When it comes to Ga. 347/Lanier Islands Parkway, there’s the much-anticipated widening of that ultra-busy road and then there are the extra touches.
Last week, the Georgia Department of Transportation awarded a $11.6 million contract for the road’s widening between McEver Road and Interstate 985.
The 1.7-mile section of Ga. 347 will become a four-lane divided highway, with sidewalks, but the state’s fixes basically end there.
“We would do the stuff that the DOT won’t fund — for example, streetlights, signage and landscaping,” said Mike Williams, CEO at Lake Lanier Islands resort in South Hall.
Those improvements could take place as part of a Lanier Islands Parkway Community Improvement District, which likely will span from the resort at the western end of Lanier Islands Parkway to Interstate 985 and perhaps a little farther, taking in part of Friendship Road.
“We are in the formation mode right now,” Williams said.
Allowed under the state constitution, a community improvement district is a self-taxing entity created voluntarily by property owners to pay for infrastructure, such as roads and sewer, and services.
“I hope this is an example, when it takes place, for the other (interstate) exits ... on up through Hall County,” said Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “This first one will be the entrance into Hall County.”
Grier Todd, chief operating officer for Lake Lanier Islands, said DOT plans for Ga. 347 helped kick-start the effort.
“Knowing that was coming, then it really was a natural fit,” he said.
Williams said CID improvements are noticeable
particularly along Interstate 85 in Gwinnett County. “That’s probably what sparked it all off,” he said.
Todd added: “Knowing that the DOT is going to be doing the work on the road, this is the best time for (CID improvements), when you got all the construction going at one time.”
Teri Pope, spokeswoman in the DOT’s Hall County office, said the DOT has had good experiences working with CIDs and that the state “sees them as partners.”
She added that the Federal Highway Administration has final approval on any work — including signs and landscaping — done to any bridge over an interstate.
Over the past few years, Lake Lanier Islands has invested millions in infrastructure, including its roadways and signature bridge leading to the resort’s entrance.
“We’ve got this new asphalt and these streetlights, signs and bridge enhancements,” Williams said. “The vision would be to take what you see on the islands and carry it past the interstate.”
Basic groundwork has been laid for the proposed CID, including setting up a website and brochure.
“We’ve started collecting signatures and we’ve had two meetings,” Williams said. “And we’ve sent direct mail to the potential taxpayers that border (Ga. 347).”
Officials are mulling a tax levy of 5 mills — generally the standard among CIDs — only on commercial properties in the district. One mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property values.
By comparison, Hall County’s general fund tax rate is 6.25 mills. The fire fund rate is 1.65 mills for unincorporated residents and 3.08 for city residents. Gainesville residents don’t pay a fire tax because the city operates a fire department.
Much of Lanier Islands Parkway is in Buford, which is served by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and Hall County Fire Services.
Homeowners in the area “will get the benefit of anything we do, but they don’t have to pay for it,” Todd said.
The boundaries of the CID will be based on the outcome of the vote, or the effort to determine which businesses agree to participate.
If 50 percent plus one of the parcels, plus one, agree to be part of the district and those that agree to participate make up at least 75 percent of assessed values, then the district can move forward.
“You can move your boundaries until you get 50 percent plus one,” Williams said. “The boundaries will be ultimately defined as we keep going to get more support and consent forms signed.”
Once the Hall County Tax Assessor’s Office is satisfied by the numbers, the proposed district goes to the Hall County Board of Commissioners and Buford Board of Commissioners for their approval.
“Once they do that, then the tax assessor goes back and adds the proper millage to the properties,” Todd said.
Williams said the response so far to the proposed district has been good.
“I don’t think I’ve been told ‘no’ by anybody,” he said. “I’ve been careful (as to) whom I ask and I’d say I’ve picked the low-hanging fruit — the people I know and the people who’d want to see the road do well and the pro-growth people.”
The campaign will get into full swing later this summer, “as we have a team of maybe two to four people who will go door to door and ask (property owners ) to vote yes or no,” Williams added.
“I’m sure there’ll be people against it, but I haven’t met one yet.”