City signs off on controversial hotel

Council gives go-ahead on Roberta Green-Garrett's plan

A controversial building project could soon be underway in downtown Dahlonega.

The three-year-long saga between the city council and Roberta Green-Garrett entered a new chapter when a majority of the members approved a consent order which will allow the local business woman to move forward with her plan to replace the Parks and Butler buildings with a chain hotel on the edge of the historic square.

The 4-2 decision was not well received by locals in attendance last Monday night, who voiced their disappointment with council members during the public comments portion of the meeting before the formal vote.

“I would like to express my deep disappointment in each of you for what I understand is about to hap- pen,” said attendee Jeff Gilbert. “I am deeply disappointed that these elected representatives have either caved or failed with lack of courage or lack of strength to represent what the people of this town have clearly stated they want. When you ran for this job, you told us that you were going to represent the interests of this town. You failed.”

Gilbert also mentioned the KKK sign that was hung on the Parks Building in March of last year, stating that Green-Garrett had used “race baiting” to bully the council on its decision to allow her to build the proposed hotel.

“I do know that the people of this city elected seven people up there to protect, defend what Dahlonega is, stands for and to defend the businesses of this town,” said Lamar Bates. “To think that this Holiday Inn is going to attract people. People do not come to a town for a hotel. They come for the buildings, the ambiance, the restaurants and what we stand for. This isn’t what Dahlonega stands for, it’s a shame.”

Local business owner Penny Sharp agreed.

“The history of this town is what makes Dahlonega,” shesaid“AllIcandoisaskto please vote against this consent order.”

Ken Akins echoed that sentiment.

“What I don’t understand is why you made the decision you have made,” he said. “This isn’t good for the future of this town, its young people. Tonight you will pretty much leave a legacy for the future. I don’t feel this is the course you should take. It should not be what you want, this is not what Dahlonega is about.”

COUNCIL MEMBERS RESPOND

Despite both agreeing that a hotel could bene t the downtown square, coun- cilmen Roman Gaddis and Bruce Hoffman were the only two dissenting votes on the issue.

“It specifically violates, I think, the commercial construction guidelines and the Historic Preservation guidelines,” said Gaddis. “We have guidelines in place, I think that we should follow them.”

Hoffman agreed that the downtown area would benefit from a new hotel on the square, but felt that the proposed hotel design was not appropriate at the location.

“As I have mentioned before, I am for a hotel at that location,” said Hoffman. “But, I don’t agree with a large franchise hotel in that location. We have a small historic district. Off the square, I don’t mind a franchise hotel. That’s why I am not agreeing with this consent order.”

The remaining council members, Helen Hardman, Mitch Ridley, Ron Larson and JoAnne Taylor, did not explain the reasoning behind their votes, so The Nugget polled each of them the following day via email.

Ridley made the initial motion to approve with Taylor seconding the motion before the motion was approved by a vote of 4-2.

“I look at the property from a tourist point of view,” said Hardman. “Each year the State of Georgia records the amount of visitor expenditures in each county in Georgia. In our N.E. region of 17 counties, 10 years ago Lumpkin County was 4th highest in the region. Today it has fallen to 10th highest. We need tourists help to pay the SPLOST Tax each year. Any tourist who walks by the dilapidated Parks building wonders why a city would let a building become such an eyesore. As long as we do nothing, it becomes more of an eyesore.”

Ridley agreed.

“With the consent agreement in place I believe that Dahlonega will benefit from the investment in the downtown,” said Ridley. “This will grow our business in the downtown. With more people staying downtown. Dahlonega from the beginning has been forward thinking.”

Larson said he had multiple aspects in mind when deciding his vote.

“Our focus as elected officials is to continue to enhance the value of Dahlonega as a tourist destination while also working to maintain our town as a quiet and safe community for those of us who live and work here,” said Larson. “...Regarding the pros and cons of moving forward with a hotel near the Historic Square, we heard from citizens on both sides—restore, preserve versus move on and clean up the block that has been vacant now for several years, clearly an eyesore within our otherwise beauti- ful downtown. ... I am hopeful the settlement of the lawsuit led by Mrs. Green-Garret against the City will now be behind us and the mediation agreement negotiated between the parties will lead to the construction of a beautiful hotel on this block that will accommodate the growing number of tourists visiting Dahlonega and our many wineries, that now comprise the Dahlonega Plateau."

Taylor agreed.

“This has been a very contentious issue in our com- munity for over three years,” said Taylor. “The majority of constituents that I heard from favored mediation, which would have been directed by the court at some point in the future 12-18 months. I valued the respectful input from many citizens who held a different point of view, which made this decision very difficult. We now have the opportunity to work on design, etc., which would not be possible while litigation continued. The city is currently working in several areas on historic preservation projects which I fully support.”

