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Vote tabled on these proposed Dawson County land use updates
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The Dawson County Government Center is located at 25 Justice Way in downtown Dawsonville.

By the end of a recent public hearing on Dawson County’s Land Use Resolution, officials and residents alike agreed: more time was needed to study 100-plus pages of proposed changes to the document. 

During their Jan. 19 meeting, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to table a decision on the changes until March 2 and to add a request for another extension of the ongoing residential moratorium to the Feb. 16 agenda.

“The more perspective that we have to look at this document, it lets us fine tune it…I think that helps us get a document that we can all live with and accomplish the goals that we’re looking to do,” said District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley. “This big of an update hasn't been done in a long time. And it needs to be done, but it needs to be done correctly.”

A full video of the Jan. 19 public hearing is available on the Dawson County Government’s YouTube channel. A text version of the proposed changes was included in the meeting’s agenda packet.

Several items in particular were mentioned during the hearing. Here are the highlights:

Stream buffers

Multiple people commented on the cumulative 75-foot stream buffer proposed by 25 and 50-foot  requirements, 

During the BOC’s Jan. 19 hearing, Michael Turner with B&K Turner Family LLP spoke against the stream buffer rule changes. His partnership group owns 2,000-plus acres in Dawson County, according to public property records.

Turner said the additional regulations would make it more difficult to sell or use their properties. 

“Basically, you’re taking our property,” Turner said. “By not even allowing us to use it in the density calculations, we can't build on it already. So let's march downstairs to the board of [tax] assessors and take it out of the tax base and let's quit paying taxes on it, since we can’t use it.”

Using his recently-established Oakdale subdivision as an example, he said that the residential project “couldn’t happen” under the changes being proposed and added that the effective constrained density created “kills housing” and “causes the value of the property to go down.”

Dawson County resident Warren Welch agreed, calling the bigger suggested buffers “a big overstep of property rights.”

“I’m a move-in, and I’m proud to have chosen this as my home, but the families that have built this county are getting bled dry, and it’s wrong,” Welch told the board. 

He added that many areas of the county are “blessed with topography,” such as his own property, full of slopes and creeks.

“But if I can’t use it in the future, that’s eroding my future,” he said. 

Welch recognized that that may not have been the county’s intent and encouraged public officials “to take a hard look” at the draft amendments. 

“As more development happens in the northern part of the county, where trout streams are…more and more, we’re getting pressure from the federal government for stormwater control, tree protection and flood control,” said Planning and Development Director Sharon Farrell.

Farrell explained that if a creek is missed “that needs a lot of extra protection, then a homeowner could run into a lot of issues” as far as additional permits and expensive plans.

When confirming stream buffers, her office relies on the state’s trout streams map and defines streams based on instruction from the state’s Environmental Protection Division of DNR and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. 

Home structures

Farrell also mentioned staff’s work to change the land use resolution’s language around manufactured homes, which the board brought up in November. 

Those proposed revisions would reduce the need for property owners to have a special-use permit for their manufactured homes if the dwelling is on a three-acre lot of record. 

“That was more of not just a board direction but looking at the paperwork, the waiting and [given the] housing market, it seemed feasible,” Farrell said. 

Local civil engineer Corey Guthrie encouraged the board to work on proposed language to allow 

home occupation accessory dwellings on lots not zoned Residential Agriculture that are at least an acre “to be more pro-business.”

“We don't have a plethora of options for, say, white-collar jobs in Dawson County. I think that would take away from some opportunities that we’d have,” he said of the proposed rules.

Lot widths

When looking at the units per acre for multiple land use districts, Farrell noted the matrixes for those included large lots. 

“So the question is, do you want units per acre or large lots? The easier fix is large lots or wide lots,” Farrell said, referencing proposed half or one-acre lots. 

Through an open records request, DCN obtained a copy of a guide sheet that Farrell referenced when explaining the proposed lot widths.

For land zoned Residential Lakeside and Residential Suburban-2, the minimum width required would increase from 75 to 85 feet. Width would increase from 75 to 80 feet for lots zoned RS-3, while the minimum width for RS lots would go up more, from 75 to 100 feet. 

Welch, who said he works as a realtor, also cautioned against establishing larger lot widths for home lots.

“A lot of the lot widths that are being pushed for…buyers don’t want big lots. They just don't, plain and simple,” Welch said. 

Developer consultant Jim King previously noted buyers’ preferences for smaller lots while presenting to the Planning Commission on a proposed subdivision, the application for which was later withdrawn. 

Mixed-use projects

On the more commercial side of uses, a number of changes have been proposed for the resolution’s section on mixed-use villages. 

If approved, flex space would typically be allowed up to 75,000 sq. ft. While there would be some flexibility with the square footage, the intent would still be to keep the building small enough to help reinforce the smaller community feel of a village center, Farrell said. 

Allowed building height was increased to five stories, to help promote the 40 percent-ratio of open space that’s now required for mixed-use developments. 

The suggested mixed-use regulations also included more about phased development, a key issue during discussions about the 518-acre rezoning for the Etowah Bluffs project. The board ultimately denied that rezoning this past August

Balanced building phases would allow both residential and non-residential spaces to be provided at the same time, rather than one type being built first, according to the proposed resolution changes.

If that proportion between the residential and commercial or industrial development becomes imbalanced, permits won’t be issued until the development activity is balanced, the mixed-use rule states. 

Farrell also mentioned the sunset clause which the county’s Long Range Planning Committee requested this past fall. 

The clause would address situations where a property owner hasn’t submitted an application for a land disturbance permit within 24 months of the rezoning approval. A process including notice to the developer, public hearings and a Board of Commissioners vote would be provided so that a property would be returned to its previous zoning classification if a land disturbance permit application isn’t submitted within 30 days.

This kind of rule would help avoid surrounding property owners being surprised by a new project and ensure there’s transparency with the project’s appearance, particularly infrastructure service delivery, according to the Long Range Planning Committee’s previous reasoning. 

Farrell addressed commercial campgrounds and RV parks, too, referring to a campground as “a special use” in RA zoning now, added in because of tourism. 

“It just puzzled me why we have so many RV parks north of here when we have so many visitors to Amicalola [Falls], and we have so much to offer here in this county,” Farrell said. 

More feedback

Resident Mark Byrd suggested public officials dialogue with him and other local business owners about the resolution’s proposed changes, and Turner also voiced a desire to plug in with the county.

“I can say I’ve read it three times, and each time I find something different that I have a question about,” BOC chairman Billy Thurmond said before recommending to table the vote.

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines and District 3 Commissioner Alex Bruce each referenced multiple conversations with constituents about the proposed changes.

“If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me or to any of us. It’s a lot of information…I appreciate y’all that come and talk so we can understand your concerns and your issues with it,” Bruce said. 

“Let’s drill down on it,” Gaines added, “and make sure hopefully it’s a long-term document, whatever it comes out to be…so that [landowners] can make plans for their future on what they want to do.”