Forsyth city council went against the recommendation of its Planning & Zoning Commission and granted a sign variance on Sept. 8 for Forsyth Liquor to hang a banner at the front of its store and wrap its columns with advertisements. At 119 North Lee Street, the store is in “mixed use” zoning and needs a variance to display the signs as requested.
On Aug. 24 Forsyth’s Planning & Zoning/Design & Review Commission recommended denial of the variance because the signs on the banner and column wraps cover too much of the building and advertise products sold instead of the local business itself.
Forsyth economic development director Tammie Pierson said that wrapped posts haven’t been allowed previously under the city sign ordinances. She said Forsyth Liquor can have two signs without a variance but not as many signs as it is requesting.
Pintukumar Patel, owner of Forsyth Liquor, said when he wrapped the posts and put up the extra sign in the front of the building at the request of one of his vendors, he didn’t know he was violating a city ordinance and needed a variance to do so. He said he took them down as soon as city manager Janice Hall called him and told him he must.
However, Patel said he had a lot of customers and others in the city tell him they liked the signs, that they made the business more colorful and interesting. He said Hall told him he could apply for a variance for the signs and he has gone through proper procedures. He said after an article appeared in the Reporter about the signs, he got more comments from people telling him they liked the wraps and signs. He said a back-lit sign is good for business, but city ordinances don’t allow back-lit signs.
“For a small business, a sign is very important,” said Patel. “I like the county and city, but that sign thing is a little bit … you know.”
“I’m not for or against,” said Pierson. “But I suggest maybe part of it. Maybe the posts and not the back sign.”
Mayor Eric Wilson asked if Planning & Zoning had considered recommending a variance for part of the signs but not all of them. Pierson said that suggestion wasn’t offered at the Planning & Zoning meeting.
“Since he went through the right procedures, I say okay with me,” said council member Melvin Lawrence. “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
“I don’t see why we should treat this any different than Jonah’s,” said council member Julius Stroud. “I have zero problem with Mr. Patel’s request.”
Council member Mike Dodd said he liked Pierson’s suggestion of granting a variance to wrap some of the posts but not all of them so that it wouldn’t be so bright. Stroud indicated that Jonah’s mural was just as bright and asked what the difference was. Pierson said Jonah’s was a mural, wasn’t primarily advertising and that the advertising it included was limited to local businesses. Dodd asked if the city has defined “mural,” and Pierson said, “We’re working on it.”
“To me it’s just too much,” said Dodd. “We’ve gone from daylight to darkness. You’re advertising all the drinks you have.”
“But we can’t deny anything based on an opinion,” said Stroud.
The sign variance was approved, 4-1, with Dodd voting against and council member Greg Goolsby absent from the meeting.
Forsyth set its 2020 taxes at 3 mills, the same rate the city has collected since 2015. The 3 mills will bring in more money for the city this year if everyone pays property taxes because property values have increased.
No one expressed any interest in the city’s millage rate at the public hearing before council voted. Hall said Monroe County will print its tax bills by Sept. 14, and taxes will be due on Dec. 21.
Hall told council Forsyth can apply for a federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to use for its park plan. She said it is a 50-50 matching grant for up to $500,000. Hall said she emailed council members two options for projects to include in the grant application, picking from parts of the master park plan the city had designed for it by TSW.
Council picked the option with an amphitheater, covered parking area outside the splash pad and basketball court. Hall said each option was estimated at about $1.2 million; so the city would have to add about $700,000 if it gets the maximum $500,000 grant.
“It would take all of the money we have set aside for special projects, including this year’s property tax,” said Hall.
Council voted unanimously to apply for the grant.
Council approved sidewalk closures on both sides of North Lee Street from BB&T Bank to the I-75 ramp on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 2:30 p.m. for Life Chain, a silent prayer demonstration for an end to abortion. The application estimated 50 people at the event.
“We’ll make sure they follow distancing guidelines,” said Hall.
Council approved spending $56,000 to buy a new John Deere tractor that is not in the 2020 budget. Hall said the new tractor, purchased from SunSouth LLC in Barnesville, will replace the city’s 1994 tractor.
