Farmer’s market property, drive-in discussed at council meeting

News

[Featured image: Jim Sisson, left, of Sisson Log Homes, discusses the possibility of purchasing the farmer’s market property from the city with council members Ken Gaddis, second from left, Nathan Fitts, Mayor Donna Whitener, and City Attorney James Balli.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a three-hour Blue Ridge City Council meeting Tuesday night, March 13, a wide variety of topics took center stage.

The future of the farmer’s market property off of Summit Street was discussed again. Last month, the council weighed options for the property moving forward and discussed whether to sell, lease or refurbish the property. Strong opposition to sell was voiced by Councilwoman Rhonda Haight and Councilman Ken Gaddis and the council agreed to discuss the issue further at a following meeting.

This month, Jim Sisson, owner of Sisson Log Homes, was present to propose selling the property in a bidding process. Sisson spoke of recent uses, such as held festivals and overflow parking, for the property and stated the property was not an ideal location for either purpose. He also described the property as “negative-performing asset,” meaning that it is and would cost the city more to operate it than the revenue the property would generate. Sisson cited costs for liability insurance and utilities as necessary operating expenditures to the city. Mayor Donna Whitener estimated the city spends between $6,000 and $10,000 a year on utilities alone for the property.

“If you were to sell it us or somebody else, it would at least be bringing in some tax revenue,” Sisson continued.

Whitener mentioned in earlier talks with Sisson, the prospect of leasing the property was discussed. “Have you put any thought into that?” Whitener asked Sisson.

Sisson responded saying his company would prefer to buy the property but would consider leasing it instead. He also added that the property would be used as an overflow area for Sisson Log Homes to store materials in the drying process and no damage would come to the property. “Probably, (we would) not use the platform that is there,” Sisson said.

No decision was made by the council to proceed with any process of either selling or leasing the property.

Another city landmark, the Swan Drive-In, was discussed during the council meeting. Earlier in the day, the city released a statement via social media addressing and denying rumors of the city attempting to close the drive-in as a result of noise complaints received from nearby residents.

In that post, city representatives stated, “The city is committed to working with stakeholders on both sides of the issue to reach a solution that continues to allow the Swan to operate as one of the City’s favorite attractions.”

At the council meeting, City Attorney James Balli also addressed the concern saying, “Let me be clear: the drive-in is going nowhere. I will say that one more time very slowly. The drive-in is going nowhere. The city owns the drive-in. The drive-in will operate. If I had anything to do with shutting down the drive-in, my wife would make me sleep on the couch … I’ve enjoyed it just as many of you have. It’s an attraction to the city.”

However, Balli continued to say the city was beginning to look into various options to address the noise ordinance complaints stemming from the drive-in. The city attorney also stated the operator of the drive-in is exploring methods to reduce noise emanating from the site.

“We would always favor citizens working things out privately without any involvement from the city,” Balli said, adding the city was confident a mutual agreement would soon be reached.

Whitener told the council she visited the drive-in over the previous weekend and was told a 20-foot-high, 100-foot-long noise buffering screen is slated to be installed soon. “So, we won’t know (of the screen’s effectiveness) until it goes up. So give us a chance to work through that,” Whitener said.

Later, Councilman Ken Gaddis spoke of the city’s current policy for meeting decorum. Gaddis stated, “The previous council took a stand to where public comments was not necessary, was not required and definitely was not important.”

Garnering applause from the audience, Gaddis explained he would like to see any item requiring a motion go to public comment before moving to a vote from the council.

“I don’t come up and say I know anything really,” Gaddis continued. “You all voted me in. For whatever reason, you all thought I was important. I came up here with a skill set to help with infrastructure, but everybody in the community has a skill set that’s beyond me, beyond (Councilman) Nathan (Fitts), beyond all of us, and you have an important voice and we want to hear that voice.”

Councilwoman Rhonda Haight agreed with Gaddis and clarified she did not vote on the decision to limit public commentary in the last term.

“However … I’ve seen meetings that have lasted until 11 p.m. I’ve seen meetings that have gotten completely out of control, so we would have to have control. We would have to have time limits on speech,” Haight stated.

