Official Statement - City of Dahlonega - Updated March 1, 2017

Official Statement – City of Dahlonega

February 20, 2017

Updated – March 1, 2017

For Immediate Release Contact: City Manager Bill Schmid

The information below is posted in the public interest and to preserve valuable resources and staff time.

RE: Clarifications to recent news reports

Background:

The City of Dahlonega is a welcoming community for people of diverse backgrounds, interests, goals and ideals. Our award-winning small town of meaningful rich history is home to over 5,000 residents and warmly receives several hundred thousand visitors a year, including hundreds of domestic and international guests daily. Our reputation and brand have been built over decades by the hard work of thousands of individuals. At no time have we been home to an active group of known white supremacists.

We are also privileged to be one of the smallest cities in the country to host a public university offering advanced degrees and fostering a wide range of ideas. The five campus University of North Georgia founded in 1873 is based here and serves over 18,000 students system wide.

Choices of expression by one or two people are not representative of our community as a whole, and recent episodes are not indicative of a change in our character or philosophy. Whatever the motives, we do not understand or support statements or actions suggestive of prejudice or fabrications of alternate history.

While we will appropriately accommodate the expression of free speech within our ordinances we are hopeful that those who wish to tarnish our community's reputation will ultimately rethink their tactics.

Prior and Current Reviews by the City for Roberta Green-Garrett Hotel:

Payne-Parks Building - An application of August 4, 2015, for demolition of the Payne-Parks building was followed by a long public involvement period and holiday season. It was approved by the Dahlonega City Council with three conditions February 1, 2016, on appeal from a denial by the City's Historic Preservation Commission. Hotel plans for roughly 30 rooms and required parking were incomplete and no specific redevelopment plan was approved. The applicant committed to further HPC review and approval before actual demolition was to occur.

Butler Building - The City met with the Garretts in April 2016 to discuss their interest in a larger project to roughly double the size of the building to 75 rooms. The Garretts must next obtain approval of the replacement building and obtain authority to demolish the Butler building also. Despite much informal discussion, a complete application for a Certificate of Appropriateness (required for projects in the City's B-3 and CBD zoning districts) has not yet been received. Ms. Green-Garrett requested six variances from city ordinances to prepare the plans for the replacement buildings. Some of those were granted and some were denied. November 7, 2016, the City Council, acting in their capacity as the Board of Zoning Appeals, denied the Garretts' request to reduce required parking space sizes below City minimums and denied proposed intrusion of two floors leasable enclosed space over public right of way. Four other variances presented to the Planning Commission were withdrawn before the BZA review.

Staff met with the Garrett's attorney and architect in December 2016 and has confirmed meeting notes and required submittal documents for the way ahead. If plans are not changed, the building concept last seen (two levels of deck parking and lobby with two levels of guest rooms) would exceed height limits for the district and the applicant was advised a Conditional Use permit will be required.

February 16th an illegal sign was observed and removed from the building. Later that day the City was informally advised a filing of a complete application for both the approval of the replacement building and the demolition of the Butler building was soon to be made for the hotel. No complete application for demolition of the Butler building and replacement with a hotel has yet been made.

City Sign Permitting Process:

If a sign application does not meet City regulations, it will not be permitted and should not be erected. If a non-permitted sign is erected, it will be taken down. An application for the illegal sign banner taken down was filed but then withdrawn by Barbara Bridges on behalf of Mrs. Green-Garrett. Then an application for a painted wooden sign with appearance similar to the banner was received February 22, 2017, also filed by Barbara Bridges on behalf of Mrs. Green-Garrett. However, that sign permit application was withdrawn on Friday, February 25, 2017, by a UNG student acting on behalf of Mrs. Green-Garrett.

The City of Dahlonega appreciates the concerns that were expressed by students, residents and businesses regarding the sign hung on the Butler Building last week. We are heartened by the local support that has arisen which only serves to confirm that our City is welcoming and tolerant of people from various backgrounds and diverse cultures. Dahlonega's reputation and economic health are significant priorities for the Mayor and Council and we are hopeful that this and any future issue between local government and individual business owners can be worked out in a manner more befitting of our community.

The City continues to be committed to following its ordinances and treating each application filed with the City for signage and/or development of property with the same attention. The integrity of the development process requires that the City uniformly apply its ordinances as it will do in this and any other matter.

Mayor McCullough and the Council, as well as staff, are limited as to comments they can make regarding this process. Please be assured that we are concerned and actively engaged. Until this matter is completely settled, we will periodically update information here as circumstances warrant. Because of the dynamic nature of the matter, posts will always be after the fact and cannot be predictive of actions City staff or the Council might be considering or intend to take.