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Gainesville planning board supports annexation request

POSTED: April 14, 2009 11:09 p.m.

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A 0.8-mile stretch of Interstate 985 is one step closer to being in the Gainesville city limits.

The Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board voted Tuesday night to recommend that City Council approve the Chicopee Woods Area Parks Commission’s annexation request.

The commission is seeking the annexation of nearly 103 acres in an area in South Hall that includes the I-985 segment, which has set off a firestorm of controversy over law enforcement with Hall County officials.

"It makes me proud of the process we have that when there’s an issue like this ... we get to make our decisions based on not what’s politically expedient to say but rather what we find to be the evidence and the facts," said board member Joe Diaz.

Commissioner Bobby Banks has accused Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper of planning to use the road as a speed trap, calling a public hearing to have Hooper explain the city’s need to annex the property.

And County Planning Director Randy Knighton sent an official objection, saying county residents living in Gainesville would "be paying for a duplication of services whereby the city police will be patrolling the same stretch of roadway that the sheriff’s department already adequately patrols."

Hooper has said that without clear geographical boundaries on I-985, taxpayers are paying for both the county and city to respond to wrecks in those areas when only one agency is needed.

Capt. Paul Sherman reaffirmed that comment Thursday night.

"We thought if we could bring that city limits sign ... to a physical point like Atlanta Highway, we’d be able to discern, both from the call-taking center and motorists out there on the highway, and certainly the officers and emergency responders, whether we’re in the city or county," he said.

Al Crego, chairman of the parks commission, told the planning board he agreed that "clarifying the jurisdictional lines ... needs to be done."

No county officials spoke in opposition to the request, which Diaz pointed out in his comments to recommend approval.

"I don’t see anybody standing here presenting the first fact to support (opposition)," he said.

Hooper has insisted that the annexation request wasn’t meant to stir up revenue for the city.

The state considers a "speed trap" to be an attempt by a county, city or college police department to make up more than 40 percent of its budget in fines from speeding tickets, excluding those that involve the driver going faster than 17 mph over the speed limit.

Revenue from the Gainesville’s department’s speeding citations was $420,490 in 2008, approximately 4 percent of the department’s 2008 budget, according to city records.

By the same token, Sherman said the area in the annexation request is one that needs law enforcement.

"If we can slow folks down, hopefully we will reduce the accidents," he said.



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