Work begins on new Wrens Rabun Park
By Parish Howard
After several seasons of playing on borrowed baseball, soccer and football fields, construction has begun on phase one of Rabun Park, Wrens's new recreation facility, and crews have 120 days to complete their work.
Laura Raley, the city's new Recreation Director, says she is excited about the progress she is seeing and says she expects two baseball fields and a large multipurpose field, to be used for both soccer and football, to be ready for area youth by the fall.
"I want to have some sort of festival and celebration before that," Raley said last week. "We've been waiting a long time for these fields and it's great to see everything coming together."
Changes and A New Position
Raley joined the city Nov. 30. At the time, her five-year-old son, Brinson, was playing soccer, and with the unexpected opening in the city's recreation director position, she says she saw a need for direction.
Over the past five years there have been six turnovers in the position.
"They needed someone local," Raley said. "They needed someone with ties to this community who knew where they were coming from and what Wrens is about."
So far, Raley said, she has enjoyed the position and is getting really excited about the progress on the city's new Rabun Park annex.
"They've begun the rough grading," she said, "so now they have 120 days to complete the fields, but they believe it could be done even sooner."
This first phase involves completion of two baseball fields and a large multi-purpose field to be used for soccer and football. Other, future phases will begin when money from last year's approved Special Local Option Sales Tax referendum begins coming through. These other additions will include a centralized score-tower above a restroom and concession stand. Other additions to the park will include a gym and indoor facility with smaller rooms for karate or dance classes, office space as well as out door tennis courts.
The city is currently looking into the possibility of rebuilding basketball courts in town in smaller pocket parks that will more readily be available to the community. Raley said that the Rabun Park Complex will be locked when not being used and the basketball courts, being located in the city, will be open all the time and within easy walking distance of most city residences.
In late January, crews of city employees cut an 80 ft-wide curving path through tall rows of planted pines from the heart of what will become Rabun Park to Hwy. 17 for the park's main entrance.
The last week of January, construction crews began work on the fields.
City officials are excited about having Raley join the city's program. She recently returned from a week-long intense course on recreation department management that dealt with a number of issues, from lawn and turf care, pesticide safety, weed management and irrigation to safe play topics.
"The fit is just great," Donna Scott Johnson said. "She is really jumping into the middle of everything and learning all about the recreation department. Her eagerness to go to this class and learn so much about the details of field maintenance and the rec. complex is great."
She invites the community to drive by and see the progress being completed on park.
This week the city began advertising for a second full-time recreation position, an assistant director Raley believes will help the growing program dramatically. She believes that the amount of work involved and the hours required of the position may have contributed to the turnover the city has seen over the last few years.
"There is an awful lot of work involved right now with the planning of the work on the park," Raley said. "And it's tough for the director to get to all of the games and events."
Currently her position also involves scheduling, arranging rosters, finding and training coaches and quite a number of other duties such as preparing grant proposals and reports.
According to the city's advertisement, the assistant recreation director will assist with administrative duties, with the development of a year-round program of recreation and with maintenance of facilities.
Applicants should have an equivalent or an associate's degree in a course of study relating to recreation. One to three years of field maintenance experience is preferred. For more information on this position see the city's ad in our classified section of this week's edition.
With the changes in the department come an additional focus on safety.
"We've decided to require all coaches to be CPR and first aid certified," Raley said. "And we are currently working on that."
In addition, children participating in city recreation programs will also need to take part in a new required insurance policy.
"The city requires the children to be insured," Raley said. "It only costs $6 and lasts the entire year no matter how many recreation activities the child takes part in and it covers 100 percent of injuries as a primary or secondary insurance."
She said the coverage also covers any injury sustained by a child on their way to or from a city-sanctioned recreation event, whether they are on the city's rec. bus or in a private vehicle.
"The policy automatically covers all coaches, managers and affiliated personnel free of charge," she added. "There's no deductible and it looks like a great policy."
