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10 local stories to watch in 2019
Downtown Gainesville construction
Construction crews reach for a concrete bucket as it's lowered Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, at the construction site of the future Carroll Daniel Construction headquarters in downtown Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

What follows is a compilation of those issues likely to dominate headlines in Hall County for the next 365 days. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but Times reporters, who follow these issues every day, believe these are at least some of the stories to watch in 2019.

Development

Residential building

Several large projects, including houses, townhomes and apartments, were approved last year by various governments.

One of the largest was a 325-home subdivision off McEver Road in Flowery Branch, where several other residential developments are already underway. Also planned in Flowery Branch is a 325-unit apartment complex off Phil Niekro Boulevard.

Industry

Construction is expected to start in August 2019 on an inland port planned off Ga. 365 in northeast Hall along a long, thin strip of land next to Norfolk Southern railroad lines.

One of the largest projects coming is Gateway Village, a 522-acre development that could feature up to 2.6 million square feet in industrial and commercial space.

Work on the project could begin by late spring.

“We plan to start the grading and putting in the infrastructure for the project (by then),” said Jonathan Collins of Gainesville-based Capstone Property Group, which is developing Gateway.

Downtown and midtown Gainesville

After purchasing a 6.8-acre property on the southern end of the pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway, the city of Gainesville is now working to recruit a developer for the site, with the goal of bringing people across the bridge and encouraging further development in midtown.

Carroll Daniel Construction’s new 60,000-square-foot headquarters at Jesse Jewell and Main Street will have retail, restaurant and office space on the first floor. That development is set to open over the summer.

Another key piece of downtown real estate that may see some changes in 2019 is the site of Engine 209 at Jesse Jewell and West Academy Street. The city’s redevelopment authority, which currently has control of the 1.7-acre property, is working with two potential buyers, the Northeast Georgia Health System and Knight Commercial Realty. Knight has the first option on the property and will negotiate with the health system. A decision on who will ultimately purchase the land is expected in early 2019.

News is also expected on when the Parkside on the Square development will break ground. And development may yet come to the midtown site where the old Hall County Jail used to sit on Main Street.

Jeff Gill

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A crew works Thursday, April 26, 2018, on construction of the future exit 14 interchange along Interstate 985. - photo by David Barnes

Transportation

Lanier Islands Parkway

The Georgia Department of Transportation has said it expects the widening of Lanier Islands Parkway from McEver Road to Lanier Islands resort should be finished this year.

Work began in late summer 2017 to widen Lanier Islands Parkway/Ga. 347 from two to three lanes, basically adding a center turn lane along a 2.4-mile stretch, and adding a 10-foot multi-use path on one side of the road and a 5-foot sidewalk on the other.

A main feature of the new road will be a roundabout just north of where New Bethany and Big Creek roads connect with Ga. 347. A cemetery at that intersection forced a realignment of Ga. 347 in that area.

Exit 14

Construction of the new Exit 14 interchange off Interstate 985 should also be complete in 2019. The $34 million project calls for a diamond interchange connecting Martin Road at Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13 on the east side of I-985 to H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway at Thurmon Tanner Parkway on the west side. Also, Martin Road will be widened to four lanes from Falcon Parkway to just past Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science.

Spout Springs Road

Construction also could begin on the first phase of Spout Springs Road widening from Hog Mountain Road to Union Circle in South Hall.

Jeff Gill

Local government

Elections

Hall County’s next penny sales tax, SPLOST VIII, is set to go before voters on Nov. 5, 2019. If approved, it would be in effect July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2026.

The tax is projected to bring in about $197 million over those six years. Officials have proposed those dollars be used to fund projects including the Sardis Connector and widening of Spout Springs Road. Other proposals include a parking deck by the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library System, expanding the Hall County Landfill and replacing two or three ambulances each year.

Municipal elections will be held in cities throughout the county to replace certain positions on councils.

Flowery Branch will hold a special election to fill a City Council seat vacated by Mary Jones, who resigned in December. The council is scheduled to set a date for the election at its meeting Thursday, Jan. 3. The new council member will serve out her term, which is set to expire Dec. 31, 2019.

Megan Reed and Jeff Gill

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The Georgia House Study Committee on School Security meets on Monday, May 14, 2018, in Dawsonville. The committee was created in 2018 by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. - photo by Nick Bowman

Education

School safety

Recommendations from both a Georgia House and Senate study committee urge lawmakers to create a statewide threat management team to coordinate school safety and security resources, and improve responses to emergency threats; and develop a data-sharing system connecting Georgia’s schools, social service agencies and law enforcement to better share and curate student profiles and improve responses to individual needs.

House leaders have also suggested the state develop a threat assessment model outlined in the U.S. Secret Service’s School Safety Guide.

Lawmakers are also looking for new ways to help fund security upgrades.

Hall County, for example, received $215,000 in state funding last year to convert the district’s bus radios to digital and expand communications coverage to 99 percent of the county.

And Gainesville City Schools received about $81,000 from the state.

Social services

For many educators, “wraparound” services come part and parcel with improved safety and security in schools by providing additional counseling and basic needs support, particularly for students from lower-income households.

Gainesville City Schools, for example, added new social workers to its roster in 2018, and also partnered with the United Way of Hall County to coordinate the nonprofit’s Compass Center.

School officials said they hope to expand wraparound services with a multi-million-dollar literacy grant, as well as the development of food pantries, clothing closets, and student and family resource centers within schools.

Tax exemptions

For Hall County Schools, officials said the biggest funding challenges continue to be the growing number of tax exemptions.

About a dozen years ago, the county had roughly $450 million worth of property that was exempt from school taxes, or about 10 percent of the total tax digest.

Today, that figure has risen to about $1.3 billion, or almost 21 percent of the tax digest.

There are many exemptions available, such as for disabled veterans, surviving spouses of firefighters, for agriculture and conservation, and for public utilities.

Senior citizens, however, account for 61 percent of all exemptions in Hall. Seniors can receive a full exemption beginning at age 70.

Superintendent Will Schofield and several board of education members have said they would like state legislators to consider limiting or adjusting tax exemptions going forward to ensure that local schools are properly funded.

Joshua Silavent

Regional events