Williamson spoke more generally on Gilmer’s place in the state as a whole and their role as a representative.

Hosted by Gilmer Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paige Green and Board of Directors Chairman Trent Sanford, the event gave five minutes to each candidate to offer their words to citizens before allowing for time for citizens to mingle and speak face-to-face with them and ask their own questions.

The event kicked off with the candidates for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Jerry Tuso, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Jerry Tuso, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

First to speak was Jerry Tuso who offered a few words about his past as a retired air traffic controller and negotiating contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars over his 19 years in the position. As a past chairman of the Gilmer County GOP and eight years of involvement in the party, Tuso stated he has received great support throughout his time from people like Rita Otum and Stephen Aaron among many others. Tuso said he is running for Post 2 because he was raised and told that hard work and studying could make you something. Tuso continued saying, “It wasn’t enough. My father told me, ‘Son, that’s not enough. You’ve got to be a servant as well.’ So, during my entire working career, I have found ways that I can serve. And that’s why I am running, to serve Gilmer County.”

 

Karleen Ferguson, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Karleen Ferguson, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Next to speak was Karleen Ferguson. Ferguson has owned property with her husband in Gilmer County for 20 years, and in 2011, she became the Gilmer County Tourism and Events Coordinator. She noted it as the “funnest job in the world because I got to tell everyone that I knew how wonderful Gilmer County was and encourage them to come visit.” However, Ferguson said she learned in that position the impact of tourism on Gilmer’s community. She noted the Apple Festival’s economic effect on hundreds of families in the county, including the apple growers, but also the families who volunteer and work to earn extra income for their own needs. She connected this with the growing agri-tourism area alongside maximizing the natural resources the county has to offer for both citizens and businesses. Ferguson went on to note the effect that commissioners can have on the economy noting the previous board of Charlie Paris, Dallas Miller, and Travis Crouch and their efforts to replace old systems and catching up their departments to maintain the county. She stated, “We are headed in the right direction, and my intention as your county commissioner is to continue the direction that these gentlemen have been leading us in. I am naturally a problem solver … I am a great team player. I have a passion to protect the history and culture of this community as we grow in a qualitative way.”

Woody Janssen, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Woody Janssen, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

The final candidate to speak was Woody Janssen. Living in the county for 12 years, he got out of his major corporate past in national accounts management to settle down locally in Ellijay, where he started a river tubing business. In business since 2009, Janssen said he has been affected by and benefited from what the Board of Commissioners and the Gilmer Chamber have accomplished. Growing out of the recession, he spoke about the growth of the county and his business’ successes in bringing people to the county. It was something he said he wanted to continue in the county. Being so involved in the small business market, Janssen said he hoped to deregulate the county’s small businesses to further expand their growth. Janssen said, “That’s something I’d like to see happen, and I think I can help everybody out. Everybody has done a phenomenal job here locally. I’d like to see less regulation and let’s utilize what we already have.”

 

With that, the night’s events turned towards the District 7 State Representative election.

Rick Day, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

Rick Day, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

First to speak was Rick Day. Running as a Democrat, Day said he hoped citizens were interested in finding out who he was as he came out of nowhere. Day told a story about a job he took on an oil field in central Texas. He said he showed up for work and ran into immediate troubles as the vast majority of his coworkers were Hispanic and did not speak English. Day continued his story saying he was working in his combat boots from his time in the military. The boots began melting in the chemicals. Day said he did not know what to do, feeling alone with boots melting and no way to reach out to family or friends. It was then that his coworkers bought him a new pair of boots simply saying, “Pay it forward.”

It was a touching moment, said Day, who added he rides his motorcycle through our district and sees pockets of poverty, noting 51 percent of this district is employed, meaning that 49 percent are unemployed. With one half of the district “carrying the weight” for the other half, he could only ask how it could happen. Day said, “We are supposed to have leadership in Atlanta. For 10 years, the leadership has gone unchallenged. For 27 years, one person has had the power and authority to make this the number one district in the state … As beautiful as we are, behind the beauty, behind the cake of make-up, there is poverty. There is addiction. There is a quiet desperation.”

