Developer gets split decisions from council on rezoning requests

Dalton developer Bryan Spence couldn't hide his disappointment as he watched the City Council approve only one of three rezoning requests he had made Monday night.

The requests by Spence and the owners of properties he had optioned had been tabled by the council in 4-0 votes in July and August.

Spence wants to build single-family homes at properties on Chattanooga Avenue, Conway Street and Lance Street. To do that, he asked that the City Council change the zoning of the Chattanooga Avenue property to medium-density residential from heavy manufacturing, the Conway Street property to rural residential from light manufacturing and the Lance Street property to rural residential from high-density residential.

All of the rezoning requests were recommended for approval by the Dalton-Whitfield Planning Commission.

Council members voted Monday 4-0 to approve the Conway Street request.

Council member Gary Crews made a motion to approve the requested rezoning for Chattanooga Avenue but no council member offered a second.

City Administrator Jason Parker said that the original staff analysis by the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission recommended low-density residential zoning, not the medium-density residential zoning requested by Spence, saying the former is a closer match with the county's Comprehensive Plan and Future Development Map.

Spence said the larger lot sizes required in low-density zoning would cut the number of houses he could build by more than half, making the project economically unviable.

Crews then motioned to approve rezoning the property to low-density residential, and that motion passed 4-0.

Council member Annalee Harlan said the recommendation of the planning staff played a large role in her vote.

"They are the experts," she said. "The Planning Commission rarely disagrees with the staff analysis, so when they do, we have to look very carefully and weigh the different recommendations."

Spence withdrew an offer of right-of-way donation to an alley adjacent to the Chattanooga Avenue property. The Planning Commission had made its recommendation to approve the rezoning to medium-density residential contingent on the donation of the right-of-way so vehicles could exit the planned houses along the alley rather than directly onto Chattanooga Avenue.

The council voted 4-0 to accept the right-of-way to the alley anyway after City Attorney Gandi Vaughn explained that the agreement would not be valid unless the property owner signed it and after Assistant Public Works Director Andrew Parker said that department would still want vehicles to enter and exit houses by the alley if it is developed as low-density residential.

Finally, Crews made a motion to rezone the Lance Street property to rural residential from high-density residential. That motion died for lack of a second.

Council member Denise Wood said she had concerns about the "density of the development, the impact on traffic and the means of egress (to the property)."

She acknowledged that the current zoning would allow Spence to build at a higher density than the zoning he requested.

"He could build condos if he wanted, and we can't stop him," she said. "The difference is that he wouldn't be installing individual driveways."

"I guess they don't want houses for low-income families," Spence said of the council members' decisions.

• Council members voted 3-1 to endorse Dalton Utilities' plan to issue up to $100 million in bonds to finance scheduled maintenance and improvement of its electrical generation, transmission and distribution systems.

Dalton Utilities CEO Tom Bundros told council members the utility plans to issue bonds next year if the legislature approves a law that would allow Dalton Utilities to borrow money for electric assets without a voter referendum, just as it does for water, wastewater and natural gas. The state House of Representatives narrowly defeated that bill earlier this year.

Bundros said the council's vote does not commit the utility to issuing bonds. Any bond package will still have to be approved by the utility's board, by the City Council and by a Superior Court judge.

Council member Tyree Goodlett cast the dissenting vote, saying he opposes taking away citizens' right to vote on any bond package.

Council members also voted 4-0 to:

• Say they support a $250,000 loan from the state Department of Community Affairs for The Carpentry, a 31-room hotel being built by businessman Kasey Carpenter at the corner of the 200 block of West Cuyler Street in downtown Dalton.

Downtown Dalton Development Authority Interim Director George Woodward said Carpenter will also be receiving a $250,000 loan from the Georgia Cities Foundation. According to its website, the Georgia Cities Foundation was "established in 1999 by the Georgia Municipal Association as a 501(c)(3) organization." Its mission is "to assist cities in their community development efforts to revitalize and enhance underserved downtown areas, by serving as a partner and facilitator in funding capital projects, and by providing training and technical assistance."

"These loans are given to developers who take unused or underused buildings and develop them in ways that can make downtown more vibrant," Woodward said.

Woodward said no local tax dollars will go into the loans.

• Approve an agreement with the Chattanooga Red Wolves soccer team for the city Parks and Recreation Department to become an official affiliate of the team. The department will receive $2,000 a year in 2019 and 2020 for its youth soccer program. The Red Wolves will also provide player and coach clinics for the youth soccer program.

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