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County to take look at zoning rules, compensation policies

POSTED: March 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.

GAINESVILLE — To continue the rehabilitation of the Black and Cooley Drive area, Hall County may have to bend some of its zoning rules.

Randy Knighton, Hall County planning director, told the county commission that the size of many of the properties in the redevelopment area makes it difficult to meet setbacks and other zoning requirements.

In 2005, the county created an urban redevelopment area on Black, Cooley and Jordan drives to reverse the effects of slum and blight on those streets.

Five buildings have been renovated, and three have been removed and rebuilt in the first phase of the rehabilitation with the help of the Gainesville-Hall Neighborhood Revitalization, the Newtown Florist Club and Habitat for Humanity.

Yet with many of the properties no larger than 0.17 acres, the nonprofit agencies are running into problems meeting zoning requirements with some of the reconstruction in the neighborhood that was developed more than 50 years ago.

Knighton proposed creating a special overlay district on Black and Cooley drives, which would allow for special development standards in that specific area. The special development standards would make it possible for the nonprofits to continue their current momentum in rehabilitating the area.

Knighton proposed a community meeting at the end of the month to speak to some of the current neighborhood residents about their concerns for the area.

"What you’re trying to do is get some leeway," Commissioner Steve Gailey said. "That’s understandable with this case, because the lots are already platted; you’ve almost got to do that."

Board of Tax Assessors

In light of recent allegations against the chairman of the Hall County Board of Tax Assessors, the Hall County Commission will begin reviewing the policies and procedures of all compensated boards within the county.

Nearly one month after former employees of the Hall County Tax Assessor’s office accused Emory L. Martin Jr. of padding his per diem time sheets for more than $47,000 in fraudulent expenses in a five-year span, county commissioners discussed how to handle the situation that is now under investigation by Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh.

District 1 Commissioner Bobby Banks raised the subject during the commission’s work session today.

"We really need to look into this tax assessor stuff that’s going on right now," Banks said.

"I’m not really sure what we need to do, but we need to do something."

Gailey suggested that the commission discuss the matter behind closed doors in an executive session because it is a personnel issue. Discussing the matter in executive session would give the commissioners some leeway on how they might handle what could be more than a problem with an individual but a problem with policies, Gailey said.

"I think that ... from what things we’ve seen and the things we know I think that there’s going to have to be some procedures set in place, you know, to clarify a few things," Gailey said.

"I think we need to do it in the open," Banks rebutted.

Commission Chairman Tom Oliver asked County Attorney Bill Blalock for direction on how the commission should handle the charges against Martin.

Blalock presented a few options to the commission, telling them they had the right to conduct their own audit of the Board of Tax Assessors or contract the audit out to a third party to make sure the board is following its own policies and procedures.

"Maybe wait and see what this investigation shows, before you decide on whether you need to take action or not," Blalock said.

Oliver suggested that the county staff help the commission review all appointed boards that receive compensation and create guidelines on how often each board can have meetings and how much they will get paid for attending meetings. There are three appointed boards that receive compensation in the county and would thus be subject to the overview: the planning board, the tax assessors board and the board of elections.

It was an option that seemed to pacify all the commissioners.

"All I want to do is just make sure that it’s not swept under the rug," Banks said. "If it comes out that they’re wrong, so be it. If they come out they’re right, that’s fine too. I just don’t want for it to look like that the commission is just turning a deaf ear."

When the district attorney comes back with his findings, the commission will review it in an executive session before bringing it to the public.

"I think what we got to look at here is the policy wrong, has it not been done right, get out the individuality aspect of it if we can," Gailey said.

"This may not just be right here, there could be some other individuals involved with this before its over with ... some retired people."



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