It is the quiet desperation that Day said he wants to address. He wants to represent them and increase the economy and growth for all those in the county to answer the “quiet desperation.” Day said the way he intends to pay for that growth and that answer is by adopting the Colorado approach by legalizing cannabis. Day likened the agricultural growth in our region with vineyards to a bridge, saying the next step with cannabis is a massive economic impact and job growth waiting to happen in our region.

Margaret Williamson, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

Margaret Williamson, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

Second to speak was Margaret Williamson. Williamson’s background comes from engineering, marketing, and business administration. However, it was her time at home with her children and supporting her husband that Williamson said allowed her the time to become more active in volunteering in the community. This time in our community is what she said gives her the “pulse of the things that are going on in District 7.” She told a story about visiting Abby’s, a local business, for ice cream and frozen yogurt with her grandchildren. As she sat watching them pile as many sprinkles on their ice cream as they could, Williamson said she realized that was the biggest issue for them. She asked herself what their future in our district was?

She commended the Chamber of Commerce in their efforts as well as the agricultural community as the mainstays of our economy. Growing now into vineyards and tourism exemplifies the growth the community has seen. She also noted the commissioners’ efforts in controlling and growing the economy under an annual $4.4 million debt from past irresponsibilities, a debt obligation stretching to 2032. Williamson said, “Our leadership claims that we are the number one state to do business in. So, let’s capitalize on that here in our district. We have more than other parts of Georgia to offer.”

Utilizing our resources, Williamson said we have enough to attract more of smaller, low impact businesses that offer better-paying jobs with advancement. She went on to note that she is running for the position to offer real representation from someone who cares, will work for the people, and will be honest about legislation and how it will affect the people. Williamson said she wants to change the office to be more present in the district besides just for “photo ops” as well as adding a weekly event in the district during session so that citizens can speak to her about legislation and concerns in the state.

David Ralston, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

David Ralston, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

The final candidate to speak was Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston. Ralston was born and raised in Gilmer County where he graduated high school. Ralston said it was the community’s help that achieved his successes like $550,000 for the “long overdue completion” of the Clear Creek Ball Fields, $150,000 for the Gilmer County Playhouse, $310,000 for equipping the Gilmer Canning Plant, $250,000 for repairs and renovations to the Gilmer County Library, $283,000 in state funds for improvements to the River Park, and $1,2 million for expansion of the Gilmer County Water System.

Ralston went on to say, “Yes, that is your money, but it was your money that was not coming back to Gilmer County until the last few years. It was going to Atlanta, and it was going to south Georgia. And it was going all over the state, except here.” He also noted that the state has reacted to the change and growth of new industries like wine as well as responses like the hiring of a “viticulturist” so that local wineries don’t have to wait for a professional to come to Georgia from other states to “monitor the effects of weather and disease on grapes.”

Ralston also noted the recent legislative session as the most successful in recent memory. The first cut to the state income tax in history, the ending of austerity cuts to local education in Georgia, and the first reform to Georgia’s adoption law in 30 years were the major points that he utilized to exemplify that success. Ralston noted that despite the successes, there is more work to be done.

 

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County’s River Park moving closer to upgrades

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Parks and Recreation Department is coming close to the final stage of erecting its new playground.

District 7 Representative and Speaker of the House David Ralston tours the new facilities during a day at the park celebrating the baseball season.

District 7 Representative and Speaker of the House David Ralston tours the new facilities during a day at the park celebrating the baseball season.

Though seeing a few delays with the rain and weather the county has seen lately, the park’s new equipment should be completed within the next two weeks according to Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White. Originally, discussion of the park in the commissioners meetings planned for completion by this weekend. Less than a month delay from weather will still have the new playground open before the height of summer.

The new equipment will be lit by LED lights and could see cameras used for security in the area. The cameras and lighting are being considered throughout the park, but no set date or action has been made on that expansion yet.

