Jonah Lane Rezoning under legal questioning

News

The Jasper City Council went into closed session in February to discuss their action on Jonah Lane from December 2019.

Mayor John Weaver told citizens they were discussing a legal issue with Jonah Lane and recognized City Attorney Bill Pickett to give the City’s official stance on the rezoning.

Pickett said that the Council did vote to re-zone the property to R-3 with a condition of receiving a letter from the Appalachian Regional Commission that it did not violate a grant the city had received. With no motion from the council to rescind the rezoning and no request from the property owner to rescind it, the rezoning is moving forward.

This statement comes after January’s Council meeting when public comments surged against the issue and urged the council to reconsider the effects it would have on neighboring commercial developments. The rezoning in question was a C-2 lot as well. Now the rezoning sets it to residential amid other commercial developments. Citizens began protesting the issue in the meeting saying that police would undoubtedly be called as many of the neighboring commercial business owners gave examples of their businesses operating in unusual hours and causing noise that would be acceptable in commercial but considered excessive in residential zones.

More complaints came in February as citizens began questioning the legality of the issue. One business owner claims he was not properly notified of the rezoning. He also claims he has proof of the failure to notify. A claim disputed by Pickett as he says the city’s department says they did notify the adjoining properties of the request. The business owner also suggested he has had difficulties receiving requested documents. These allegations, as well as others from another neighbor to the property, suggested the city would be seeing legal ramifications if they move forward with the rezoning.

Mayor Weaver closed discussions of the issue saying, “The council’s action in December was specific… we are to follow what the council did that evening and we are aware of the issue.”

Mayor Weaver did voice opinions against the rezoning in December and to possible issues arising from it, but as the voting council members voted in favor of the rezoning, it is the council’s votes that direct the city’s efforts.

Author

Jonah Lane rezoning stalls in January Meeting

News

JASPER, Ga. – The rezoning for apartments to be constructed on Jonah Lane in Jasper has stalled in this months meeting after discussion raised community pushback on the change.

Leftover from the December meeting when the rezoning was first brought up and conditionally approved by the council, they now have questions and discussions coming for the future of the C-2 lot. The pitch was to rezone to R-3 for apartments.

Both Brad Dilbeck and David Shouse, local developers, made note of lack of notifications for the initial rezoning requests, though Dilbeck said one of his tenants was notified. They also made comments that the Council speaks for the citizens but they don’t know or have had contact with council-members.

Shouse also said that he developed his land under the pretext that other commercial developments would come around him. He said, “There’s no way any other developer, in their right mind, is going to build anything else commercial beside this project.”

The main argument against the apartments comes from being so close to industrial lots. Those owners said they know they will get complaints and have to deal with the police for noise complaints and complaints about late and early hours of work.

With expectations of freedom to operate how they see fit, business owners said they chose their locations for its general distance from residential areas.

Other complaints revolved around traffic and wear on the road in competition between the current commercial traffic and a potentially a hundred extra cars.

Ultimately tabled for next month, the stall in the issue doesn’t mean the rezoning will be denied. It is still under investigation by the council who could be making a final decision next month.

 

Author

High tension continues into 2019 at Jasper City Council

News

JASPER, Ga. – The City Council is continuing to see dissension among the ranks as a disagreement has now arisen about organizational meeting appointments.

As the January meeting reached item “VI. Organizational Meeting,” Council member Dr. Sonny Proctor stated he wanted more information on these appointments saying, “I think the council should have prior knowledge of who the appointments are, what the duties are. We need to make sure that we educate them  to do their jobs properly.”

The point of debate came from the council members wanting more information and control on the decisions before coming to open meeting. Mayor John Weaver contended against the point saying that he, as mayor, makes the decisions to put before the council during meetings.

Weaver consulted city attorney Will Pickett, Jr. who stated, “The mayor has the right of appointment and the council can decide whether or not to approve your appointment.”

Proctor disagreed with Pickett saying, “I don’t think that’s what the code says.”

Moving along on the item, Weaver presented three appointments for the council’s approval, Luke Copeland to the Planning and Zoning Commission, Karen Proctor to the Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals, Don Boggus to the Housing Authority. All of these were re

All three appointments saw a motion from Tony Fountain, but no second. Each failed for that lack of a second.

Weaver stated during the failed motions, “This is the chaos that prevails.”

Pickett noted that without new appointments those serving would continue to serve until an appointment is approved.

Proctor stated after the motions failed that he was trying to prevent the chaos. He said, “The council deserves input on who serves on these committees. And we’re not saying we don’t disagree with your appointments, but we deserve input on it.”

With Proctor asserting he only wanted input on what goes on, Weaver responded saying, “Sir, you’ve got more input than you can imagine, so congratulations.”

