Sugar Hill lifts moratorium on downtown development

SUGAR HILL - Sugar Hill is ready to build a downtown from scratch along West Broad Street and Alton Tucker Boulevard.

City officials approved design standards for the downtown area and lifted the 13-month construction moratorium in Monday's council meeting.

Sugar Hill's Downtown Development Authority has submitted a master plan for approval that shows a walker-friendly downtown with 10-to-15-foot-wide sidewalks, and a pedestrian tunnel under Ga. Highway 20, linking homes to small businesses, restaurants, municipal buildings and the town square.

Right now, there is little to designate a downtown area, except for City Hall, the Community Center, a recently completed shopping center housing one business and the Town Green, built on the spot where First Baptist Church burned in 2001.

In the future, all utility wires will be run underground. Any new construction along Alton Tucker Boulevard and West Broad Street must be two stories, or at least 25 feet tall, constructed of brick or stacked stone, with a copper-colored, enamel roof and a 1930s-type facade of which at least 35 percent is windows. New single-family homes must have rear or side-entry garages. Greenspace will make up at least 10 percent of the downtown.

That Sugar Hill grew up without a downtown can be attributed to location and timing. The city was chartered in the early 20th century, about the same time that cars came into fashion. Serving somewhat as a bedroom community for Buford, most of Sugar Hill's residents drove to Buford to shop, dine and work.

Millage rate set

Mayor Gary Pirkle broke a tie vote in favor of keeping Sugar Hill's millage rate at 3.8 mills. This increases property tax revenues by 0.26 percent, bringing an additional $64,000 into the city's coffers. Councilmen Marc Cohen and Ron Johnson voted against adopting the 3.8 millage rate.

"I am in favor of lowering taxes," Johnson. "We have no debt, the gas department continues to grow, we just got approved for $8.4 million in SPLOST money over the next four years. Let's give some of it back to the citizens."

Pirkle and City Manager Bob Hail outlined the strides made by the growing city using tax dollars. Sugar Hill has hired two additional employees, acquired 80 hours per week of police presence, added a recreation department, improved E. E. Robinson Park and resurfaced 10 percent of the city's streets each year.

"We have decreased the millage rate two times in eight years," Pirkle said. "The very ones who voted against it are the ones who can't manage their own budgets. Both Cohen and Johnson exceeded their training budgets last year."

In 2004, Cohen exceeded his $3,000 training budget by $1,146 and Johnson by $431. However, that excess was spent before a budget had been set.

"Originally, there was no spending limit on classes sponsored by GMA (Georgia Municipal Commission) or ARC (Atlanta Regional Commission)," said Cohen, whose transcript shows classes in municipal finance, public safety and leadership training, among others. "I proposed setting a training budget, and it was approved in June. By then, I had overspent the budget, before we had a budget. Being a newly elected official, I wanted to give the people the most value out of my time."

Johnson, who recently announced his campaign for mayor, said that, if elected, he would propose that council members' pay be based on class attendance.

Council members now receive a quarterly accounting of their spending from City Clerk Jane Whittington.

Sugar Hill annexes 23.5 acres for 200 homes

Sugar Hill added 23.5 acres to its city limits and rezoned 41 adjoining acres to planned residential district from general business and manufacturing to allow for construction of a 200-home community named The Villages at Sugar Hill.

The acreage stretches from Ga. 20 to Sycamore Road. Plans show a swim/tennis/cabana community with two entrances, a number of landscaped parks and several traffic roundabouts and cul-de-sacs. The topography is naturally hilly with a stream running through the property, culminating in a waterfall.

Fred Skiba, representative for Ga. 20 Ventures, promised walking trails will be constructed to the waterfall and where else is feasible. All houses will be constructed of at least three-sides-brick will stand three per acre, costing about $350,000.