Furthering the progress, White tells FetchYourNews that this is not the end or even midway into the renovations he is hoping to see for the River Park. The department has already begun renovations on the large pavilion between the other newer playground and the current tennis courts. Setting a retaining wall and resolving the drainage issue was the major part, but the department is also fixing the columns inside the pavilion and replacing doors, stalls, and handrails in the bathrooms.

The Gilmer Board of Commissioners approved a bid this month for Johnson Paving, located in Blue Ridge, to repave the walking trail in the park for $31,932. White says the walking trail will not be affected by the playground and the project is free to move forward without delay. As soon as the paperwork goes through, citizens could see the trail improved by end of May.

This repaving will replace the current 3/4 mile track and add another quarter mile to create a full mile-long track. The trail has also already received new lighting from a Georgia Power project as well.

Additionally, White is waiting for an approval for the county’s application for an USGA grant. If the grant is approved, the county will move forward with not just replacing the current tennis courts, but building a new pair next to the civic center. With grant approval, this will replace the smallest ball field to the left of the civic center (from the road) next to Old Highway 5.

Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White shows the new upgrades to Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston.

Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White shows the new upgrades to Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston.

The new tennis courts will hold an additional use as well. White echoed a comment from Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris saying that he is hopeful for the grant and having a little left over. If the county has any money left over after these projects, then they will have one court host both a junior court and a use as a pickle ball court.

The old tennis courts would be removed and used for parking. White mentioned that he hoped for an option to add something more to the area at a later date. He mentioned an open-air stage as something he would hope for, but said it was too far off to give any real thought or ideas.

White went on to say that once the new playground is completed, they will look to remove the older equipment across the parking lot with the pavilion connected and could move to replacing the pavilion at the very end of the park near the spring. The intentions to replace these pavilions indicate the department’s movement away from the wood structures of the area for a more concrete foundation in hopes to better resist flooding and weather damage in the future.

Concrete options not only help fight flood damage but are designed for easier cleaning and maintenance as well.

These projects and options are all designed, White said, to be independent of each other, making the progress move as quickly as possible. He even noted that they are already looking to the other end of the park near Veteran’s Memorial Bridge but have no set plans yet.

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County issues moratorium on tiny homes

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Specifically stated for tiny homes on wheels, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners have issued a moratorium on tiny homes on wheels, tree houses for habitation, or containers for habitation in Gilmer County.

With the commissioners referencing certifications and codes for buildings, it was said that tiny homes built on site were considered the same as any house as they would be built to code and inspected properly. However, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said in their meeting that tiny homes on wheels can be built elsewhere and brought into the county similar to an RV, motor home, or mobile home.

The difference, however, is that those all have processes and associations to inspect and certify them as safe. The commissioners said the pre-fabricated tiny homes they have dealt with have no regulations for inspections or anything of that sort.

Due to the lack of certification, the commissioners are issuing this moratorium officially stating they want to take time to look at the issue and see how to properly handle the situation.

While this issue has been mentioned in their work session for the past three months, the commissioners had recently said they would allow tiny homes on wheels as long as they had been certified and inspected but no specific change or resolution was made. Now, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch indicated the impact and importance of dealing with the item stating, “It’s an up and coming movement with young people trying to get started in life. It’s economical. I understand the appeal. I do recognize the need to define it and adjust the ordinance.”

Part of the discussion for the moratorium came with Crouch specifying he was only okay with the moratorium if the long-term goal was to accommodate the tiny homes on wheels in the future.

Paris echoed the sentiment saying he wanted to accommodate them similar to mobile homes.

Part of their process is to define how the county views these tiny homes on wheels, be that as mobile homes, RVs, or something similar as well as specifying requirements for the buildings for safety and habitation.

The moratorium is set to last 180 days with the option to extend if necessary. Stay with FetchYourNews and continue attending the monthly commissioner meetings as they continue the process for an ordinance change to deal with the issue.

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Rezoning dominates commissioners meetings

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners spent the majority of their January meetings discussing rezoning requests from citizens.

