Blue Ridge, Ga – Board of Commissioners approved of the purchase of 118 Industrial Blvd. to move administration out of the courthouse and provide additional parking for the Fannin County Government and public.
“It’s been something that has been talked about for many, many years, and the voters actually approved it in 2016. They put a 10 and a half [percent] SPLOST allocation for parking and/or administration building. The plan would be that the building would serve both purposes, stated Chairman Stan Helton.
The county hopes to close on the property by July 1, but won’t take possession January 1, 2020. The goal is to take everything out of the first floor except the library so the commissioners, land development, building inspection services, Board of Elections tax assessors, and tax commissioners offices would move to 118 Industrial Blvd.
“It’s downtown where all the hubbub is but close enough where people can park easily. We would have to do some major modifications, big time, and that’s what we have to decide on, but it’s a little over five acres of property,” said Helton.
By moving facilities, the public will have improved access to all of the departments and plenty of parking.
“The neat thing about it is we can make this purchase without borrowing any money,” said Helton, “The money that we expected over six years from the SPLOST is about $3,150,000, and we will be able to make this purchase without borrowing anything outside.”
Before deciding on the purchase, the county performed a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment and Architectural Services Report assessment.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – At their regular monthly meeting held on Tuesday, Nov. 13 the Blue Ridge City Council voted to move forward with the possibility of adding more parking spaces in the downtown area.
The idea of adding parking to the existing location of Blue Ridge City Hall, located on West First Street, is not a new one, but Kevin Whipple, a principal architect with CSC Design, Inc., introduced a fresh look at Blue Ridge’s long standing parking issue.
Whipple along with Reid Dyer, Vice President of Hayes, James and Associates, Inc., proposed a multi-phase concept that when completed would bring the total number of parking spaces on the property from 48 to 246 including 17 on street parking sites.
“You currently have 48 parking spaces on the property right now, phase one will increase that for an additional 60, so you will have 108 parking spaces on the property,” Whipple said as he presented city council with diagrams of the proposal.
Phase one of the project would require the removal of the green space currently on the Depot Street side of the property. This area would then be turned into numerous parking spots. The phase also including adding a few spots to the back corner of the property closest to the location of the Senior Center.
The initial proposal of this phase included the addition of public restrooms to one side of the City Hall building. After discussing with council, however, the options of restrooms in this area was put on hold.
Due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ramps would be required to access these restrooms. With the lay of the land in the area having a significant slope, adhering to ADA standards would be difficult to achieve.
It was originally thought that a parking deck could eventually be built in this newly designed area. Dyer pointed out, however, that there were too many utilities located below ground (sewer, storm drainage, power) for this to be a viable option.
A parking deck was not ruled out as Whipple and Dyer presented phase two of the proposed parking concept.
“This phase would include us taking the road. The road between here and the senior center,” Whipple said presenting the second phase.
According to Whipple by taking the street, the City of Blue Ridge would be able to add numerous parking spaces on ground level and open up the option of adding a second story parking deck over this area.
Parking on ‘ground level’ would have a single entry point from West First Street and would allow access to all parking spaces around City Hall. Parking for the ‘second level’ would have a single entry and exit point located on West Second Street.
This single entry/exit point will have many benefits according to Whipple and Dyer. The lay of the land behind city hall, being a rising hill, is a natural elevation ideal for creating this second level. Whipple also pointed out that it could be used as a secure parking area for all visitors who are partaking in a trip on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, and suggested that riders of the train be given a parking pass and only those with passes would be able to access this second level.
“One of the biggest issues for parking decks is internal circulation,” Whipple stated of the unconventional approach to the parking deck and the separate entries for the two levels. “The ramps, you’ll lose a lot of parking”
After the phase two completion, a total of 246 (including 17 spaces available on Depot Street) parking spaces would be created for public use.
Members of the Blue Ridge City Council had many questions concerning the project including how storm water runoff would be handled, but with the design being in its concept stage more research would need to be done to come up with solutions and costs.
“This isn’t what I had envisioned, but I love it,” Council-member Rhonda Haight was the first to speak up about the proposal.
Haight complimented how the design incorporated the use of the natural slant of the land. Mayor Donna Whitener agreed with Haight and pointed out that its structure would be less intrusive at the City Hall property.
Haight motioned to grant permission for more research to be completed on the project, and Council-member Nathan Fitz made a second. The council voted unanimously to move forward.