Governor to visit Louisville
• March 10 visit will include awarding of OneGeorgia grants
By Ben Roberts
The city of Louisville will play host to some important state officials next month.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue will be in Louisville on Friday, March 10, for the next regularly scheduled meeting of the OneGeorgia Authority Board at the Jefferson County Armory at 9 a.m.
The OneGeorgia Authority utilizes a third of the state's tobacco settlement to assist the most economically challenged areas and is targeted toward rural communities.
In a statement about the March meeting, Nancy Cobb, Executive Director of OneGeorgia, explained she will update the board on grant and loan projects and ask for votes to fund these awards.
Representatives from a number of Georgia communities as well as other state agencies and state elected officials are expected to attend as well.
Louisville City Administrator, Don Rhodes said he was pleased the city had been chosen by Perdue himself.
"We're honored the Governor selected Louisville; we're glad to have him," he said.
Perdue is also expected to share his vision with the board for bridging the digital divide in rural Georgia. The Governor's State of the State Address included a recommendation to earmark $5 million of tobacco settlement funds to develop a broadband funding program through the OneGeorgia Authority. The program, which is expected to be rolled out later this year, would provide grants and loans to rural communities to fund innovative broadband solutions.
A spokesperson for the Governor's office said the board meetings are typically held in locations that have previously been awarded OneGeorgia grants and Louisville is no exception.
In January of last year, the city was awarded a OneGeorgia Equity grant of $499,954 to aid in the construction of a 3,612 square-foot terminal building at the Louisville Regional Airport.
State officials hope the improvements made possible by the grant will have a positive impact on economic development efforts in the area, particularly with the Louisville Airport Industrial Park located adjacent to the airport.
The Governor is expected to fly into the Louisville Airport Friday morning before the meeting.
The Development Authority of Jefferson County received a $500,000 OneGeorgia EDGE grant in December of 2002. Those funds were used to secure land for a new building as well as engineering and site preparation for Gilt Microtron, Inc.
According to Cobb, the OneGeorgia Authority has funded 250 projects totaling over $139 million since its creation in October 2000.
Members of the OneGeorgia Authority Board include Gov. Perdue, Chairman; Lt. Governor Mark Taylor, Vice-chairman; Shelley Nickel, Director of the Office of Planning and Budget; Mike Beatty, Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs; Craig Lesser, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development; and Bart Graham, Commissioner of the Department of Revenue.
Residents oppose Wrens historic district designation
• City says it wants to preserve the city's older homes and character; Property owners reluctant to give up their rights
By Parish Howard
Around 50 Wrens property owners told the city's Historic Preservation Commission Monday in no uncertain terms that they were either skeptical of its proposed Historic District Designation or flat out opposed to it.
The commission held the open meeting Monday to present the proposed district which members say is designed to protect the character of Wrens and preserve its historic properties while encouraging better design, improving property values and possibly enhancing business recruitment.
The majority of property owners who addressed the commission said they saw the district and the requirements and provisions it would put in place as government infringement on their property rights.
The commission introduced the district, which includes much of the U.S. Highway One corridor through town, the downtown area and several blocks of residential neighborhoods near these corridors. In all, the proposed district includes nearly 200 properties, including commercial buildings, residences and some empty lots within these neighborhoods.
"Rural America is disappearing at record paces," Commission Chair Judy Bostic told those gathered. "It's disappearing. It's slipping away."
The district, she said in an earlier interview, is a part of the commission's attempts to preserve the character of the city, "to preserve what buildings we have left so that they aren't lost to progress."
Under the proposed ordinance that would create the district, anyone wishing to make changes requiring a building permit to a piece of property in the district would first have to apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) from the commission before that permit could be granted.
According to Anne Floyd, a regional historic preservation planner with the CSRA RDC, some changes, depending on their complexity, could be approved without the commission's review, while others may take 15 to 30 days to review.
Bostic told those gathered that she wished there had been a district in place when she had renovated her downtown business to tell her that sandblasting brick can compromise the structure and cause added costs.
