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Commissioners approve first winery in Floyd County

Floyd County will be getting its first winery after the County Commission approved a rezoning and special use permit at their Tuesday meeting.

Billy Newby owns the 58-acre property at 602D Billy Pyle Road, which already houses a few vineyards. He wants to start a winery on the property — which needed to be rezoned from suburban residential to agricultural residential use — because he’s found that many other wineries don’t take grapes from other vineyards.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the applications following a public hearing that drew both opposition, including a petition signed by 75 residents, and support, including a letter from the Georgia Wine Producers association.

The winery would be a small production and make about 2,000 to 5,000 cases of wine a year, Newby said. Visitors would be allowed on the property for tastings and tours. County Clerk Erin Elrod said Newby would need an alcohol pouring permit for the tastings. It wouldn’t be an event venue, which would require another permit.

Planning commission members and planning staff had recommended approval, with the condition that Newby plant a vegetative buffer along the easement that leads into the property, to create a barrier between the winery traffic and neighbors.

Two residents on the nearby Quiet Acre Road spoke Tuesday to voice concerns about the additional traffic along the narrow and hilly Billy Pyle Road.

B.J. Gore said it’s already dangerous, and there are houses close to the road, with children and dogs.

Newby’s attorney Louis Johnson, however, said Georgia Wine Producers estimated there would be 25 to 30 vehicles “on the best day” and an average of less than 10 on weekdays.

Newby also said there wouldn’t be any late night traffic going to winery, which would be open Wednesday through Sunday.

Opponents also questioned Newby’s ownership of the easement, but Johnson brought deed documents that were vetted by County Attorney Virginia Harman.

Newby noted that wineries are growing in popularity. Polk County has one platted, one just opened in Paulding County “and, of course, in North Georgia there are wineries all over the place,” he said.

Annabelle Hibberts, a student at Johnson Elementary School

Rome man charged with multiple armed robberies in Northwest Georgia, more charges pending

An investigation into nine armed robberies locally, as well as others including in Carroll and Walker counties, culminated in the arrest of a Rome man.

Anthony Lavell Williams, 26, was arrested at his home at 309B Ross St. on July 22 by a multi-jurisdictional task force including the Rome Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

An investigation by Rome police alongside the GBI and FBI turned up evidence that Williams had robbed at least nine stores in Floyd County between December 2019 and April 3 and then moved on to other cities, Assistant RPD Police Chief Debbie Burnett said.

Williams is also facing at least one armed robbery charge in Carroll County and has warrants for his arrest in Fort Oglethorpe. He is suspected of robbing at least one CVS store and stealing prescription medications, Burnett said.

“In each of the robberies there was a consistent description of the suspect,” Burnett said. “He always wore a hoodie with a mask and we had the same description of the gun, height, weight and bushy eyebrows.”

Williams is accused of robbing the Dollar General Store at 1605 N. Broad St. on Dec. 12, 2019; the Citgo at 1901 N. Broad St. on Dec. 21, 2019; the Dollar General Store at 25 Central Plaza on Dec. 29, 2019; the Circle K at 910 N. Broad St. on Jan. 4; the Circle K at 2401 Garden Lakes Blvd. on Jan. 4; the North Broad Food Mart at 1416 N. Broad St. on Jan. 9; the Dollar General Store at 1100 N. Fifth Ave. on Jan. 11; the Dollar General Store at 1804 Redmond Circle on Jan. 24; and the CVS at 1915 Maple Ave. on April 3.

Williams fits the description for several other armed robberies in the Northwest Georgia region including in Summerville.

Library starts curbside service; unsure when they'll reopen doors to the public

While the Rome-Floyd County Library and other Sara Hightower Regional Library System buildings remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future, the library system is now offering curbside pickup service to their patrons.

“Each branch will have their own individual hours for their location, but patrons can call ahead to their individual library branch and place items on hold,” Amelia Blackmon said. Blackmon serves as the system’s outreach librarian and oversees branch services.

People can also go online to the library’s website to order books for pickup by clicking on the curbside service link for details. A person can reserve up to 15 items for pickup, which includes not only books but movies and audiobooks as well.

When they arrive for pickup, the person can call the branch and let them know they’re ready and a staff member will meet them outside.

“They’ll check the library cards to make sure it matches the library card number that was given to us when the hold was placed, then hand the items over,” Blackmon said.

When the items are returned after two weeks, they’ll be placed in a 24 to 48 hour quarantine before they’re officially checked back into the system. However, during this period, no late fees will be charged to the person.

For the time being, library administrators and staff are working on a reopening date with local officials and the Library Board of Trustees.

“We want to make sure safety precautions are in place at all branch locations,” Blackmon said.

When they do reopen, plexiglass will be installed at the circulation and reference desks and markers will be set up around the library to enforce social distancing of at least 6 feet. The Library Board of Trustees would be in charge of deciding if a mask mandate would be enforced, according to Blackmon.

Currently, staff are wearing masks and gloves at all times when working inside the building and doing curbside service.

After finishing their summer reading program, which Blackmon described as a “huge success,” staff is working on more virtual programs to offer to patrons, such as virtual storytime and craft videos.

“We’re excited to be able to offer the curbside services and our virtual programming and we do look forward to the day we can reopen,” she said.

Burnett Ferry fire station renovation starting up in the coming weeks

Rome-Floyd Fire Station 6 on Burnett Ferry Road is getting its first overhaul in its 17-year history, with bids from contractors due Thursday.

Division Chief Clete Bonney said the truck will continue to be in service and will respond as normal as the project begins over the next few weeks. They hope to finish the renovations around the first of October.

Bonney is overseeing the project, which will involve almost completely gutting the station and putting in new carpeting, cabinets, flooring and a breezeway. They will also be fixing a plumbing issue underneath the foundation in the kitchen.

“Pretty much everything on the inside will be as new as we can get it,” he said.

The bay area, where the fire trucks are housed, also will be painted and be outfitted with LED lights.

All the rotted wood on the exterior will be replaced and painted as well — and the weather vane will be removed.

The project is being funded by earmarks in the budgets of the city and county governments, which split the cost of the fire department.

Although it hasn’t been 20 years since the building was opened, it goes through more wear and tear than most buildings since it’s occupied 24/7, Bonney said.

While the station is small, with around four workers on duty at all times, it also functions as the city and county’s HAZMAT station, which houses all of the hazardous material response equipment.

“So if we have an instance that involves some kind of hazardous material, such as fluids or a spill, it has special equipment in there with elevated seats, breathing equipment and air monitoring and test equipment,” Bonney said. “So we can go out and identify a chemical and start the proper procedures for clean-up and that kind of stuff.”

After the Burnett Ferry renovation is complete, the fire department will inspect other stations around the county to decide where the next renovation is needed.