GOING FORWARD

Now, mayor Sam Norton will work closely with Green-Garrett and her architect to negotiate a hotel design that will encompass the conditions laid out by the consent order which stipulates, among other things, that the building will be limited to a maximum of 75 rooms, include an exercise room, a lobby, a business office area and an outdoor swimming pool. The hotel is not supposed to exceed 36.2 feet in height as laid out by city ordinances. And per the Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) to demolish the Parks Building, no demolition can take place until a hotel design is approved by the mayor and the council.

Green-Garrett said she thinks the city has made the right decision.

"I appreciate the decision made by the council. I think they made the right decision, not just for me but for the city as a whole,” she said when contacted by The Nugget. “This will be a big plus for the downtown businesses. The council is business-oriented and this decision is a move towards helping downtown business owners."

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(Some of the statements by city council members were edited for length in the above article. Their entire written responses have been included below.)

 

JOANNE TAYLOR:

This has been a very contentious issue in our community for over three years.  The majority of constituents that I heard from favored mediation, which would have been directed by the court at some point in the future 12-18 months. I valued the respectful input from many citizens who held a different point of view, which made this decision very difficult. 

We now have the opportunity to work on design, etc., which would not be possible while litigation continued. The city is currently working in several areas on historic preservation projects which I fully support. 

 

RON LARSON:

Our focus as elected officials is to continue to enhance the value of Dahlonega as a tourist destination while also working to maintain our town as a quiet and safe community for those of us who live and work here. The recent awards and honors that have been given to us, in partnership with our Chamber and Visitors and Convention Bureau, are an example of our focus on keeping Dahlonega one of the best little towns in America!

Balancing these issues is a challenge. Regarding the pros and cons of moving forward with a hotel near the Historic Square, we heard from citizens on both sides - restore, preserve vs. move on and clean up the block that has been vacant now for several years, clearly an eyesore within our otherwise beautiful downtown (now that the Streetscapes improvements are mostly behind us).

I would also add that despite comments to the contrary, we work closely with the Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) and value the service this Committee provides to us and our citizens. While we all hoped preservation of structures would have been a possibility, it was not financially viable to consider restoration. We need to look to strengthening our ordinances or other policies to encourage owners of properties that would seem to have historic interest to maintain their property accordingly.

I am hopeful the settlement of the lawsuit filed by Mrs. Green-Garret against the City will now be behind us and the mediation agreement negotiated between the parties will lead to the construction of a beautiful hotel on this block that will accommodate the growing number of tourists visiting Dahlonega and our many wineries, that now comprise the "Dahlonega Plateau." 

I would encourage our citizens to contact your City Council and talk with us when you have an area of concern. There is some accurate information that circulates on Social Media (Facebook), but also a lot of misinformation and bad rumors. We are here to serve and welcome feedback and open communication. 

 

MITCH RIDLEY:

With the consent agreement in place I believe that Dahlonega will benefit from the investment in the downtown. This will grow our business in the downtown. With more people staying downtown. Dahlonega from the beginning has been forward thinking. Look back at North Georgia Agricultural College that from it’s humble start now one of the leading University in the state and nation. I remember meeting this guy 30 yrs ago or more once and I asked him what you doing up here? He just had brought some property and was starting a vineyard. Now look we’re the wine tastings capital of Georgia and now just recently got named AVA  designation The Dahlonega Plateau a federal recognition. And as that’s grown so has the wedding venues. It’s that forward thinking planning for future and remembering our heritage that makes Dahlonega a thriving place to work and live.

 

HELEN HARDMAN:

I look at the property from a tourist point of view.  Each year the State of Georgia records the amount of visitor expenditures in each county in Georgia. In our N.E. region of 17 counties, 10 years ago Lumpkin County was 4th highest in the region. Today it has fallen to 10th highest. We need tourists help to pay the SPLOST Tax each year.

Any tourist who walks by the dilapidated Parks building wonders why a city would let a building become such an eyesore. As long as we do nothing, it becomes more of an eyesore.  The stipulations in the Court Order take precedent over the number of rooms. Those stipulations include a minimum square footage of each room, with a percentage of rooms which have to be suites, double queen size. Also, it has to have a breakfast room, a meeting room, swimming pool, and a parking space for each room. This will probably reduce the number of rooms, which will change the design some what.  I’m hoping the final design will be one that we like. Also, from the Square, we can only see the side of the building and a portion of the front, not the whole building. The Chamber’s building is high and it will be behind that.

All of these reasons is why I chose to go ahead with this project.

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The Dahlonega Nugget

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