A large crowd showed up to the Calhoun City Council meeting on Monday night, June 12, made up of those both both for and against a proposed zoning request made by Hand Up Housing of Gordon County, requesting 8 acres on Salem Road be rezoned from the current Industrial zoning to PRD zoning for a Tiny Homes project. A planned residential development zoning would give more flexibility to use as residential or commercial property but requires very specific planning.

Hand Up Housing of Gordon County is a group of local citizens concerned about the homeless and those in need of affordable housing in the area, pushing the idea of a Tiny Homes community on Salem Road near Tom B. David Airport.

Tiny Homes has been a popular social movement in recent years where people originally downsized the space they lived in, down to an average of 100 to 400 square feet of living space. That spawned a movement across the United States by groups who built Tiny Homes for the homeless.

Local businessman Haley Stephens spoke on behalf of Hand Up Housing of Gordon County.

Stephens told those in attendance that in Gordon County, 1 in 5 people are classified as living below the poverty level, with Gordon County ranking 93rd in the state in poverty and voiced his concerns over the many in Gordon County who are considered homeless. The project would focus on local veterans and elderly who need a more affordable alternative to live in than apartments and hotels where they sometimes pay more than $900 per month.

According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs 2015 Report on Homelessness, Gordon County had 64 persons who classified as homeless.

“We have very specific plans for the property on Salem Road, and that was made public (in August 2016),” said Stephens.

In August 2016, Stephens spoke before the Council to bring awareness to Tiny Homes and speak specifically about the proposed Salem Road project, where he originally wanted to use .06 acres of the total property that were usable to build 26 units.

Stephens told the Council that at the present time, Hand Up Housing Gordon County has assets that have been pledged to help with the project. Part of pledge is a building that can be used for 20 10 ‘ x 30 ‘ units.

“This is a hand up project, not a hand out,” said Stephens. “Our plan calls for a $425 per month payment, which in many cases, is going to allow these people to put $400 per month back into the economy whether it’s in food or clothing.

“We are not going to say our plan is perfect,” said Stephens. “But we ask the City to consider the desperate problem we have in this community.”

Bill Thompson, the attorney for the Airport Authority of Gordon County then addressed the Council. He said that while the Tiny Homes project was a very noble idea, the location was not appropriate being so close to the airport, telling the Council that the airport has made great strides over the past 20 years.

“This airport has come from a very small number of based aircraft to being one of the largest, Top 10 airports, counting Hartsfield, in the state of Georgia. That progress has led us to something else that is happening that is unique: a very large project funded by the federal government and by the State Department of Transportation Aviation Division is going to put approximately 10 million dollars into this airport. They are going to put this (money) in for a safety project. It is a major undertaking that is going to impinge upon the relocation of a stream and a massive expansion of the airport. It is essentially a parallel taxiway for safety.

“Certain monies are given to the airport every year,” said Thompson. “It’s a general aviation airport that means a certain amount of government entitlement money. Most of that doesn’t come from the local government, it comes from other sources. But in addition to getting that money, the airport is required to make certain assurances. One of those assurances is to try to see that the airport is run in such a way, and the airport surroundings are protected in such a way that the aviation use of the airport is not impinged. When you put residential uses very close to the 500 feet operational area of the airport, that’s what is getting ready to happen. I think that would be an inappropriate use (of the proposed site). The Airport Authority does not support that use; we believe it would be a hazard to aviation and we strongly recommend the Council not to approve that.”

Carla Payne McMorris, who operates nearby Payne Farm, also addressed the Council, telling them that she is opposed to the Tiny Homes project on Salem Road due to safety reasons, both her family’s safety and the safety of those that would live in the Tiny Homes. She told the Council had house and barn are not visible from the road, and that teenagers stay in the home and she would not feel comfortable leaving them there by themselves. She also mentioned that she stores chemicals on the property, as well as keeping equipment and livestock. She worries that those living in Tiny Homes would come onto the property and get hurt.

Payne Farm, which is a Georgia Agritourism attraction, brings in hundreds of school students each year for tours, and McMorris mentioned their safety as well.

Others spoke against the measure, stating the location was not suitable with transportation issues including being miles away from the nearest medical and retail areas, with Salem Road, and the surrounding Highway 41 and McDaniel Station Road, being unsafe areas for walking.

The Council in general agreed that the location was not appropriate for Tiny Homes. Councilwoman Jackie Palazzolo explained that with the site impacting the expansion at the airport, she did not support the location. She told Stephens that she understood the need for tiny housing and that she would be more receptive to a site on another piece of property closer to the city.

Councilman David Hammond said that it would be irresponsible to do this project which could jeopardize the airport and its expansion.

Councilman Matt Barton said that while he likes the idea of Tiny Homes in the community, this would not be the project he would support.

After a long discussion from all sides during the public hearing, the Council made no motion for the zoning and the request was denied.

Other public hearings during the City Council meeting included:

An annexation and zoning request of R-1 for .69 acres at a location of 224 Shadowood Drive SE was approved by the Council.

An annexation and zoning request of R-2 for 1.341 acres at a location of Harmony Drive, Tract 1-3 was approved by the Council.

The Council also help a public hearing concerning a new police station and the City’s upcoming fiscal year budget. Read more about those in Wednesday’s issue of the Calhoun Times.