Fitts also agreed with both Gaddis on bringing back increased public commentary and with Haight on enforcing order throughout the meeting.

Mayor Whitener explained City Clerk Kelsey Ledford was currently working to amend the meeting policy to allow for more commentary.

A budget amendment to account for incoming funds from a Georgia Municipal Association safety grant, maintenance to City Hall and the Police Department buildings, the hiring of a zoning and land development administrator, and revised pay scales for water department employees was approved by the council.

A conflict of interest exemption statement was approved by the council concerning the $500,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded to the city in 2016 to upgrade water and fire protection infrastructure in portions of neighborhoods east of or near East Second Street. The statement gave public notice of technical conflicts of interest among city council members who either live or own property in the area, have family members who live in the area and/or have business interests in the area.

A town hall meeting was announced to take place at City Hall March 27 at 6 p.m. Mayor Whitener explained the meeting will address public concerns over the CDBG project, which she stated should be halfway completed by then, the farmer’s market property, the city pool, and downtown restrooms among other topics.

In other business, the council discussed the abandonment of an undeveloped portion of Hill Street near East First Street and another unnamed street near the BP gas station on West First Street.

The council also approved an annual $1,500 donation to the Humane Society for the spay and neuter of feral cats throughout Blue Ridge.

A resolution to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Fannin County, McCaysville and Morganton was approved. The memorandum of understanding is an agreement between the entities to share costs for the Nixle emergency management agency (EMA) notification service to residents and citizens.

A resolution declaring April 22 through 28, 2018, to be Georgia Cities Week in Blue Ridge approved and signed by Mayor Whitener.

In public commentary, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA) Cesar Martinez stressed to the council the continued need for additional public parking and bathrooms in the downtown business district. Martinez offered the help of the BRBA in forming committees or focus groups to address the situation. In response, Fitts told Martinez both items were top priorities for the council. “We’re not ignoring these. We have a lot going on right now. We are diligently working on them,” Fitts said.

Local sculptor Martin McHan, who created the Blue Bear sculpture that has previously been displayed in the downtown city park, asked about the sculpture’s condition and the kiln-drying process it is currently undergoing. The sculpture was recently removed from the park after a termite infestation was discovered within it. The bear was then transferred to a large kiln operated by Sisson Log Homes in an effort to exterminate the termites. Mayor Whitener explained to McHan after the kiln-drying process is complete, the bear would be painted, restored to the park and the city plans to erect a shelter to protect the sculpture from the weather.

McHan then addressed Jim Sisson directly saying, “Mr. Sisson, I’d like to personally, from the bottom of my heart, thank you … I’d like to thank you for putting (the sculpture) in that kiln because I know how much that costs … It’s a very, very expensive process that this man has donated.”

 

 

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Blue Ridge City Council hears flooding complaint

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Blue Ridge City Council met Tuesday, March 13, with a number of action and discussion items on its agenda. Headlining those items were an adoption of a city open records policy, potential improvements and repairs to City Hall and residential property flooding near Ada Street.

Regarding the open records policy, City Attorney James Balli stated the city is governed by the state Open Records Act, which preempts any city ordinance or policy. The attorney explained the Georgia Municipal Association advises all member municipalities to adopt an official opens records policy.

“(The policy) provides more explanation,” Balli added. “It doesn’t change any rules, which we can’t do that.”

Balli further explained the policy would allow “faster access to routine documents to citizens and the press” and that citizens of the city would be given priority on requests but that all requests would be fulfilled in a timely manner. Balli told the council the city previously did not have an official open records policy. He also stated while the state Open Records Act does not require a request in written form, a written request utilizing the city’s open records request form is encouraged and required to ensure the fulfillment of requests to those making the requests.

According to the city open records policy, from the time an open records request is made, the city has three business days to determine whether the requested information is subject to disclosure or redacted disclosure and to either produce the information upon payment of any applicable fees or provide the person requesting records with a timeline of when the information will be produced if said information is not immediately available.

The policy further states, “If the requested record is not subject to disclosure, or full disclosure, the City Attorney (or his or her designee) shall identify in writing to the requestor the provision of law that makes all or part of a record exempt from disclosure. The City Attorney’s decision regarding exemption or partial exemption of a record shall be the final decision.”

