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A variance option could entice more businesses to Dawson highway corridor
Ga. 400 corridor 1
The Dawson County Board of Commissioners began talking on Feb. 3 about the merits of a provision allowing for potential incoming businesses along Ga. 400 to submit alternative architectural designs. - photo by Julia Hansen

There may soon be a way for companies to locate along Dawson County’s bustling Ga. 400 corridor and other future overlay districts while keeping their custom appearances. 

During the Board of Commissioners work session on Feb. 3, Planning Director Sharon Farrell presented the board with a proposed amendment to the county’s ordinances that, if passed, would give potential incoming businesses a way to submit alternative architectural designs with permit applications. 

As an example, Farrell talked about how businesses with signature outdoor facades or signage, like restaurants, may want to use a recognizable blend of exterior materials for their buildings in lieu of neutral-toned brick and stone only. 

Under the new amendment, businesses wanting to vary their facades will be able to go before just the Planning Commission to vouch for how alternative sign designs still meet the ordinance’s intent.

BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond reminisced about losing a potential Cracker Barrel about a decade ago because of the county’s unwillingness to grant a facade-related variance. 

“I think you can easily say that that was a $500,000-a-year mistake or more,” Thurmond said, “because the Cracker Barrel is a destination location, versus some other place that you might just go and eat.”

District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley said that it can be “hard to anticipate” everything that might come their way with business design specs. He voiced support for having a way to say “yes” to incoming businesses if there’s something unique about designs, like trademarks. 

Thurmond added how Chili’s ultimately decided to locate in front of the Dawson Crossroads Shopping Center after initially losing a fight to install its signature pepper sign on one side of its building. 

“Either you help them (businesses), or you don't get them,” he said.

Redesign plans for Elliott Road

The county government is now one step closer to addressing drivers’ and pedestrians’ concerns about unsafe conditions on Elliott Road in southeastern Dawson County.

Davis Engineering & Surveying submitted their designs for the project after the board approved their $23,000 bid during the Sept. 16, 2021 voting session. Funds from SPLOST VI were used to pay for the design plans. 

Elliott Road is about a mile long, starting from its intersection with Ga. 53 East and sharply bending into a hairpin curve before ending at Sunset Drive. Its problems include lack of connection to key roads for residential properties, narrow travel lanes and rights of way.

Public Works Director Denise Farr reiterated that the road’s poor alignment contributes to limited sight distance at several points, making it a safety hazard for pedestrians and vehicles. 

Commissioners Chris Gaines and Tim Satterfield both commented on how the demand along the roadway has increased, with more people living in versus visiting lakeside homes and delivery trucks frequenting the area.

The current proposal would provide for a complete overhaul of Elliot Road, she previously said. 

The engineering firm’s designs will account for proposed road realignment and 20 more feet of asphalt on each side. If implemented, there would be a consistent 40-foot width of right-of-way and accommodation for 12-foot travel lanes.

Farr didn’t mince words about the estimated cost, which could be at least $675,000 after March 1 for the base, binder and topping levels. 

“All of the asphalt will have to be removed because it’s very fine. It’s deteriorating and laid on red clay. There’s no base,” she said. 

The county would likely have to lay eight to 12 inches of base, though perhaps the cost could be cut by reducing the base amount. 

The $675,000 doesn’t include the costs for equipment rental or employees, striping, tie-ins and pikes for every driveway, drainage by tilting the road and acquisition of land.  

When Gaines asked about the cost for a normal full-depth road reclamation, Farr quoted him at $650,000 a mile. 

“But we couldn’t do a full-depth reclamation here because there’s nothing to dig up,” she said. 

“There’s no base, no binder…so you’re basically starting from scratch,” added County Manager David Headley. 

Gaines guessed that $1.5 to $2 million would be realistic for a mile in this case. 

“This isn’t uncommon with some of the roads that we have where, years ago, they just came in and asphalted over the top,” Headley said. “There was no engineering, design work or drainage systems put in place… so we’re kind of inheriting that type of system that needs to be brought up to a current standard.”

He reasoned that that’s why the county will have to bear more of the road’s costs now and emphasized that the road’s problems would “only get worse” rather than better. 

District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett added that the county “do it right” to avoid wasting money and the newly-acquired engineering information. 

“We inherited what we did, but we’ve got to fix it at some point,” she said. 

Farr asked the commissioners to move forward with sending out requests for the donations of properties. She also asked the board to host a public meeting at Fire Station 2 so Elliott Road-area residents could see the potential impacts of future road reconstruction. That way, any confusion about roadwork or hesitancy to assist with donations could be minimized, she said.