The community's response was varied, filled with questions for more information on what exactly the commission would require and why the city needs a historic district at all.
A number of residents asked for a set of guidelines that would say exactly what the commission expected of buildings in the district to make it clear what sort of changes would or would not be approved.
Most everyone said they would have a hard time supporting a district like this without more information about these design specifications.
The commission responded that it is currently considering using the Secretary of the Interior's Guidelines as a rough template, but that they plan to tailor the design specifics to the city's existing buildings over time.
Wayne Davis, the city's building inspector, spoke up and told the commission that he is "totally against it" and feels that decisions concerning historic preservation should be "left up to the property owners."
Councilman Lester Hadden asked the commission if he wished to put a metal building in the district would it be deemed acceptable. They responded that it possibly would be, depending where it was proposed, if there were already metal buildings in that area and depending on what sort of façade he planned for it.
Renee Weeks, a resident living in the district, asked for "a tangible list of measurable benefits to the community" that might convince her to give up her rights as a property owner to decide what changes she may want to make to her properties.
"I don't want ifs or maybes," Weeks said. "This comes down to the government telling us what we can or can't do with our property and I want to know what benefits we will see, specific to our community, if we give up these rights."
Other citizens said they were concerned about the subjectivity of what the commission would consider acceptable and what would keep those decisions "fair and straight."
Jeff Norton, an owner of a downtown commercial building, told the commission that he felt any renovation work on buildings should be left between the property owner and his or her contractor, as some people may not be able to afford the changes the commission recommends.
Wrens business owner Walter Prescott told the commission that it was a city zoning ordinance that has kept him from renovating the McCollum House for the last 28 years, one of the properties the commission considers most worthy of attempted preservation.
"Today it's an eyesore and as soon as I can get the bees out of it we are making arrangements to have it taken down," Prescott said. "It's my property, I paid for it and I don't intend to ask any of you what I can do with it."
Downtown business owner Peggy Hadden told the commission that she also disagreed with the proposed district.
"We need to live in the present and look toward the future," she said. "I don't care about what happened in the past."
Bruce Dye told the commission that he was concerned about what sort of potential buyer would be interested in a property with these sorts of restrictions on it.
Dr. Christine Wallace, a local pastor, said that she was concerned about wording in the ordinance that suggested that the commission could "punish" property owners who failed to maintain properties in the district within the commission's timeline.
Tuesday the commission held a called meeting to regroup and discuss the statements they received the day before.
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In light of the overwhelming response, commission member Delores Prescott suggested the board not present the proposed ordinance to the city's council and instead take it under further review.
"The public needs more information that we were not able to give them yesterday," she said. "We need to restructure."
The commission agreed that it needed to begin putting together the proposed design guidelines for the public so that it would have a better idea of what they were presenting.
Member Heather Mahaffey suggested the commission look into possibly just including buildings within the proposed district that already have historic value.
Floyd said that the commission could do that but advised against it, claiming that the other area's lots and buildings could have a significant impact on the town's character.
She used an example of a Madison, Ga., Hardee's that moved into town where city residents were widely opposed to it using its traditional orange roof. Instead, the company designed a Hardee's with design elements that did not clash with the rest of the city's historic district, she said.
Local resident Jim Gay, who had addressed the commission on Monday, spoke again on Tuesday.
"I've been thinking a lot about this since yesterday," he said. "I don't believe that anyone in Wrens is against historic preservation. If done the right way, this thing could be a good thing for the city of Wrens. If you could help people find money to preserve their property, grants and things, then that would be different."
The commission decided to continue to meet on its regular schedule but to hold additional public information meetings to hopefully better explain its intentions.
The commission assured those gathered that this first public hearing was an attempt to get the public's input and that before the district could be put into place it would have to go before the city council on two separate occasions.
"This ordinance has not been passed," Mahaffey told those who attended the Tuesday meeting. "This is all the middle of it. It is not at all finished. We definitely want your input in it."