The Georgia Open Records Act O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70 defines public and open records as “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, computer based or generated information, data, data fields, or similar material prepared and maintained or received by an agency. Public records also mean such items received or maintained by a private person or entity in the performance of a service or function for or on behalf of an agency and such items transferred to a private person or entity for storage or future governmental use.”

A budget allotment of up to $10,000 was approved for a kitchen remodel project at City Hall. Finance Director Alicia Stewart explained city Clerk of Court and Office Manager Barbie Gerald had requested the amount to cover costs for cabinets, counters, hardware, a sink, a faucet, grout, tile, mirrors, an oven hood and labor. Stewart added the estimate for the these items stood at $6,850.31 and did not include appliances. “I think Barbie (Gerald) wanted a little higher than ($6,850.31) just in case there was something that came up,” Stewart said of the potential additional allotment.

During the approval vote, Councilman Ken Gaddis voted against the allotment and Councilman Nathan Fitts was initially undecided, stating at one point that he had seen some repurposed items listed on social media recently that could alleviate costs to the city and also admitting he had not reviewed information on the materials. After a second vote was taken, however, Fitts voted in favor of the allotment. Councilman Harold Herndon was not present for the meeting.

The council later discussed whether to repair the overhang roof of the drive-through area outside City Hall or to demolish it entirely. The roof of the overhang and a portion of the main building’s roof was damaged in an April 2017 storm and the city recently received an insurance claims check for $20,165 for the damage to the overhang. Last month, the council weighed repair options but ultimately agreed repairs to the overhang would not be frugal given the city’s hopes to eventually adapt that side of City Hall and the adjoining parking lot into a two-story parking deck.

A suggestion was made to demolish the overhang and erect an outdoor drop box for any payments to the city. Fitts questioned where the city fire engine would be parked if the overhang was demolished and the idea to approach the county about possibly storing the engine at the forthcoming public safety complex on Windy Ridge Road was mentioned. Mayor Donna Whitener further explained the city is hoping to still receive further insurance claims funds for the damage suffered to the main building’s roof. She also stated the council would have to decide between repairing the roof with shingles or with metal roofing.

Ultimately, the item was tabled to allow the council more time to gather further information.

In public commentary, Ben Kissel, a city resident, addressed the council concerning recent flooding to his property as well as neighboring properties off of Ada Street. In his statement, Kissel explained the flooding issue was a direct result of a collapsed pipe on his property and related the collapse to an artificial concentration of large amounts of water funneling into his property from developments approved by the city. Kissel also noted before the pipe collapse, flooding had never been an issue on his property, but during the month of February, his property had flooded three times.

Ada Street resident Ben Kissel, left, discusses a flooding issue on his property with the Blue Ridge City Council as Councilmembers Ken Gaddis, center, and Nathan Fitts hear his complaint.

“Therefore, I feel it has become the city’s responsibility being that we nor the property owners before us have ever been compensated for these actions,” Kissel stated.

Kissel said in discussions with the mayor and city council members during the past year, he and his wife, Natalie Kissel, “have been given the runaround” concerning the issue. Infrastructure, Kissel stated, was a top priority mentioned in nearly every candidate’s campaign platforms during last year’s elections for city council, at times, “even citing my property in your campaigns.”

“But what it really comes down to is your actual priorities. Three months into your terms, and I have seen the approval to supply water to a cherry picked development (Staurolite Mountain) outside of the city limits,” Kissel continued. “I have heard that the price tag for this venture is upward of $50,000. That is almost 8 percent of the total cost to fix the entire drainage infrastructure to our city. That is 8 percent that the residents and business owners will have to wait even longer for you to come up with.”

Kissel went on to cite other recently discussed potential expenditures, such as the $10,000 allotment, approved earlier in the meeting, for the kitchen remodel and a sound system for the downtown area.

After this, Kissel presented the city with three options: fix the issue themselves, allow the Kissels to fix the issue and “the third option, and your most expensive, is to continue to do what you have done and that is nothing.”