There were committee appointments for council members that were approved. Finance committee includes Tony Fountain and John Foust. Water Committee is Tony Fountain. Public Safety Committee is Dr. Sonny Proctor. Street Department in Anne Sneve. Parks is John Foust. The JYSA Liaison is John Foust. Roper-Perrow Property is Jim Looney and Sonny Proctor. These were approved unanimously by the council.

Author

Council progresses on City Manager at December meeting

News

JASPER, Ga. – With a review of city manager applications in November, the City Council was further updated at December’s meeting about accepted and Scheduled interviews for December 10 for candidates for the position.

With four interviews set for Monday, the candidate pool is shrinking towards a final decision to hire a full time City Manager. This position is currently being filled by former council member Jim Looney.

As the Council continues in executive sessions, they are to be advertised as meetings for the council to legally be in the same room for these interviews. However, the Council will immediately go into a closed executive session to perform the interviews.

After the interviews, it should not be long before the council makes their decisions and formalizes the personnel hiring at an official meeting.

Additionally at their December Meeting, the council officially adopted Sanitation Rate increases for six months of review. Council member Kirk Raffield noted in the meeting that during the six month period, he wanted a conversation and decision on the growth of the program and equipment. The new rates are as follows:

Residential – $20
Residential (Senior) – $18
Housing Authority – $14
Commercial (One Day) – $25
Commercial (Two Day) – $50
Commercial (Four Day) – $100
Commercial (Five Day) – $125
Restaurant – $150

City employees also saw a major change in Vacation Days and a Christmas Bonus for their careers in December’s meeting. Vacation policy changes were approved as proposed in the meeting by City Manager Jim Looney who stated, “Personnel Committee recommends that accrued vacation be changed from 40 hours per week to the scheduled hours that employees work. That would be a change for Firefighters to 56 hours, Police for 42, and Water and Sewer employees for 42 hours per accrued week.”

The bonus came later in the meeting. Looney also presented this proposal after a work session discussion. A motion was made to offer a Christmas Bonus and one-time Service Award for employees.

Less than one year of service – $150
One year to ten years of service – $250
Eleven to nineteen years of service – $500
Twenty or more years of Service – $750

Each of these amounts already have included within them a $100 Christmas bonus and the remainder is the one-time Service Award “to recognize the dedication of each employee.”

Author

Jasper City Council discusses Sharktop Ridge annexation

News

Jasper, Ga. – The Jasper City Council dealt with an option to annex into the city limits a section of property on Sharktop Ridge Road.

The annexation is a part of a Planning and Zoning issue revolving around Paul King looking to have a residential development in the area connecting to Sharktop Ridge. The development would host around 23 homes, according to King. While he would utilize city water for the project, the sewage would be dealt with in septic tanks.

However, King and his development project have been met with resistance on the project at the Planning and Zoning level as well as at the council meeting. While none in opposition directly opposed the project itself, several citizens spoke in opposition to the project connecting to Sharktop Ridge. Almost an hour of discussion was spent at the council’s June 4 meeting delving into the heart of the citizens’ concerns. Ultimately, the viable complaints focused on the safety of the road with increased traffic along a treacherous left turn onto the road as well as the wear and tear on the road with an extended period of heavy construction equipment traveling the road as the only access point to the development.

While options were discussed such as moving the access to another point, possibly Old Burnt Mountain Road, or at least having the construction traffic access the development in an alternate route, no official action was taken. This is because the opposition to the project asked for additional study and options to prevent the “undue stress” on residents.

While there is no point where the city can officially block what is allowed under a residential zoning, this issue arises as the land is being considered to be taken into the city as an R1 zone to allow the project to move forward. King mentioned and later agreed to bring in an engineer to analyze the viability of accessing the land from Old Burnt Mountain Road despite the extra costs. However, King did note that he already had the engineer glance at the area and offer a preliminary estimation that the slope and grade of the road would make accessing the land there far too costly for the project.

The council will be looking at the agenda item again next month along with requested documents like the engineer’s official report and an accident report on the road and intersection with Cove Road. One citizen also requested they provide an additional independent engineer’s opinion on the access viability.

As discussion heated after 35 minutes, Councilmember Tony Fountain commented saying, “We’re sitting here tonight to discuss and vote on the annexation of that property … The last time I checked, we still live in a free country where if you have the good fortune to take your retirement and buy a piece of property. And you wanted to develop it and [sic] make you a little money. Who is it for us to say, ‘No, you can’t do that because you might disturb some of your neighbors.'”

He was not the only council member to comment as new member Kirk Raffield also spoke up. One of the first council members of the night to mention tabling the issue to further investigate, Raffield questioned King on his willingness to access a different road. While King suggested an increased cost would make him unwilling to go that route, he had previously agreed to look into it and said he would be willing to investigate, putting off the item until next month.

Raffield also commented on the item as a whole thanking both parties for attending the meeting. He went on to say, “As frustrating as it may be on both sides, thank you for sticking with it. Please do not lose your temper, remain professional at all times, that’s why we’re here. I know it’s frustrating … I understand your concerns, and I understand your right. So, please remain patient with us.”