In the meantime the City of Blue Ridge has extended the arrangement with Blue Ridge Hotel, LLC. to continue to use property on West Main Street for paid public parking. The extension will last through Dec. 2018.
BLUE RIDGE, GA – September marked the beginning of the beautiful Autumn season in our quaint mountain town. With Autumn comes large crowds visiting our area for it’s natural beauty, and enjoying one of our many festivals held downtown.
Business owners and residents alike were shocked to see that more parking spaces were disappearing from East Main Street, especially with the busy season upon us.
More spaces, in our already under spaced area, seemed to disappear overnight as crews came in removing the freshly painted spots and lining them with the all too familiar No Parking stripes.
According to the original proposal of the East Main Streetscape project, passed by City Council, these parking spaces should have been marked for No Parking when the project was completed earlier this year.
Council Member Angie Arp confirmed that the striping company, contracted by Colwell Construction, did not mark off or strip East Main Street according to the council approved plans.
She went on to say that parking was only supposed to be on one side or the other all the way down the street as a safety measure, and as per recommended by the public safety officials.
When asked why the parking had not been corrected immediately, Arp explained that the striping was contracted to a company out of Atlanta, and they had to schedule the owner of the company to verify what was done and what should have been done. Once that was confirmed, the striping company had to schedule a time for them to get back up here to fix it correctly. They planned to come back at a time when it wasn’t as busy so they waited till after school started and before Labor Day weekend.
The latest removal of parking spaces disheartened many business owners who had recently attended City Council meetings over parking related matters.
Council Members have been working for years to bring a solution to our city’s parking, but with little agreement, the parking issue continues to get pushed to the backburner.
Arp and fellow Council Member Bruce Pack diligently worked to bring parking through what came to be known as the Pack Property Lease. This area, located at the end of free parking, was estimated to add an additional 300 parking spaces to the city, but at a cost for the taxpayers.
The newest idea to add parking was debuted last week, via Facebook, by Council Member Rhonda Thomas and Councilmember Elect Kenneth Gaddis. This idea involved off campus parking on an already owned city lot.
The land is located near the Swan Drive-In, and with the recent passing of the Electric Shuttle Bus Ordinance could provide the city with an approximate 150 new spaces. The Shuttle Bus could run regular trips multiple times a day between this free parking area and downtown.
Thomas pointed out that this particular space is already equipped with restrooms, an area for concessions, and the existing structure could provide shelter for those waiting in inclement weather.
Gaddis said, “This isn’t just for downtown, this is for Blue Ridge itself. We have the Blue Ridge Community Theatre there which hosts many events. Students pack nearby parking for the games. This could be an overflow. We want this to be shared throughout.”
This latest idea to help alleviate the parking woes of downtown is scheduled to be discussed at a Blue Ridge City Council special called meeting on Tuesday, September 26 at 10:00 A.M. at City Hall.
The downtown Blue Ridge parking situation has been a hot topic over the last several months. In fact, this has been on the radar for almost four years now. As a member of City Council, I will take action in resolving this issue to ensure Blue Ridge has room to grow.
First, it is going to take all council members working together for this common goal to get any type of resolution. Recently there have been different options considered by the current council, however, no real progress in my opinion. Finding a “perfect” solution may be tough but there needs to be immediate attention paid toward finding both a short term and long-term solution.
Second, I have been doing some individual research in addition to reviewing the current data provided by the council.
From what I have found the first practical step is to make better use of our existing parking areas. To this effect, a hard look should be taken at the approximately 60 parking places which have been eliminated in the last 4 years. Maximizing your existing supply of parking is a great place to start but it will not be enough to accommodate growth in Blue Ridge.
Furthermore, parking can be increased by efficiently utilizing existing city-owned property. This utilization of no or low-cost property would be an economical and actionable solution for additional parking which would both save the city money mitigate the need for land acquisitions.
I promise to immediately take action by proceeding with a comprehensive parking plan. This parking plan as outlined above will provide relief to our downtown parking issues. I promise to work together with all council members and the mayor to support taking action through both short and long-term solutions. I humbly ask for your vote to serve the City of Blue Ridge and I pledge to never put any personal agenda or self-serving motive in front of what is best for my hometown.
Business as usual was conducted at the August 17, 2017, special called meeting of the Blue Ridge City Council. Despite the turmoil and protesters present, many items on the agenda were discussed and voted upon.