Though three requests were on the agenda, the two that took the most attention involved a change from R-1 residential low density to A-1 agricultural for Russell Moss Jr. and Vicki Moss (Tax Map 3050K, Parcel 013) as well as an A-1 agricultural to A-1 agricultural with conditional use for Neil Gary (Tax Map 3083, Parcel 034C).

The Moss request involved planning for three structures on the property as Vicki Moss originally stated she wanted to plan on having ultimately one house as well as two tree houses for rent but was not trying to build a trailer park or similar setup. Though she bought the property as R-1 and stating she initially had no thought to change it, Moss stated she had later learned the restrictions of structure numbers for R-1 zone when she thought about building the additional structures.

Moss stated she only wanted to rezone to agricultural to put three structures on the one lot without paying an engineer to subdivide the lot and make room for the structures individually. A sentiment that Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris had earlier, in the commissioners work session, opposed due to making an agricultural lot on a road among numerous other residential lots. Though she stated her intended use, Paris commented he did not want to “open up” the lot to potential uses approved under agricultural with a later owner or something of the sort.

Citizens from the area spoke in opposition to the request as well. Property owner Bill Stucker echoed the chairman’s comments asking for the board to protect them as neighbors and the feel of their neighborhood as it is.

Jason Hoffsteader, owner of 35 acres on Stillwell Road, noted the road’s current condition and narrowness. Noting Moss’ idea of renting properties, he said he was concerned with extra drivers who did not know the road coming through the neighborhood. The extra congestion of continuous “new-to-the-road” drivers could cause added stress of accidents due to the road’s condition. Hoffsteader also noted he chose his location when he bought the property due to large tracts with single houses in the neighborhood.

A very unusual occurrence came as Stillwell resident Albert Goode came to the commissioner’s podium to speak. He asked Moss if he could question her in the meeting. As she agreed, Chairman Paris allowed the questioning in the meeting. However, after roughly five minutes of questioning, Paris stepped in to end the questioning. Though he noted he originally allowed the questioning because he wanted to hear the citizens speak, he directed public comments to return to being addressed to the commissioners.

During the questioning, Goode questioned Moss’ intended uses for the properties she owned in the area. With three properties in total, the issue Goode questioned was having mobile tiny homes on the lots. Goode’s opposition was based on quality of life in the area with the extra buildings in use. Moss informed those present that while the one zone in question was requested for three rental properties, she would be ultimately building her retirement home on one of the other properties. The rental property she wanted to build would also access the creek for floating for anyone renting the property.

Before finalizing their vote 3-0 to deny the request, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller commented saying, “The preponderance of the number of parcels is residential. So, I look at that as a rural part of our county, as a residential, single family, R-1 zoned area … Our job as commissioners, I think, is to preserve, as much as possible, the residential and rural areas of our county.”

Despite the denial, Moss can still return to her property and, having enough space in the lot, subdivide it into three lots to continue forward with her plans for rental property with tiny homes after the commissioners finish their moratorium on tiny homes on wheels.

The second item of note, also denied, came from the rezone request for Neil Gary to add a conditional use on his agricultural zone property. The conditional use was to allow a gun range to be put on the property. The Planning Commission recommended denial of the request.

Paris commented on the item saying, “I support people’s ability to shoot their guns on their property if they can do it safely and without disrupting the lives of their neighbors. I don’t see this particular request as one that would be conducive to a quality of life for the neighbors nearby, and I also don’t see that the standard of safety in an area that congested could be maintained properly.”

Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch echoed the sentiments saying, “It is the setting of this particular parcel that brings doubt in my mind … It’s not an opposition to the concept of this business, it’s just the location that I object to.”

In Gary’s application, he noted his “extensive and verifiable backgrounds in special operations, law enforcement and armed security.” Wanting to offer training and services to both law enforcement and civilian clients, Gary stated he wished to offer training in several areas in addition to “how to shoot” including how to carry safely, when not to take one’s gun out, and when not to shoot.

