The city of Dawsonville has big plans for land owned by its most famous racing family.
And some officials say the sky is the limit.
During a special called meeting last week, councilmen took what could be the first step toward acquiring an airstrip in northern Dawson County owned by Bill, Dan and Ernie Elliott.
In a 3-0 vote, the city council agreed to move forward with the creation of a Dawsonville Airport Authority through local legislation. Councilman Calvin Byrd was absent from the Feb. 16 meeting.
According to City Attorney Dana Miles, the purpose of the authority would be “to acquire and possibly operate an airport facility in the city of Dawsonville ... that would be for both air passenger and air cargo uses.”
“We have an existing airstrip within the city, and the owner of that airstrip has indicated that he’s interested in allowing the city to potentially create an authority and to acquire that,” he said.
Mayor Pro-Tem James Grogan said forming an airport authority would open doors for “possible growth at the Elliott facility.”
The Elliott family could not be reached for comment.
Mayor Joe Lane Cox said the city has discussed the matter with the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It would be a lease to purchase [the airstrip],” Cox said. “The FAA suggested that they could put grant money and seed money into it if we did the [airport] authority.”
Scott Seritt, manager of the FAA Airport District Office in Atlanta, confirmed the parties have communicated.
“We’ve talked to reps of the city a couple of times over the last several years,” Seritt said. “We’ve provided them with information about our federal grant program and answered questions they’ve had.”
Grogan said the authority could provide for a “regional airport in our county.”
“We’ve got one here now that’s been here, and we see that as an opportunity for growth in the future,” he said.
“It has the potential to turn into a regional air cargo or airport facility that could generate hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic development,” Miles said.
Before any of that happens, however, the authority must first be approved by the state.
Grogan said there has been no interest in the project at the county level.
“We discussed with the county about being involved in this situation, and they chose not to,” Grogan said.
County Commission Chairman Mike Berg said the city approached members individually about the matter.
“Just informally ... it was not brought up in [commission] meetings,” Berg said. “They asked if we had an interest in an airport authority, and I assume the board members were not interested.”
Berg said the FAA, however, is interested in the project.
“[The FAA has] talked to a lot of different groups about an interest in this area,” Berg said. “They’ve been interested in an airport in this area for quite a while.”
Seritt did not dispute that.
“We’ve been talking about building an airport up there for 25 or 30 years,” he said. “It comes and it goes and it comes and it goes.”
Kathleen Bergen, media relations manager for the FAA, noted that “decisions regarding airports are made by local entities, not the FAA.”
Miles said that following the Feb. 16 vote, a notice of intent to pursue local legislation would appear in [today’s] Dawson Community News.
Rep. Amos Amerson would then introduce local legislation in the state House.
If approved in the House and Senate, the matter would go to Gov. Nathan Deal, who could sign, veto or allow it to become law.
“Most legislation that goes in now becomes effective as of July 1,” Miles said.
Amerson said he had no objections to the airport authority.
“If the city wants it, we can create an airport authority,” Amerson said. “Once the bill is passed, it’s up to them.”
If state approval is secured, the mayor and city council could then appoint five members on rotating terms.
“The way it’s set up is similar to other airport authorities,” Miles said.
“There will be a lot of coordination and meetings with the FAA and other local governments to try and figure out the best way to explore this.”
In addition, Miles said, there would be feasibility studies, though “no one can do anything until an authority is created.”
In August 2008, the city rezoned the 204-acre site to light industrial complex at the Elliott family’s request.
The measure was met with complaints from nearby residents, who claimed their quality of life would be compromised by increased air traffic.
Last year, Ernie Elliott filed plans to grade the airstrip on the property in three phases. It could not be determined if those plans were still active.
The Elliotts’ property was annexed into the city in 2007.