If 2016 was any indication, this year will be full of new growth and new challenges for Dawson County.
More additions to expansive developments, including an apartment complex behind the new Publix and a large, unnamed hardware store by the new Kroger, will continue to emerge throughout the year.
New and continued roadwork will seek to mitigate traffic congestion and make roads safer and easier to navigate.
And new elected officials will bring fresh perspectives to longtime issues within the county.
There will be challenges, as the city of Dawsonville prepares to embark on a multi-million dollar park project and the Dawson County Development Authority finds their way after a sudden drop in funding.
If last year taught the citizens of Dawson County anything, it's that elected officials hold the key to development and prosperity, but also to the health and wellness of the people who elected them.
More developments on Ga. 400
Kroger-anchored Dawson Marketplace and Publix-anchored Dawson Crossroads will continue to develop and add to their collections of retail stores and restaurants in 2017.
One of the largest Kroger stores in the state opened up in November at the Dawson Marketplace, but it won't stand alone for long.
Dawson Marketplace is set to enter phase two of their building, and will add stores including Marshalls, Hobby Lobby, Ross Dress for Less, Ulta, Kirkland's, Bealls Outlet, Famous Footwear, Verizon Wireless, Petco, Five Below, Supercuts, United Community Bank, Mint Dental and Cara Blanca Nails.
Restaurants scheduled to open in 2017 at the marketplace include Cheese Burger Bobby's,
Rising Roll Gourmet Sandwiches, a drive-thru Panda Express, a drive-thru Starbucks Coffee (in addition to the existing counter inside Kroger), Taco Bell, Wendy's, Marco's Pizza and at least one more drive-thru restaurant.
According to Charlie Hendon, president and CEO of Hendon Properties, who are developing the center, a large hardware store, which he would not reveal the name of, is in talks to occupy a space at the shopping center. According to their website, there are at least 19 stores that have yet to be leased.
Dawson Crossroads too will continue to lease spaces on their property as well as add a new apartment development on over 30 acres behind the retail center. The Publix-anchored shopping center has already filled many of their retail spaces.
The first stores to open in the location were AT&T and Aspen Dental. They were followed by Chili's Bar and Grill and by Publix in October. Since then, Brooklyn Joe's Pizza, PetSmart, Blush Ivey Boutique, Ten Point Boutique, Top Cleaner, Great Clips and La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant have opened up in the space.
Scheduled to open in 2017 is Marble Slab Creamery, Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers and a Smoothie King. The restaurants will be joined by Totally Running, Azalea Nails, The Joint Chiropractic, Fit Body Boot Camp and a jewelry shop.
Continuous Flow Intersection completion
Roadwork at the busiest intersection in Dawsonville is expected to be completed in the first half of 2017.
Construction of the new continuous flow intersection, or CFI, at the Ga. 400 and Hwy. 53 intersection has been a long and arduous process for the residents of Dawson County, but the final results are about to be unveiled.
The CFI is estimated to be completed by May10.
Katie Strickland, district 1 communications officer with the Georgia Department of Transportation, said that crews are currently completing the construction of the shoulders and installing new signal footings. Construction should be focused on the traffic signals for the next two months.
The project officially broke ground nearly two years ago, though it was a long time in the planning stages.
Planning started in the early 1980s under a grant for Appalachian funds. At the time, overpasses were being considered but were ruled out due to cost and disruption of traffic, as the work was estimated to cost $150 million or more.
The Georgia DOT unveiled the official plan for the intersection early in 2010, and it was projected to cost around $14 million. Six years later the project is nearing its final stages.
The project is designed to move left-turning vehicles out of traffic's main flow by using a series of access roads and longer left-turn lanes.
According to GDOT, the new intersection should decrease congestion in the area by 85 percent.
The CFI will be the first of it's kind in the state of Georgia. Other states, including Texas, Utah and Louisiana currently have operational CFIs.
More roadwork is also scheduled to take precedence in 2017.
One bridge on Hwy. 136 over the Etowah River will be closed in February for 180 days, starting Feb. 6. Strickland said that residents should begin noticing signs going up in the area. The detour route will be on Cothran Road.
GDOT has also recently released information about a new roundabout to be built at the intersection of Hwys. 53 and 183.
Though there is no official start date yet, the project has an estimated completion date of May 31, 2018.
Also, work at the Hwy. 9 bridge over the Etowah, will begin in February with utility work.
Plans presented by Public Works Director David McKee also involve county repair work on the following roads: Henry Grady Hwy., Harmony Church Road, Beartooth Parkway, Stonehedge Estates, Sunshine Court and Hemlock Drive.
Work on these roads will not begin until at least April.
New commissioners, sheriff
The new Dawson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Billy Thurmond and District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines will bring something new to the table in 2017 as they join commissioners Julie Hughes Nix, Jimmy Hamby and Sharon Fausett on the board.
Big issues for the commission this year could include figuring out what to do with the extra revenue from the developments on Ga. 400, looking at the results from last year's salary study and determining what their plans are as far as hiring a county attorney, among others.
District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett said that she has two priorities this year: Having the taxes for each parcel in Dawson County re-evaluated, and obtaining a fire station in the Sweetwater/Juno area.
"The re-evaluation is overdue and it just needs to be done- it's the only way for fair and uniform taxation," Fausett said. "And we need a fire station in this part of my district. They have no fire protection and their insurance premiums are out the roof."
District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix seconded the focus on acquiring a new fire station for District 1, as well as issues that pertain to her district: traffic on Ga. 400.
"I think transportation issues will be a major concern with the growth proposed for 2017. We have over the years maintained our roads, but we haven't done any improvements like widening and improving intersections with turning lanes," Nix said. "We must look at the growth patterns on Ga. 400 to see how they will impact our 2018 budget. There may be some increases in staff to accommodate the increase in growth."
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said he wants to focus on communication lines within the county and with other external entities.
"We need to work on the internal culture of the county government to ensure we focus on exceptional customer service as we serve the citizens of our county, as well as make sure our employees are appreciated for all of the work that they do," Gaines said. "We also should hold them accountable as they serve the citizens. I think that would improve morale and communication within the county."
Huge changes could also be in store as commissioners appoint their picks to the planning board.
The planning board makes recommendations to the commissioners about rezoning and variance requests that have been put forward by the planning department.
While their decisions are not final, the planning board is an extra check on the commission's power to approve or deny development.
The commission isn't the only county agency seeing big chances. There's a new Sheriff in town, the first one in 20 years.
Sheriff Jeff Johnson is leading a new sheriff's office in 2017, and has promised many positive changes and introduced a new command staff.
Johnson said that community members can look forward to town hall-type meetings, where everyone can get to know the new sheriff and his staff, in the near future, as well as a continuation of the citizen's Law Enforcement Academy.