By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Hall County fighting closing of Tumbling Circle railroad crossing
Placeholder Image

Other business

The Hall County Board of Commissioners is prepared to give final approval Thursday to changes to the business license code.

Those changes would include reducing the grace period for late payments and requiring businesses to have a license before opening their doors.

However, an earlier proposal to require businesses to submit a tax form verifying the number of people they employ has been scrapped.

Officials have said this requirement could potentially reveal personal details such as income earned and Social Security numbers, while also placing an unnecessary burden on compliant businesses.

Officials said they plan to review possible changes to the fee schedule for business licenses, which are calculated based on the number of employees and the specific type of commercial operation, at a later date.

The board will also give a final OK to amendments to the adult entertainment ordinance.

Hall County enacted a 180-day moratorium on adult entertainment establishments, including strip clubs, adult bookstores and video stores, in May so officials could review and update the ordinance.

County Attorney Bill Blalock said the ordinance, first passed in 1996, needed updating to bring it in line with current case law.

Blalock said the biggest change is delegating authority to handle violations of business licenses to the county administrator, rather than the board, in order to avoid any political conflicts of interest.

Another change would require criminal background checks for all employees of an adult entertainment business.

There are no strip clubs in unincorporated Hall County at this time.

The board meets at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville.

Joshua Silavent

Tumbling Circle railroad crossing

Hall County officials are fighting a Georgia Department of Transportation order to close the Tumbling Circle railroad crossing, though it appears state law may supersede the county’s wishes.

Barricades were erected at the crossing last Friday, and Norfolk Southern Railway plans to place a permanent guardrail at the site this Friday, according to county officials.

But those moves have angered county commissioners, who have voted twice already to keep the crossing open.

Norfolk Southern reportedly petitioned the DOT to close the crossing despite the county wanting to keep it open for public use.

The DOT recently ruled in favor of the railroad company.

“In the interest of public safety ... the Georgia Department of Transportation finds it reasonably necessary to eliminate” the crossing, Michael J. Bolden, the state utilities engineer, wrote in a September letter to the county.

According to the DOT, five fatalities and nine accidents involving collisions between automobiles and trains have occurred at the crossing as of June 2013.

Just last year, a car was hit by an Amtrak train, though the motorist suffered only minor injuries.

And another collision was reported earlier this year.

But county officials said they want to get some clarity on whether those figures are accurate.

“I think they were inflated,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said Monday at a work session. “Our numbers didn’t match theirs.”

Officials said they would review the accident history of the crossing ahead of a Thursday meeting, when the issue will be discussed again.

County Attorney Bill Blalock said the closing of the crossing might be challenged if it can be shown the figures provided by the DOT are inaccurate.

However, state law might force the county to abandon 1,786 feet of right of way along Tumbling Circle and turn the road into a cul-de-sac.

“It’s a matter of state law ... it’s contrary to our desires, but it’s state law,” Blalock said.

Tumbling Circle can be used as a westward cut-through from Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway to Old Oakwood Road, which then leads to Mundy Mill Road to the south and Mountain View Road to the north.

Heading in the opposite direction, Tumbling Circle acts as an access point to exit 17 off Interstate 985.

The DOT has called the crossing one of the most dangerous intersections in the state.

But county commissioners dispute whether the closing is a matter of public safety or, rather, simply in the business interests of Norfolk Southern.

“This is a convenience for the railroad,” Gibbs said. “This is not a convenience for anyone else.”

Gibbs added that closing the crossing would allow Norfolk Southern to increase the speed of its trains in the area.

Railroad spokesman Rick Harris said he would be looking into the county’s objection in the coming days, but offered no further comment. 

County officials also question the DOT’s authority to close a county road.

“I think it’s something inherently wrong when a bureaucrat can close down something that an elected body voted to keep open,” said Commissioner Craig Lutz. “I will not support abandoning it. Frankly, I think we ought to go out there and open the road again.”

Lutz added that he’d like to send marshals out to the crossing to enforce the county’s wishes.

“If we have to close everything down because there’s a wreck, there wouldn’t be an intersection in this county open,” Lutz said.

Gibbs said he has already heard complaints about the closing from local school board officials. 

County officials have voted in the past to keep the crossing open because of its benefit to local motorists.

Commission Chairman Richard Mecum, however, seemed resigned to the prospect the county might be spinning its wheels in opposition to the closing.

“I think the law is against us,” he said.