Stories to watch in 2015:
There's a new commissioner in town
District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett will take her seat on the Dawson County Board of Commissioners tomorrow. A former teacher who currently runs an agri-tourism business with her husband on the county's west side, Fausett brings a new perspective to the commission.
Transparency on the pardons and parole board
Legislation is in the works to increase transparency on the state's pardons and paroles board after last year's surprise ruling that reduced a convicted killer's death sentence to life in prison. Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, is pushing for the reform on behalf of the family of Keith Evans, a local man murdered in 1991 by Tommy Lee Waldrip. The board was not required to reveal any information or documentation on its decision to grant Waldrip's clemency.
The Lady Tigers continue to dominate
With a more than 15-game winning streak, the Dawson County High School Lady Tigers are poised to play for a championship season. The streak may the longest in the school's history. This comes two years after the Lady Tigers made it to the state playoffs and came back home as runners up.
Chase Elliott's championship run races on
After making history in NASCAR's Nationwide Series in his inaugural year competing at the level, Chase Elliott is set to continue Dawsonville's championship racing legacy in 2015. He broke records, set records and literally put Dawsonville back in the racing spotlight in 2014. Tune in Feb. 21 for his first race in the now XFINITY Series at Daytona International Speedway.
Even without a crystal ball, there's no doubt that Dawson County will see some major changes take place in 2015.
"We hope it's going to be a good year for us in Dawson County," said Mike Berg, chairman of the county's board of commissioners. "The development along 400 is going to bring a better financial future for our county."
With numerous retail centers planned, as well as construction set to begin at the intersection of Hwy. 53, the Ga. 400 corridor in Dawson County is expected to be busy the next several months.
"I think you'll see that we'll be able to loosen up financially and be able to do some more of the things we weren't able to do when the economy wasn't doing so well," Berg said.
Retail centers are planned to go up along Dawson Forest Road, on the east and west sides of Ga. 400.
At least six retail shops, including three restaurants, have contracts or commitments in place to be among the first to open in the new Blanchard Real Estate Capital development, just south of North Georgia Premium Outlets.
Dawson Marketplace, a 350,000 square feet retail "power center" that will bring national retail and restaurants to Dawson County, is expected to break ground sometime this year.
"We are going to be a magnet for commercial building for the next few years," Berg said.
There are also plans for a second retail center that includes a major grocery store chain at the southeast intersection of Ga. 400 and Dawson Forest Road.
While the identity of the potential development remains under wraps, Berg confirmed last year that representatives with Publix Super Markets want to open a store in Dawson County.
"I...cannot comment on speculation and rumors regarding a new Dawsonville store," Public Relations Director Glynn Jenkins wrote in an email last month.
North on Ga. 400, motorists should also plan for construction that is set to begin in the spring on the state's first continuous flow intersection at Hwy. 53.
Similar in principle to diverging diamond interchanges like those now in place at some busy Interstate 85 and 285 interchanges, 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 information released in a Georgia Department of Transportation video, motorists traveling on Ga. 400 would follow traffic signaling devices directing them to drive across the oncoming lanes into new lanes on the far left side of the road.
Construction is expected to take 18 months to complete and would be staged so as not to disrupt traffic.
Once complete, DOT predicts traffic congestion will be reduced by 85 percent.
The sweeping changes at the intersection have at least one national eatery planning a move away from the crossing.
"We are looking to move," said Jamie Smith, manager at the McDonalds located at 50 Hwy. 400 South. "No land has been purchased yet, but McDonalds Corporate is planning to move the restaurant."
A single business, according to DOT district spokeswoman Teri Pope, will be displaced by the changes.
"Only one of the parcels was a commercial relocation. GDOT purchased the entire parcel and building from the owner," she said.
While she would not name the business that will move, Pope did say it sits on the corner of Lumpkin Campground Road and Hwy. 53.
There have also been discussions about Kroger relocating south on Ga. 400 to one of the future retail centers planned on Dawson Forest Road, though officials with the grocer declined to comment on the matter.