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Resident raises concerns over filming ordinance affecting churches
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During public comments at its work session Monday, the Hall County Board of Commissioners heard from a Gainesville resident who told commissioners the filming ordinance introduced earlier this month may have unintended consequences for churches.

Douglas Aiken said Lakewood Baptist Church, which he attends, does baptisms on the lake that are filmed by the church and multiple people. Aiken said he thinks the filming ordinance has unintentionally “scooped up” churches.

“I’ve got a real problem with that,” Aiken said. “I think it’s a First Amendment problem.”

The county doesn’t have an ordinance in place to regulate film productions and county officials say the proposal is intended to protect residents and businesses from being “unreasonably impacted.”

Filming crews would be required to notify officials during a pre-application meeting of when and where they plan to film, and approximately how many people would be in attendance during production, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance also would establish fees, such as $500 per day for road closings and $1,500 per day for use of the county courthouse.

Aiken is proposing language be included to safeguard churches from regulations and fees.

“I want to insert that in simple words, religious institutions and their activities are excluded from business licensing under this ordinance,” he said. “Simple.”

Aiken added, somewhat in jest, that if a change is not made, board chairman Richard Higgins would have to explain to Lakewood Baptist pastor Tom Smiley how he’s going to start paying for business licenses.

Aiken told The Times that Higgins is a deacon at Lakewood Baptist.

County Administrator Randy Knighton said he would be meeting with Aiken today to come up with some language that covers religious institutions and nonprofit organizations. Knighton said the ordinance already has an exemption for weddings.

“The ordinance is intended to provide and facilitate a process for film production in Hall County,” Knighton said. “It will help the filming industry better understand how they can conduct business in Hall.”

Aside from Aiken, Knighton also will be discussing the filming ordinance with Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, according to Commissioner Scott Gibbs. The CVB official also would like to see changes in the ordinance.

Earlier this month, Dickson told commissioners that the filming industry generates economic impact for the county, and she’s concerned too many restrictions could scare filming crews away.

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