Hall said Steve Butler has worked on the old tractor repeatedly but said the repairs needed now are more than the old tractor is worth. She said it is the tractor the city uses with its bushhog.
Council member Melvin Lawrence asked what the city will do with the old tractor. Hall said since it it probably worth more than $500, the city will advertise it on the website used to sell government property.
Council also approved three requisitions for purchases over $5,000. One, added on the day of the council meeting, was for an item needed to sample wastewater at the sewer department. Hall said the city was ‘written up’ at the last EPD inspection because of the way it is sampling waste water. She said the sewer department needs four of these items and employees will begin learning to use them with this first purchase.
The other two requisitions are for items to equip police cars and will be funded by the 2020 SPLOST. $7,480 is for computers, printers and accessories for four police vehicles. $17,788 is for radios and related equipment for seven vehicles, four new Tahoes and three cars already in the police fleet.
In her City Manager’s report to council Hall said she has filed a correction plan with EPD for the city’s violation in monitoring its closed landfill. She said one problem is that the city hasn’t had state inmate crews available for weed eating at the landfill because of COVID-19.
Hall said Forsyth will get $216,194 from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security) Act. She said city clerk Regina Ivie has filed the required paperwork.
Hall said the city has paid Mr. Freeman $2,750 to settle the damage claim regarding a drain damaged by the city on his property.
The city will let on-call electric department linemen take home city vehicles so that they can resolve power outages quicker. She said the linemen won’t have to come find the problem with their personal vehicles and then go get bucket trucks to fix it. She said this won’t help with power outages caused by storms but will help with other outage issues.
Hall said city hall had a call from the public health department asking for personal information on city employees for COVID contact tracing. She said after checking with Monroe County Health Department and GMA (Georgia Municipal Association), she will give employees contact information for tracing but won’t give out the employees’ personal information.
Hall said the city will opt out of deferring federal tax deductions, including social security, from employee paychecks since the employees would have to double deductions in 2021.
The city is working on a joint project with Mary Persons students for an art grant. In the first phase, students will paint old fire hydrants to put in the dog park. In the next phase, other items will be painted around the city as art, but a decision as to what kind of items to paint hasn’t been made.
Wes Cone has applied to build a well for the car wash planned on North Lee Street.
A request for annexation of property off Hwy. 83 North will come before council at its Sept. 21 meeting. There will also be an application for a liquor store connected to the convenience store being built at the Valero site near I-75 exit 187.
Current resurfacing of city streets should be complete by Sept. 10. Hall said the project on Blount Street is going well.
Pellicano Construction has poured the basement for the new city hall and seems to be on schedule.
Stroud asked why green stickers were being put on allegedly abandoned cars. Hall said this isn’t new for the city, but code enforcement officer Jeremy Malone now has time to follow up on vehicles.
“Jeremy is doing a very good job,” said Hall.
“Has Ingram gotten a violation?” asked Stroud. “I don’t see citing cars but not that. That is an eyesore.”
Hall said Otis Ingram has been citied for the abandoned senior living construction site. She said cars are cited if they don’t have a current tag and insurance.
Wilson asked council to consider making Kimbell and Harris Streets one way near Robins Financial Credit Union because with parking entering and exiting the streets is dangerous. Melton said these are city streets and changes won’t require approval of DOT or the county. Wilson suggested Kimbell be one-way north to south and Harris be one-way south to north.
Wilson said a public hearing is needed and he’d like to see the process started. There was discussion about which way the streets should go and how parking should be allowed on the streets, with comments that there isn’t enough parking for the existing businesses. It was also discussed how much of the streets should be one-way with the consensus of about two blocks of each street.
Agreeing that some action should be taken to make the streets safer and that changes will be made during the process, council voted to advertise making Kimbell and Harris Streets one-way.
Howard said that since the 9-11 dispatch system is no longer at the city police department, the city should consider having an employee at the police department after hours if someone comes for help. Hall said an employee to stay at the police department after hours isn’t in the 2020 budget but could be added to the 2021 budget. Hewett asked if one of the officers on duty could stay at the station; Hall said it is more important for officers to be on patrol but she will talk to Chief Eddie Harris about a solution.
Hall said she has advertised twice for a public utilities director without getting any viable candidates but will advertise again. The position is in the 2020 budget.