Sumter County BOC approves “Special Exception” and Commissioner Jim Reid expresses concern over road maintenance at BOC Regular Meeting

Published 6:04 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2022

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AMERICUS – The Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) held its monthly regular meeting on Tuesday, October 18 at the Sumter County Courthouse. Board Chairman Mark Waddell was not physically present at the meeting, but did participate by way of Zoom Conference Call.

At the meeting, the BOC reviewed a request made by Ulysses and Lesia Solomon to move their home daycare center from its current location at 199 Roy Circle to 196 Roy Circle. This was discussed at a public hearing at the BOC’s October Work Session on Tuesday, October 11. The property is identified as Parcel 2730A 161 21 and is located within a Single Family Residential District (R-1).

Commissioner Jesse Smith commented that the place where the daycare is currently located doesn’t look like a daycare center and stated that he would like to make a motion to accept the Solomon’s request for a “Special Exception” as far as the current ordinance is concerned. Commissioner Scott Roberson, who acted as the Board Chairman in this meeting due to Waddell’s physical absence, asked if anyone wanted to second the motion and Commissioner Clay Jones agreed to do so.

Before the BOC was about to vote, County Attorney Hayden Hooks stated that what the Solomons have indicated is that they are willing to do a special exception with an annual review. Commissioner Smith then adjusted his motion to make a special exception with an annual review. Commissioner Jones then asked what they meant by “annual review”. Hooks replied that a special exception would mean that the Solomons would have to come before the BOC to reapply for it every year in order to have the daycare center where they want it.

Waddell, who was listening by way of Zoom, stated that there have been special exceptions made before in other situations, but added that he hadn’t heard of this particular special exception. “Unless this has something to do with the state, but I don’t know why the state would have something to do with our ordinances or our zoning,” Waddell said.

Heather Tyler of the Sumter County Planning and Zoning Commission (SCPZC) stated that according to the way the ordinance is written, it says that it “Shall be valid for a period of 12 months from date of approval…shall not be transferrable except upon written approval of the Board of Commissioners and shall be executed within the grace period, or become null and void as subject to procedures for resubmission as established in this section.”

Attorney Hooks stated that they might have to look into the wording of the zoning ordinance more thoroughly to see if this is something that has to be reapplied for every year. Waddell stated that he was fine with approving the special exception, but added that the BOC needs to go back and research it more thoroughly to see why this current stipulation is in the ordinance. “Before we adjust something or take something out, let’s understand why it’s in there,” Waddell said. “I don’t see any problem going ahead and approving it, but I’m like you, Clay. I don’t remember us ever having to go back and reassess something.”

Commissioner Clay Jones expressed that he did not remember having to reassess an ordinance regarding making a special exception to a zoning ordinance.

Commissioner Jim Reid expressed his concern about setting a precedent that if a special exception is made for one person or group, it can be made for others. Hooks replied that there are certain standards that are set in this special exception and that it says that “The proposed use shall be compatible with the development uses on adjacent and nearby property. The proposed use shall not have a substantial adverse impact upon the existing use. The proposed use shall not cause an excessive or burdensome use in existing streets, utilities, facilities and any other relevant factors.” Hooks stated that the SCPZC considered each of those factors when it reached its decision. “Based on their discussion, it seems that they found that those factors were met,” Hooks said.

Commissioner Smith stated that since the Solomons have been operating their daycare center at its current location for 25 years without any problems, why is it a big deal to go ahead and grant them their request. Smith passionately stated that the Solomons have been at the same location all these years and just want to transfer across the street and that nothing will change once they are allowed to move there.

“They did the right thing,” Smith said. “They came to us and why are we sitting here trying to challenge everything to their right to moving their business across the street,” Smith asked.

Waddell stated that the Solomons were “grandfathered in” because they had been there so long. “Any time you make a change, it does throw up that once you make that change and go from one location to another, the grandfathering part goes away,” Waddell said. “I agree with you. I don’t see where, you know, we probably need to go back, but one question I’ve got for Miss Tyler: Are there any other situations where you have to do an annual review that are ongoing now,” Waddell asked Tyler. Tyler replied that the only one she has done since she has been with the SCPZC was the Boutique on Brady Rd. and she added that the business has not reached its 12-month mark yet to re-evaluate it. “They haven’t been there a full year yet under our conditions,” Tyler said.

Waddell reiterated his opinion that he is ok with approving the special exception with an annual review for the Solomons to move their daycare center to 196 Roy Circle, but added that more research needs to be done to examine why the stipulation in the zoning ordinance was put in there. “Maybe that’s something we need to change in the ordinance, or understand why its there,” Waddell said.

Commissioner Reid stated that he thought the SCPZC voted to deny the Solomons’ request, but Hooks told him that the SCPZC doesn’t have the power to approve such requests and that the couple had to come before the BOC to have their request approved or denied.

One member of the SCPZC who was at the meeting stated that he had done some research on what other counties in Georgia are doing regarding this issue and he said that according to what he discovered, these counties didn’t have a problem with having a daycare center on a state highway such as GA Hwy 27, but they did have a problem with having it in a neighborhood where traffic could be an issue. For that reason, he said that other counties have the state highway provision in their ordinances.

Smith responded by saying that for 25 years, the Solomons have operated their daycare center without any problems or complaints and now, just because they want to move it to a house across the street, it’s a big deal.

Eventually, the BOC voted unanimously to approve the special exception with an annual review in the case of the Solomons’ moving their daycare center and they have been approved to move to their desired location at 196 Roy Circle.

In other news from the meeting, Commissioner Jim Reid expressed his concern about road maintenance throughout the county. He stated that he had a complaint from a person whose trailer was damaged by a low-hanging limb to the tune of $2,000.00 and he wanted to know if the county would pay for it. “My question is all this equipment that is getting damaged, is the county liable for it,” Reid asked. County Administrator Rayetta Volley stated that those who have sustained accidents on county roads that they believe were caused by the roads not having been fixed and maintained need to contact County Clerk Latoya McCants so that she can file a claim on it to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) and the ACCG will review everything.

This is not the first time that Commissioner Reid has brought up the situation with road maintenance in the county, but he has said in the past that he is not blaming the work of Jim Littlefield and the Department of Public Works for the problems.

Reid went on to say that low-hanging trees are causing problems for trucks and other vehicles in that they are damaging those vehicles and expressed concern about the company that cuts the grass along certain right-of-ways.

Reid asked if the company is on a multi-year contract, to which Volley replied “yes’.

Reid responded that this company is doing a sloppy job and he added that he has had other contractors contact him wanting to know when the next round of bids will be coming in. “I’m getting complaints about low-hanging limbs. I’m getting complaints about the grass, weeds and trees encroaching on stop signs and people having to pull out to see,” Reid said. He went on to say that people are pulling so far out to see past the branches and low-hanging trees that their vehicle is almost out in the middle of the highway. Reid added that he plans to make a list of the county roads that have these problems and will share it with the BOC at a future meeting.

Volley stated that the company that cuts the grass at these right-of-ways is Joiner Contracting and that the county has signed on with them for one more year.

Volley stated that she will talk with Jim Littlefield about getting a Request For Proposal (RFP) put on the agenda.