By Bree Collar, Sentinel Staff Writer —
Changes and growth are taking place in the City of Blue Ridge but there is only so much room for development to take place.
City Council member Rhonda Thomas Haight told the Kiwanis Club of Blue Ridge Feb. 10 a lot of things are going on in the city. In a study performed eight years ago by the University of Georgia, a plan was put in place to distinguish the areas for growth. According to Haight, there is only so much space and she said everything is almost built out except the industrial deemed areas at the Pack Property and the area near the Fannin County Co-Op. “We have designated areas downtown and it can only go so far,” she said.
Development related to the downtown business district spans from the Black Sheep Restaurant to around the Co-Op. Expanding north is where the city predicts further changes. “Residential areas–we want that to stay the same,” Haight said.
When asked about maximum capacity and limits on building heights, Haight said zoning and building regulations in place are not by story but by height.
“So like with the new hotel (Hampton Inn), it ended up being five stories–which in my opinion was too much. I’d like to see us change our regulations which have been in place,” she said.
Set to open early in 2021 is the 105-room Hampton Inn that will provide private parking on premises according to city zoning regulations, and not at the city’s expense, Haight said.
Growth could go further for Blue Ridge with recently approved expanded road annexations down Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 515 to Forge Mill.
Haight said the Council’s recommendation would go before the Georgia General Assembly to change the city charter and bring in additional tax dollars. Businesses like Bill Holt Ford, Mercier Orchards, convenience stores and restaurants could annex to expand the city’s service area.
New police officers have been hired and current ones given pay raises in support of the additional coverage area. City services could now benefit these businesses that are outside the current city limits and allow for pouring licenses.
When asked about water and sewer capacity with increased development, Haight responded that sewer is only at 35 percent capacity and water is the same. Sewer concerns are not related to the plant but more in the downtown areas where older businesses have aging lines that face collapsing.
When streets are paved and projects like the final phase four Streetscape take place, new sewer and water lines are installed where needed. New businesses are required to pay for and install their own sewer and water lines as well as meet city and state regulations.
Once phase four Streetscape is complete, it is the last planned project for the city downtown. It was on task to be completed by end of February but rain and bad weather could delay finishing into March.
Parking concerns are on the minds of both City Council and the new Downtown Development Authority (DDA). In operation for a year now, the DDA has access to borrowing money when the city can’t. This would actually help with parking, Haight said. The Parking Committee, chaired by Brandon Loften, is working with the city to identify parking areas to help guide visitors and employees to various locations being developed.
A paid parking garage and free parking is set to be developed around City Hall, a future parking area near Hampton Square off Ada Street, free employee parking on East First Street provided by the First Baptist Church of Blue Ridge, as well as additional parking areas are being considered.
Whether you have mixed feelings about the growth of downtown Blue Ridge, or you identify with the tax benefits coming to the community, Haight said the Council listens to residents needs and what they are saying. Future endeavors include development of the Farmers Market with the prospect of hiring an event coordinator within the next year.
“It’s an asset we’re not utilizing and hopefully we will see this in the next year,” Haight said.
The Kiwanis Club of Blue Ridge meets every Wednesday at noon at the Circle J Restaurant.