Jennifer Testa, one of the owners of Rock Spring Resort at 40 Blessed Way in Rock Spring, GA, had requested a conditional variance use to allow four additional RVs to be set up for use as short term rentals at the resort. During the public hearing for the variance a neighbor of Rock Spring Resort, Janelle Davis, spoke in opposition of the variance. Davis said there would have been more people in attendance at the hearing to oppose the variance, but that after a recent meeting with Testa their understanding had been that the variance request was going to be tabled. Testa affirmed Davis’ statement and asked Commissioners to table the request. The Commission asked Davis to state the concerns regarding the variance. Davis said there had been generator noise in the past and they did not want more generators being used as their property backed up to the resort. Davis also stated concerns regarding strangers unknown to them using the resort walking trails and approaching their dogs and walking down the roads in their private subdivision and concerns over potential sewer issues that might affect properties in the neighborhood.
A further concern was traffic in and out of the resort and the potential for more accidents in an area that already has frequent accidents according to Davis. Testa, along with her husband Donald, gave a brief history of the resort saying the property was purchased from a deaf church. There were three RV’s on the property already being used with a conditional use variance. Testa, along with other family members who have invested in the Resort, were unaware the RVs needed a conditional use variance and had been renting them out. The property also contained a large apartment building that was in use as well when they purchased. Their plans had originally been to make improvements to the property and renovate the apartment structure one half at a time. They worked with the current deaf residents and gave them long term lease agreements at a set rate they could afford with their income. The remaining, vacant units were rented as short term vacation rentals with their cost not only bringing in additional taxes to the community, but helping keep rent controlled for the long term renters.
They began working with the state and the environmental health people. Their lane was widened, a concrete pad was added under the dumpster and other improvements to meet guidelines. Testa said they were told they could not have long term and short term renters under the same roof based on state law. So they had to rework the leases to all short term leases. Then they were informed that despite getting 17 of the 20 units renovated, the remaining three units had to be renovated within 30 days.
The Testas met that requirement, but were then told that all furnishings must meet the same standards. So they met with residents and all their furnishings were moved into a storage shed with a generator to control temperatures and help prevent damage. Testa said this is the only time a generator has been used as the current RV’s are hooked into the electricity, water, and sewer for the resort. A large garage sale was held and the generator is no longer in use and the resort meets the state requirements.
As to the traffic concerns the Testas have met with GDOT and are working on that and the sewer concerns are not an issue. Donald Testa explained that they did have a soggy area within their dog park area and were concerned more rain might cause problems. Donald said they contacted a professional to do soil samples and get permits or possibly adjust the field lines. The building itself is split in half so only half of the building goes to the septic tank on that side. Another septic tank is located on the opposite end of the building and has never had any issues. It is also the tank the RV’s are hooked to. The property actually had a third tank which was used for a mobile home in the past, but as it was not safe the tank had been taken out.
They have offered to put a privacy fence at the front of the property if that is allowed, but some of the property already has natural boundaries as well as a berm. They said it is impossible to control visitors from approaching fenced yards or from using public county roads, like the one through the subdivision. The Testas said they only wanted to positively impact the community and were withdrawing their request for four additional RV’s as they now believed the expansion was not in the community’s best interest, but they did need the variance on the three RV’s that were there before they even purchased the property. They are open to further discussion to work with community, but currently the state is telling them they are not comfortable giving them their tourism certification with all the complaints that have been called in recently.
Commissioner Askew suggested the conditional variance request be tabled while the Testas, the county, and their neighbors worked on a plan. Askew suggested bringing a drawing or drawings of what the Testas had planned. Commissioners approved tabling the variance request until the next commission meeting. Another county resident, brought up the fact that Walker County did not have any regulations or guidelines regarding AirBNB’s or VRBO’s and as they were becoming more popular, she felt the county should start looking at having those in place. After the discussion on Rock Spring Resort, Askew said he agreed the county needed to work on guidelines for short term vacation rentals as the only guideline with RV’s was that they could only be lived in if they were in a designated RV park or if someone was living in one on the property where they were building a home.
Angela Pence invited commissioners to visit Rock Spring Resort and said it was “really cool what they (the owners) have already done” and how they were investing back into the community. Stanley Matthews of Chickamauga returned with more questions for Commissioners regarding the Enabling Act and the hiring and orientation process with regards to the county’s Executive Administrative Assistant position. Matthews said he found it odd that Human Resources were not even contacted about the position which was posted by Public Relations Director Joe Legge. Matthews said it also did not look like the county followed their hiring process when it came to drug testing and other steps. Commissioners told Matthews or that employees got the opportunity to apply for the position. Commissioners said they would “take it up and get more information” for Matthews. Matthews said the hiring seemed unfair and the “optics were terrible”.
A new volunteer fire department is on its way in Walker as commissioners approved a designated geographical area of operation for McLemore Volunteer Fire Department. Walker County Fire Chief Blake Hodge introduced John Schmidt from Pinellas County in Florida as the Chief for the McLemore Volunteer Fire Department. Hodge said Schmidt “well qualified” and that they were “working through all the ends and outs of creating a new fire department. The department will have an engine, a 105’ ladder truck, brush truck, and the chief’s vehicle. Volunteers will be training onsite and also training quarterly with Walker County Fire. Hodge said there will be several Memorandums of Understanding with the McLemore Fire Department for things like training and dispatch.
“Again, it’s a work in progress,” Hidge said. “But it is having to come together quickly. They are on a timeline.”
Completion of the Hinkle Fire Station is in the works. County Chair Shannon Whitfield said a meeting
with the architect to go over the structure and any differences from the plans was held at the fire
station. The architect will be working on the plans for completing the inside of the station. Whitfield said
plans are to have the station completed by the end of the year.
Walker Commissioners also approved:
- Resolution R-004-24 to Authorize the Walker County Historic Preservation Commission to File a Grant Application for a Historic Resource Survey
- Resolution R-005-24 to Amend the FY2024 Budget to Appropriate Funds for the Walker County Coroner’s Office
- Purchase Order 2024-00000603 for $39,487.50 to NEFECO for Fire Rescue Turnout Gear
- Purchase Order 2024-00000604 for $61,887.66 to Municipal Emergency Services for Fire Rescue Breathing Equipment
- Purchase Order 2024-00000605 for $40,319.64 to Municipal Emergency Services for Fire Rescue Equipment
- A variance of less than 5 acres in an A-1 (agriculture) zone at 2164 Corinth Road, Lafayette, GA as a hardship request by Billy and Sheila West as recommended by the Planning Commission.
- A variance of less than 5 acres in an A-1 zone at 24595 Hwy. 193, Lafayette, GA requested by John Watson and as recommended by the Planning Commission.
Walker Commissioners denied, as recommended by the Planning Commission, a request for variance of more than 6 residences per private lane at 102 Poinson Lane, Chickamauaga, GA.
By Summer Kelley