A key piece discussed was the leasing of the Pack property for possible extra parking to accommodate the downtown area. Owner’s of the Pack property are now asking the city to pay a rental fee of $2000 a month, as previously discussed, and for the city to pay property taxes on the land as well as adding the current owners of the property to the city’s liability insurance.
Before proceeding with discussion of the Pack property leasing, Council member Rhonda Thomas excused herself from further voting on the issue stating that she felt the development would “increase the value of my property.”
Mayor Donna Whitener voiced serious concerns of proceeding with any work on the property without looking into proper permitting first. Council member Angie Arp brought up the fact that a land disturbance permit is not required if the work being done is on one acre or less.
Thomas suggested the possibility of just leasing an acre of the property, but Council member Bruce Pack stated that he had already spoken with the owners about this and it would have to be “all or nothing.”
This discussion brought about the proposal of a parking garage that had previously been considered. The parking garage would be located near City Hall and potentially add 350 additional parking spaces, with 110 of those spaces being on the ground level.
Whitener felt that both options should be looked into further and urged council members to do their due diligence, check into permitting, and look for possible grants to help fund the projects.
Storm drains were also a topic of debate, specifically beginning with an area located near free parking along East Main Street. Funding for the storm drainage improvements could come from a number of areas including the recent sell of the marina which would give the city $400,000 by the end of this year.
Whitener also suggested looking into an Appalachian Regional Commission Economic Development Grant. These grants provide assistance with critical infrastructure and could possibly fund an additional $750,000.
Council members also unanimously approved the appointees for the positions of Poll Managers to handle the upcoming city elections. The Poll Manager will be Barbie Gerald and Assistant Poll Managers will be Rebecca Harkins and Gina Quinton.
Many of the items, such as the Pack property leasing, will be further discussed at the Council’s regularly scheduled September meeting to be held Tuesday, September 12th, at 6:00 P.M.
The Blue Ridge City Council held its regular meeting on June 13th 2017. The meeting began with approval of previous meeting minutes and moved on to action items.
The items on the agenda were the 2016 budget amendment No.2, Burn Permit Ordinance (first reading, Work Detail agreement, Carter & Sloope Task Release No. 12 (Downtown West Water Main Upgrades, Phase II), Swimming lessons contract with Rene Mashburn, Downtown Park Grant, & Parking and Streets. See Full Video of meeting:
The meeting moved quickly until the Parking and Streets which was added to the agenda by Blue Ridge City Council member Angela Arp. Discussion regarding changing the current ordinance from 2 hour parking in certain sections to 3 hour between particular hours of either 10am to 4pm or 9am to 5pm turned into a motion. The motion carried with Blue Ridge City Council member Rhonda Thomas voting no and voicing her concerns stating she would prefer to perhaps hold a town hall or discuss with downtown business owners. Arp claimed she had spoke with business owners however local business owner and President of the Blue Ridge Business Association, Cesar Martinez, stated he had never discussed this with her.
The council approved the purchase of two additional cameras for the pool and an invoice for Welch, Walker & Associates was approved as well. Discussion was had regarding work on streets in downtown. Bids came in from Johnson and Caldwell on two bids with Johnson coming in lower on both bids.
During the public comments Cesar Martinez was on the agenda to speak. While giving his update he once again voiced his concern for business owners and visitors due to the parking problems. Another business owner who owns the Blue Ridge Bed & Breakfast also asked to speak and he too voiced concerns over the parking.
Pictured L-R (Cesar Martinez, Bill Ryan, Gene Holcomb, and Council Member Angela Arp)
Arp requested a motion in order to respond to Martinez but Arp did not receive a 2nd so the motion died. She did however use the opportunity to work in a response to Martinez after a motion carried to allow more discussion on the Streets. Council member Thomas voiced her concerns about the parking situation and said she may be within a month or two from a major announcement which would address the parking issues.
Bill Ryan spoke during Public Comments and is concerned with the storm water drainage. He is interested in a time frame for resolution to the issue stating water was up to their steps at their establishment. He said he filed a request with the City of Blue Ridge to remove debris from the drainage ditch but to his knowledge nothing had been done.
The meeting concluded with a motion to move into executive session to discuss personnel. During executive session the council replaced two lifeguards with new hires and moved existing lifeguards to Head Lifeguard positions. Danny Cook was rehired at $16 dollars per hour to work at the Water Plant. The decision was made to also move Mark Patterson and Brad Hawkins, employees at the Water Plant, to $16 per hour.