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Gainesville council considers new regulations
Code changes on group homes, jails and small construction projects up for vote
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Among a slew of new regulations that the Gainesville City Council will vote on Tuesday is a proposal that removes jails from the list of designated public uses, more heavily regulates group homes in the city and requires residents and developers to apply and pay a fee for minor developments like the construction of a patio.

The changes, proposed by the city's Community Development Department, are part of a massive update to the city's Unified Land Development Code that the council has approved in phases over the course of the year.

Previous changes to the code beefed up the city's tree ordinances and changed the sign codes and the rules for temporary outdoor events. But the more recent changes, which will be considered Tuesday, are reminiscent of recent events.

Jails may be recategorized

According to the code, a building meant for public use is any structure owned and/or operated by the federal, state or local government, such as a post office, park, public health facility, library and police or fire station.

Buildings designated for public use are allowed in any area of the city, according to the code. But under the new proposal, jails are moved out of the "public use" building category and into a separate category. In the proposed changes, jails are only allowed with a special permit in areas zoned for general business and for light or heavy industry.

The proposed change comes only months after Hall County officials leased the old detention center on Main Street to Corrections Corporation of America, a private jail operator that houses federal immigration detainees.

The decision reignited tension between Gainesville and county officials, who have oscillated between agreeing and disagreeing on the future for the site of the old Hall County Jail, which sits in the middle of an area the city has designated for redevelopment.

In late 2007, the city announced plans to purchase the old jail for $4 million. The original agreement called for the city to pay for the jail over two fiscal years and allowed the county to lease the jail to a private jail management firm like CCA for seven years. The deal would have generated approximately $18 million for the county and guaranteed Gainesville officials eventual control of the property.

But the contract that would have secured that purchase was never signed, and the city later spent the money intended for the jail on property acquisition for its future Public Safety facility and Fire Station No. 1.

When the county announced a 20-year lease agreement with CCA in late 2008 that would net the county $2 million a year, city officials balked.

The two governments publicly disagreed on why the county never sold the jail to the city, but public discussions between the two were sparse.

At one point, the city halted renovations for the private facility, stating that the city's zoning code did not allow for a privately run jail in the redevelopment district. The county fought back and threatened to take over permitting and inspections of the building until CCA completed renovations.

The city eventually relented, and the renovated facility reopened two months ago as the North Georgia Detention Center.

Group homes may require license

The proposed changes to the city's code also extend regulations that were once relegated to rooming house to now include group homes.

The changes would require anyone who operates such a group home to obtain a business license within 120 days of the effective date of the changes.

Among a number of regulations that limit occupancy and establish facility requirements for designated group homes, the new rules would also require a group home operator to designate a person who could be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The city would then be able to give that contact information to any neighbors who contact the city with complaints about the group home, according to the proposed code changes.

Small home projects may require permit

If approved, the changes to the city's land development code would require residents and developers to acquire a minor land development permit for small projects that "would otherwise not require a land development permit," according to the proposed changes.

Owners of multi-family and nonresidential properties would have to acquire a permit for projects such as minor tree removal, landscaping, small driveway installations and small building additions.

Owners of single-family residential properties would have to obtain permits for construction of parking areas, patios and walkways and retaining wall additions, according to the proposed changes.

The changes would require anyone performing such work to submit a site plan and a copy of the recorded plat of the property to the Community Development Department for review.

The permit would require a fee, but the proposed code changes state that regular maintenance such as gardening would be exempt from the requirements.

The Gainesville City Council will vote on these proposed changes, among others, for the first time at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Georgia Mountains Center. The changes will require two votes of approval, and will go into effect immediately after the final vote.

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