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Highlights in local news of 2014
Students gather to pray in August at Chestatee High School following a dispute about religion in school that has involved the football coaches.

Training accident seriously injures three firefighters

During a training exercise in July, Hall County firefighters TJ Elliott, Stephen Jackson and Will Griffin suffered back and spinal injuries when the bucket they were standing in atop a firetruck ladder fell 44 feet. A subsequent investigation revealed a history of problems with the truck, including known failures in the cable extensions, though Hall County officials said they were unaware of the issues when they purchased the truck in April. The truck’s manufacturer later reimbursed the county for the purchase price. Fire Chief David Kimbrell was later relieved of command, though he retained his position as the Hall County Emergency Management Agency director.

Lakefront property taxes increase

Homeowners with property on Lake Lanier got quite the sticker shock this year when Hall County targeted them for reassessment. Property taxes went up on about 90 percent of lakefront homes, and more than 5,000 appeals were made. The average increase in assessed home value was 39 percent, or about $104,000, and this equated to a more than $1,000 hike in taxes, on average. However, the appeals process drove down assessments on thousands of lakefront properties by an average of 19.26 percent.

Group sues Chestatee High over prayer in school

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center wrote to Hall County Schools complaining of coaches leading prayers and biblical phrases printed on school pamphlets. The news sparked a firestorm on social media, with many supporting Chestatee. The school system replied with assurances that students’ rights are upheld, but the humanist group filed suit later. The school system has until Jan. 16 to file an answer to the group’s complaint in United States District Court.

Gainesville police chief ousted

After The Times published a story in August revealing infighting among Gainesville police officials and dwindling morale across the department, city leaders conducted interviews with officers and decided Chief Brian Kelly needed to be replaced. Carol Martin was named interim chief in his place, and later was named sole finalist for the position.

Developments stir controversy

Perhaps no issue breeds more consternation than new developments, and as the economy improved in 2014, new commercial and residential proposals came up for review. In February, the Hall County Board of Commissioners approved an apartment complex on Spout Springs Road despite emotional pleas from area residents who feared the development would forever negatively alter the quality of life and character of South Hall. In May, the Gainesville City Council approved the redevelopment of Lanier Plaza on Thompson Bridge Road to make way for a Wal-Mart grocery store. Area residents protested the change at several meetings, objecting to the loss of small businesses, as well as potential environmental impacts of the redevelopment. And in November, City Council approved a 199-lot subdivision off Ahaluna Drive near the shores of Lake Lanier despite initial objections from Hall County and area residents, who primarily objected to the density of the project and potential environmental impacts.


Who can forget the double whammy of snowstorms that hit Hall County and metro Atlanta in January and February, shutting down businesses for days and causing never-before-seen traffic jams that stranded motorists along freeways and back roads? The paralyzing storms caused major political headaches for Gov. Nathan Deal, though he survived them in the long run, winning re-election in November. But the National Weather Service is predicting another wet winter in the South, so button up those coats and stay safe on the roads.

Politics define local school board race

Incumbent Brian Sloan beat upstart challenger Mark Pettitt in a July runoff for the Post 2 Hall County Board of Education seat. Sloan garnered 50.48 percent of the vote to Pettitt’s 49.52 percent. Politics came into play in what is typically an apolitical race. In the weeks leading up to the runoff, the race seemed to center on the issue of school taxes. Pettitt charged that Sloan had violated his pledge not to raise taxes when he voted for the school board budget this year that did not include a full rollback of the property millage rate. But Sloan said he only promised not to raise the millage rate.

Growlers, breweries come to Gainesville

It was a banner year for craft beer lovers across Hall County. The city of Gainesville amended its alcohol ordinance this year to allow for the sale of growlers — draft beer to go served straight from the tap and sealed in glass jars — after Growlers on Main, in Flowery Branch, opened to positive reviews. Tap It Gainesville Growlers then opened inside Pro Outdoor Living on Thompson Bridge Road, while Downtown Drafts opened in the downtown Gainesville square, each to great fanfare. Meanwhile, Left Nut Brewing Co. was given the go-ahead to open in the midtown area of Gainesville at the corner of Maple and Parker streets near Wild Wing Café.