A developer is considering building a five-story apartment complex on the site of the old Whitfield County jail at the corner of Waugh Street and Jones Street, according to Dalton-Whitfield County Joint Development Authority (JDA) Executive Director Carl Campbell.
"There's no agreement yet, but there is definite interest," said Campbell, who said he could not share the developer's name.
"They are basically trying to figure out if they can get enough apartments on the site for it to make financial sense," said Campbell. "I'm not sure that it's going to work. But it definitely won't work without the ability to build higher than what the zoning currently allows."
The Whitfield County Board of Zoning Appeals is set to hold a public hearing Wednesday, April 14, at noon in the county Board of Commissioners' conference room on the fifth floor of the Wells Fargo Building on a variance that would raise the maximum height on the site to 70 feet from 35 feet. Campbell said this would allow the developer to build a five-story building compared to a two-story building under the current height.
"They are trying to get 200 or more units on that site," he said. "It would be a single building."
Campbell said the maximum height for a building in commercial zoning in the city was actually 75 feet before the city and county adopted a unified zoning law six years ago. It was reduced to 35 feet, which was the county's maximum, because at the time the Whitfield County Fire Department did not have ladder trucks to deal with fires at taller structures. The county fire department later used funds from the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) to buy two ladder trucks.
Mayor David Pennington said the Dalton Fire Department has no objection to the variance.
"We don't have any problem with these plans," Pennington said.
Campbell said if the variance is granted, the developer will begin taking soil samples and doing other due diligence to see if the site is appropriate and the project would be financially sound.
The jail was closed 20 years ago when the current jail at 806 Professional Blvd. opened. It was last used as the site of Dalton Municipal Court. The county building inspector’s office ordered the building closed in 2011 because of issues with the electrical system and plumbing.
The 4.5-acre site is owned by Dalton Public Schools, which acquired it in 2009 from the city in exchange for the old post office at 100 Hamilton St., which had been the school system's headquarters. School headquarters moved into City Hall, where they still are. The building on Hamilton Street is now leased to the Carpet and Rug Institute and the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce for their headquarters.
Superintendent Tim Scott said he did not know anything about the project other than a developer is interested in purchasing the site to build apartments. He said the school system has no current plans for the property.