With the official motion to table the annexation of the property in an effort to look for better information, citizens are already considering returning July 2 to see the further information provided and continue the discussion there.

Author

Health benefits discussion ends in Jasper’s March meeting

News

JASPER, Ga. – On the agenda since January, Jasper City Council has been discussing self-funding for medical insurance versus insuring normally as they have been for years. They have had both Matt Bidwell, of MSI Benefits, and Kevin Godfrey, of Godfrey-Downs, looking through their contacts and markets to bring forth proposals to the council for insurance.

The city ultimately went with the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) recommended by Bidwell and MSI Benefits. Though the original recommendation was a $1,500 deductible plan, the council’s motion approved an alternate plan with a $1,000 deductible. The new plan’s premiums for the city would come to $1,104,163.00, around a $52,000 increase, which is far less than the near $300,000 increase the city was originally looking at during the beginning of the year. According to Bidwell, this plan is just above a 4 percent increase over the $1,500 deductible plan for the city.

The plan also allows, according to Bidwell, for any employee receiving compensation in the form of workman’s comp or a salary from the city to be covered under the insurance. This covers the issue the city had with their current insurance preparing to drop an officer from coverage who was injured in the line of duty.

The city may be closing down North and South Main street once a month in favor of a recurring Chamber event. Setting the events as May through August, the Chamber is attempting to establish the Saturday Social in the Mountains as a tourism event. The issue came before council to close South and North Main Street for the social events. While representatives had no set point of exactly what every event would entail, they did suggest they could include live music, children’s events, food, and other activities. Ultimately approved, the item passed with two votes, as Dr. Sonny Proctor and Anne Sneve abstained due to their involvement with the Chamber.

The council also approved a number of previously budgeted expenses including $14,000 to swap out the Cove Well emergency generator, $11,900 to rebuild pump four across from Shiloh Church, and the previously discussed 3 percent raise for city employees.

Author

Council member resigns to take new position

News

JASPER, Ga. – Jasper City Council Member Jim Looney resigned during the Jasper City Council Meeting Monday, Feb. 5.

Resigning so that he may take the interim position of city manager, Looney stated it was due to information advised to him that state law prohibits a councilman from holding another municipal office without resigning from his council seat.

Looney read the state code in the council’s meeting: “A councilman or alderman of a municipal corporation shall be ineligible to hold any other municipal office during the term of office for which the councilman or alderman was chosen unless he first resigns as councilman or alderman before entering such other office.”

Immediately after his resignation, the city council officially nominated Looney as city manager for Jasper. As part of the motion made, the city manager position was set “until such time as specific duties and powers of the mayor and city manager are clearly delineated by the city council, that the city manager report to the mayor and city council collectively.”

Jasper Mayor John Weaver recognized members of the public to speak at the meeting. The council was questioned about the public knowledge of the proceeding involving the transfer of the city manager position from Weaver and now to Looney.

Jasper City Council Member Dr. Sonny Proctor commented saying he had asked about the situation last year and began researching the position and the separation of positions. Having spoken on the topic several times, Proctor confirmed there was closed discussion about personnel issues in executive sessions, but the votes were taken in public.

In addition to this resignation and appointment to the city manager position, Looney’s move leaves a city council seat open. During their meeting, the council approved a call for election and set the qualifying fee at $35 for the position. With details still coming about the approval, Jasper will be seeing more details about the election in the coming weeks.

One last comment from Proctor came before the final vote on the issue. “This is a time for us all to come together, and I know it doesn’t feel like that is what’s going on,” Proctor said. “I’m not trying to divide us. I’m trying to bring us together, in a different way I understand that. But I want us to collaborate and work together.

The official vote appointing Looney as city manager came 3-1 with council member Tony Fountain being the dissenting vote.

As the meeting moved through the rest of the agenda items, it came time to adjourn the meeting. However, Mayor John Weaver took time to make one final comment before adjournment saying, “I have been mayor/city manager for 25 years, 5 months, 2 days and 15 minutes, maybe 4 hours and 15 minutes. Anyway, I have enjoyed my stay here and I feel like by being the mayor/city manager, being the evil thing that it is, has allowed the city of Jasper to grow from a $1.6 million budget to over $12 million without raising taxes and with only one water rate increase. I feel like by being the mayor/city manager has given me the opportunity to go visit people, look them in the eye, and argue the case of the city of Jasper better than any city manager that you could possibly have.”

Author

Animal control ordinance reiterated with appearance of bears

News

At last night’s Jasper City Council meeting, Lonnie Waters said now that spring has arrived the bear sightings in town have begun again. With the bears being attracted to the city’s streets and neighborhoods already, a reminder of the new ordinances adopted earlier this year is timely.
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