Habersham County commissioners reconsider lawn service license, annexation agreement

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  • Some neighbors have complained about the lawn debris and loud activities on at Brian Sosebee's property on River Bend Road.
    Some neighbors have complained about the lawn debris and loud activities on at Brian Sosebee's property on River Bend Road.
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  Habersham County's Board of Commissioners added another two hours Thursday to the five hours they met on Monday to reconsider two unsettled items.

   This time around, the commissioners approved a conditional use permit for Brian Sosebee to operate aspects of his lawn care business from home on River Bend Road. They stipulated that he could not use any noise-making equipment outside of the hours 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. He also must fill in under his fencing with dirt or rocks.

   Sosebee's business had been the subject of previous code violations and complaints from neighbors about noise and eyesores from his property.

   In the case of the annexation and development issue with Baldwin, the commissioners voted 3-2 to reject the intergovernmental agreement, leaving them ostensibly where they ended Monday's meeting.

   They debated the topic for more than an hour before calling a vote. Commissioner Natalie Crawford once again made a motion to approve the agreement, which would at least lessen the impact of the proposed development that all five commissioners and the assembled citizens oppose, but can do nothing to stop. Only Crawford and Chairman Stacy Hall voted to enter the agreement, which gave the county a modicum of control and say in how the development of a new apartment complex will be done.

   Commissioners Dustin Mealor, Jimmy Tench and Tim Stamey voted against it, potentially leaving the county's objection to the deal set to become null and void by Sunday afternoon.

   Look for more details in the midweek edition of The Northeast Georgian on Sept. 30.

   BACKGROUND

   Habersham County’s Board of Commissioners reconvened Thursday night, just 72 hours after their last meeting, to reconsider two items from their marathon Monday meeting.

   After a second public hearing on the status of Brian Sosebee’s business license for his yard service he runs out of his home, the board declined to vote on a conditional    use permit that would have allowed him to continue doing business despite the protests of his neighbors.

   The commissioners also opted not to vote on an agreement with the city of Baldwin that would have slightly curbed the scope of a proposed annexation development near Wilbanks and Thompson Roads.

   “Both matters have been hot button issues, as is sometimes the nature of the business that comes before the Board of Commissioners,” Commissioner Natalie Crawford said Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate that we neglected to achieve consensus and take action on these items. Despite any public pressure, it is incumbent on us to research and understand the intended and unintended consequences of actions – or lack thereof – that we take.”

   The board elected to revisit both matters after press time Thursday. The results of the votes will be available at TheNortheastGeorgian.com.

   Regarding Sosebee’s yard business, there has been an ongoing dispute for the more than a year, where his neighbors in the River Bend Road community claim he has caused visual and audible disruptions in their quiet neighborhood.

   Many of those neighbors were back Monday night to discuss the conditional use permit approved by the planning commission that would allow Sosebee to put up a fence and conduct his business mostly during normal business hours.

   Sosebee’s attorney Jay Dawson asked the board to modify the conditional use permit to include business from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., as well as reminding everyone in attendance that 98% off his business is conducted off site. Dawson said the leaf vacuum will no longer be used if Sosebee is allowed to continue conducting his business.

   Sosebee has been cited for code violations in the past, but Dawson said this decision was about moving forward, not what has been done before.

   But neighbors have long been disturbed by the use of a leaf vacuum at all hours – including on Thanksgiving Day, according to testimony given in July – and the dumping of lawn and tree debris on the property with large trucks.

   Resident Debbie Godwin said she would not have bought her home there if she knew what she would be looking at every day. She said it has negatively impacted the value of her property.

   Lena Baggett went further, calling Sosebee’s property a “commercial tree dump.”

   “This is not just a neighborhood quarrel,” Baggett said. “We are tired of being vilified for protecting our investment.”

   The neighbors reiterated that they do not want to take Sosebee’s license, but rather just insist that he obey the local zoning codes. After the commissioners let the conditional use permit die without a vote Monday, Sosebee called Crawford and asked for clarification of where that leaves him. He indicated that the denial of the permit greatly threatening the continuing viability of his business.

   “The board collectively confirmed it was not the intent to threaten his business, and after consultation with the attorney, the Chairman informed us that, because no action was taken, we could reconsider,” Crawford said Wednesday.

   Commissioner Tim Stamey agreed that both items should be pushed to a vote, including the situation with the Baldwin annexation, which the county is unable to stop. But they can limit the scope of the apartment development that is planned for that area, as well as compel the city to fixing roads and bridges in that area for future increases in traffic.

   The county’s initial decision was to ignore the agreement they came to with Baldwin on Sept. 17 and let the arbitration panel rule summarily. But the panel cannot meet before the state’s deadline on Sept. 27, something the commissioners were not aware of Monday, Stamey said.

   “Unfortunately, state law is very restrictive and if the arbitration panel cannot meet before the 27th then the annexation automatically goes through,” Stamey said. “Without the panel meeting happening, there is no slowing down the development.”

   Stamey said at this point it was probably in the board’s best interests to sign the agreement. 

   “I think Baldwin should have thought more about the density of this, how it affects neighbors and their own zoning before chasing this,” Stamey said. “The more people in a municipality, the more power those in charge have or perceive to have. It’s not smart growth.”