Commission mulls new architectural standards

WINDER - New home size requirements in Barrow County might jump to a minimum of 1,800 square feet if county commissioners approve new architectural standards.

The proposed increase could price retirees and the average wage earner out of the county's housing market, developers and real estate professionals told commissioners.

County commissioners got public input in Tuesday's work session regarding raising the county's architectural standards and abolishing the 50 sewer tap per year limit currently placed on each builder.

Barrow County has remained a haven of affordable housing. The county places few restrictions on building materials, landscaping or architectural details, such as roof overhangs. Minimum square footage on new homes are 1,600 for a one-story and 1,850 for a two-story home.

Until 2005, builders could construct homes as small as 1,400 square feet. Some are still on the market, said Scott Hang, Barrow County Builders Association chairman, keeping their owners' mortgage, heating and repair costs under control.

Developers and real estate personnel told commissioners that some people prefer a smaller home.

"You commissioners think that when you make a decision all you affect are developers, builders and the out-of-county buyer," said Terry Dunahoo, a local developer. "But we sell to county people, too. Young and old folks don't need to be pressed harder to heat and cool homes they can't afford to begin with."

Commissioner Roger Wehunt agreed.

"Everybody don't need 1,800 square feet," Wehunt said.

County Commission Chairman Doug Garrison defended the proposed changes.

"We want a better quality home and life for our people," he said.

County commissioners will consider adopting the architectural standards in Tuesday's 7 p.m. county commission meeting.

Sewer tap restrictions

Builders in attendance were nearly united in their desire to see annual sewer tap limitations abolished. Each builder now may tap 50 new houses per year onto the county's sewer lines. Builders also pay a one-time $4,500 sewer tap fee, which will remain in place.

Developers will do whatever it takes to build, Dunahoo told commissioners.

"A 200-lot subdivision could take eight years (to build out under current sewer tap restrictions) and we can't find financing for it," Dunahoo said. "If we have to go out on septic or annex into towns, we will go where it is not restricted."

Hang brought up a more practical thought.

"Sewer taps pay for the new sewer construction and wastewater treatment." he said. "If the sewer is underutilized, the taxpayers are burdened."

Barrow County is in the midst of a 20-year, $185 million master plan to run sewer throughout the county. The current five-year phase calls for spending $40 million to upgrade the Tanners Bridge Plant to 5 million gallons per day as well as run sewer up Ga. Highway 211 and to the Northeast Georgia Regional Airport. The $6.6 million Barber Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant in Statham, paid for by bond issue, should open any day.

County commissioners will consider lifting sewer tap restrictions in the 7 p.m. March 13 commission meeting.

School board members, commissioners question

proposed arts center

Barrow County might have to ask for private contributions to pay for the cultural arts/civic center they want.

The county and Board of Education will contribute a combined $4.5 million in 1-cent sales tax funds to pay construction costs for a facility on 275 acres at the intersection of Ga. Highway 316 and Ga. Highway 53. The county took out a 20-year, $15 million bond to pay for the land and infrastructure.

The project that began in 1999 as a $1.1 million auditorium to service the schools has evolved into a grand vision of a $10.5 million cultural arts center with outlying commercial/retail tracts for hotels and restaurants.

District 4 Commissioner Isaiah Berry echoed the sentiments many officials brought to the table.

"It's good, we need it, but I'm worried about funding," Berry said.

District 6 Commissioner Ben Hendrix suggested modest beginnings.

"We'll see if other municipalities step up, and there might be some private funding," Hendrix said. "If we still can't afford it, let's start with a banquet and exhibit hall."

Several officials said they wanted an architect who specializes in designing auditoriums and acoustics. If the two governments should use an architect other than the county's contracted Carter Watkins Associates, the school board might have to contribute more than their $1.5 million in hand.

"If it's a deal breaker, we should pay the difference because the county will put in most of the money," said Ron Saunders, Barrow County's superintendent of schools. "The Board of Education is taxed to the hilt trying to provide services. Let's see what we can get for $4.5 million."