Kissel also presented the council with a copy of the Georgia Nuisance Law, which requires land owners, developers, municipalities and counties to protect the rights of adjoining property owners from the unnatural effects of land development. “The city is in direct violation of that law,” Kissel added.

Later, Councilman Gaddis explained the intricacies involved in creating a drainage area and suggested that the city’s engineering firm, Carter & Sloope, investigate the drainage issue immediately. “I would love to get this done, and I think we should get Carter & Sloope on this as soon as possible,” Gaddis added. “I just want to apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Kissel here for this issue.”

Mayor Whitener reminded everyone that the previous council had already approved for Carter & Sloope to conduct engineering studies in the drainage area near Ada Street last year but added that the council had not yet approved for any work to take place.

Near the end of the discussion, City Attorney Balli told the council, “For the record, I hear what the council is saying and I don’t necessarily agree with some of the legal opinions as to who may or may not be responsible … We go by your decisions, not mine.”

On Thursday, Ben Kissel confirmed action was being taken from the city council to resolve the issue and representatives from Carter & Sloope are slated to visit the drainage area near Ada Street next week.

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

City of Blue Ridge receives safety, liability grants

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The city of Blue Ridge were the recipients of two Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) grants Friday, Jan. 26. The city received a Safety Grant in the amount of $1,987.16 and a Liability Grant in the amount of $4,574.95 for the purchases of employees rain jackets, a Stream Light portable scene light and portable walk-through metal detector.

Regarding the grants, Eileen Thomas, marketing field manager for GMA, stated, “This program allows each city to stretch their budget dollars and provide a safer work environment for their employees.”

Introduced in 2000, the GMA Safety and Liability Management Grant program provides a financial incentive to assist members in improving their employee safety and general public liability loss efforts through training and the purchase of equipment or services. Over 130 cities have received over 500 grants totaling almost $1.5 million to fund items such as bulletproof vests, training videos, confined space entry equipment, reflective safety vests, fire department turnout gear, and police department in-vehicle video systems.

Based in Atlanta, GMA is a voluntary, non-profit organization that provides legislative advocacy, educational, employee benefit and consulting services to over 500 member cities.

 

[Featured image: GMA Workers Compensation Claims Manager and Liason Brenda Black, City Clerk Kelsey Ledford, Director of Water and Utilities Becky Harkins, City Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius, Mayor Donna Whitener, and City Court Clerk Barbie Gerald.]

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Fall Arts in the Park is a Success

Community

BLUE RIDGE, GA – Fall in the North Georgia mountains are marked with the natural beauty of area, the amazing weather, and festivals.

The Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association (BRMAA) hosted its 41st annual Arts in the Park on November 14 and 15. With over 7,500 visitors to the downtown Blue Ridge area for this biannual event, there is no doubt that Arts in the Park has become a Blue Ridge must do event.

FetchYourNews, Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Arts in the Park, BRMAA, Mountain Arts Association, Tom Chambers

Artist Tom Chambers enjoys his tenth year at Arts in the Park.

There were 125 vendors present to exhibit one of a kind arts and crafts, as well as delicious foods and beverages. The event ran smoothly thanks to the 40 volunteers that helped manage the festival throughout the day.

Artist Tom Chambers was among the artists present this year. Chambers is no stranger to the festival. He stated that Arts in the Park is where he began exhibiting his art in a festival setting.

Chambers was an art major in college. He moved to the Blue Ridge area approximately 10 years ago after retiring and has participated in this event each year since his arrival.

Chambers smiled as he explained, “It was our very first one. It’s our home.”

Artist Michelle McDowell Smith was also present with her one of a kind mixed media creations. Smith a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, and an award winning artist is also a repeat exhibitor.

Artist Michelle McDowell Smith is a repeat exhibitor at Arts in the Park.

In a statement about Arts in the Park on Smith’s website, she states about coming to Blue Ridge, “And honestly, I can’t wait. I love the mountains and they’ve been calling me in my sleep.”

Arts in the Park continues to grow each year, bringing in more vendors and more visitors with both the Spring and Fall exhibits. It is one of the many reasons that Blue Ridge was listed as one of the top 5 Art Towns in Georgia by Georgia Council for the Arts & the Georgia Municipal Association.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

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