Though denied for the rezone for conditional use, the commissioners noted this application for rezone was for a commercial setup and does not weigh on a person’s personal right to firearms practice and similar activities.

There was also an approved request for Dogwood Financials, LTD, (Tax Map 3082, Parcel 072) to downgrade the plot from R-3 residential multi-family to R-2 high density.

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Gilmer Budget Sessions for 2018

News, Police & Government

ELLIJAY, GA – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners held the budget review sessions in preparation for the 2018 Budget.

The videos below document the departments with which the Commissioners spoke. Citizens can attend the Budget Finalization Meeting on Monday, Nov. 6, at 10 a.m. or stay with Fetch Your News for updates after the meeting.

 

Voter Registrar

 

Health Department

 

Probate Court, Elections

 

Magistrate Court

 

District Attorney

 

Library

 

Code & Regulatory Compliance

 

Whitepath Golf Course

 

Tax Assessor, Board of Assessors

 

Public Defender

 

Road Department, Solid Waste, Maintenance Shop, Airport

 

Planning & Zoning

 

Clerk of Superior Court, Board of Equalization

 

Park & Recreation

 

Hotel/Motel

 

Sheriff, Detention Cener, E-911

 

Fire & EMS, EMA

 

Courthouse & Facilities

 

Animal Control

 

Tax Commissioner

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New Executive Director Officially Takes Office Today

Business, News

EAST ELLIJAY, GA – The Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) has gone months through its process of looking to replace its executive director after its previous director resigned.

Today marks the end of that search. While we have known for a while now that Kent Sanford, formerly of Park Sterling Bank, would be taking the position, it is today that the transition has been completed and he officially takes office.

With the job ahead, Sanford told FYN, “As I watched the sun come up from my new office this morning, I was reminded of the bright future Gilmer County has before us.  We have a great deal of work to do, but I am excited to get started and humbled to be part of the process and working with an excellent team of professionals.”

As he begins moving around town, introducing himself to the businesses and beginning to attract more growth to the county, the JDA will hold their fourth quarter meeting this Monday, November 6, at 8 a.m. Also, stay with FYN as we continue updates and sit down with Sanford later this month.

Also, be sure to check out more with our previous article, “JDA Announces New Executive Director.”

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Commissioners Start Discussing Whitestone Road

News

ELLIJAY, GA – Citizens have been talking for years about the intersection of Whitestone Road and Highway 515.

A new chapter is underway as citizen, Gary Ferguson, asked for it to be put on the agenda for the Commissioners October 2017 Meeting. While Ferguson originally spoke about prohibiting trucks on Whitestone Road, the Commissioners quickly included the effects the prohibition could have on the Whitestone / 515 intersection.

Ferguson’s main complaint is that the trucks are coming across the county line from Pickens for the access to the Highway. In doing so, they are allegedly speeding along the road through a small community causing dangers. Ferguson reported to the Commissioners that the trucks could be taking a road in Pickens to access Highway 515 that is a shorter distance, but they take his road due to a smaller hill providing less of an incline to climb.

With the trucks loaded, they avoid the higher climb due to the added weight, according to Ferguson.

One of the County’s major issues is sight distance on 515. Many will recall numerous accidents with fatalities at the intersection including a Deadly Tour Bus Accident in October of 2016.

Post Commissioner Dallas Miller mentioned he wanted to talk with DOT about possibly placing a no left turn restriction on the intersection to help avoid traffic issues with all vehicles at the location.

Post Commissioner Travis Crouch stated he would be meeting with a member of the Georgia DOT (Department of Transportation) and would discuss the issue. Coming back in the regular meeting, he noted the DOT representative stated Whitestone is a county road and the DOT would have no input on whether they prohibited certain traffic.

DOT still could bring an engineer to the county to investigate the 515 intersection and safety issues involved with it. However, the Board of Commissioners indicated they were set to do more homework on their own and revisit the idea themselves in November.

They officially tabled the motion in the October Meeting as they all wished to look further into different options.

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