Snellville residents have had it
On the heels of zoning and permit snafus blamed, in part, on city planners, Snellville officially began searching for a new planning director Wednesday.
The city’s Web site began announcing the vacancy even as city officials continue to scramble to quell two controversies that riled hundreds of residents.
The hornets’ nest continues to stir over the plan to open a crematory on Hwy. 78 in Snellville near a couple of subdivisions. The swarm has several Council members ducking for cover and looking for someone to blame.
The AJC reports that Warren Auld has called for a formal investigation, although there isn’t any authorization in the charter for one. Meanwhile, official `deep thinker` and moral compass Robert Jenkins is hoping for a scapegoat, even if it is a city employee. From the AJC:
“”More than 150 residents gathered in Snellville Sunday, collecting money to hire an attorney.
“If they can get organized they probably will sue us,” [Councilmember Robert] Jenkins said. “They’ve got a point. The city would be hard pressed to say we don’t have any fault here.”
Technically, there is no fault. Through the lack of express prohibition, the city allows a crematory to operate in the zoning designation for the subject property. Further, the non-residential use fronts Hwy. 78, where it should be.
If the city wants to now change the zoning to prohibit crematoria or to require a `special use` permit, it can do so. But this one is a done deal; as legal as it can be.
I don’t need a special citizens committee investigation to figure out what happened here.
First, the backwoods clowns on the Council– Robert Jenkins, Warren Auld, Kelly Kautz and, formerly, Bruce Garraway– made employment in Snellville so unbearable for our former Planning Director that she quit. The city has operated for months without an experienced replacement.
The city’s development ordinances are currently in the hands of a young, decent but terribly inexperienced and apparently inept individual. It probably did not cross his mind that a crematory so close to highly-excitable and grossly ignorant homeowners might cause a problem.
Because of his youth and inexperience, he probably also doesn’t understand that he is about to be thrown under the bus by unprincipled politicians looking to deflect criticism from their own incompetence. Our young, ACTING planning director is about to experience a hard lesson in life, I fear.
You may remember that the same Council cabal made public service so unpleasant for City Manager Jeff Timler that he tendered his resignation. Auld, Jenkins, Kautz and Garraway were so petty that they even refused to complete a simple evaluation form, as required by Timler’s contract.
If I recall correctly, we lost the Economic Development director at about the same time, and for many of the same reasons.
They also ran off the City Attorney who, according to those who would know, was an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable individual. The new City Attorney is reportedly just as sharp, which explains why Jenkins, Kautz and Auld are already regretting their vote for him.
So while the boobs on the Council scramble to find someone to take the fall on the crematory, Snellville voters would be wise to recognize the “brain drain” that is occurring in Snellville city government.
The idiots are running the asylum. And pretty soon, there will be nothing left but idiots.
Controversial Crematory Opens in Snellville
10:50 AM, Sep 10, 2008
SNELLVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A crematory that caused endless controversy when it announced plans to operate in Snellville is now open for business.
Chris Nuzum, owner of Cremation Society of the South, says his latest location along U.S. 78 is up and running.
Town leaders had expressed opposition to the facility which is near homes, citing concerns over mercury and other potentially dangerous emissions.
There’s no evidence, though, that such threats exist.
City council members haven’t warmed to the idea of a local crematory.
Councilwoman Kelly Kautz is planning to draft an ordinance seeking to regulate the crematory’s emissions — though the city attorney says the law prevents the city from regulating crematory emissions.
Snellville, crematory operator settle
Snellville, crematory settle suit
City to pay $120,000
The settlement puts to bed one of the biggest snafus in the history of Snellville by permanently closing the controversial crematory located near residential neighborhoods and South Gwinnett High School.
The terms of the settlement include a cash payment of $120,000 from the city to Nuzum. Nuzum has six months to remove the retort, or the instrument used to cremate human bodies, from the building. Nuzum will likely sell the property and according to Oberholtzer, a crematory will never be allowed at that address again.
“Most likely, we will rezone the property” once it’s sold, said the mayor.
Snellville outcome to ‘end divisiveness’
Vacant building marks Snellville crematory fight
The basic brick ranch building at the corner of U.S. 78 and Abington Road near downtown Snellville sits vacant, shuttered and for sale.
Nothing happens there. That’s just fine with nearby residents, city officials and even the local company that once had plans to turn the building into a crematory.
“I’d rather it burn down than be a crematory,” said Allen Childers, who lives a couple houses away. “I’d even rather it be a crack house.”
The property at 2098 Abington Road is for sale for $209,000, down from $279,000 — another symbol of the sputtering business climate throughout the area.
The building also is a symbol of communal compromise following a year-long controversy that stirred intense debate among residents and city leaders in Snellville. Neighbors united in their opposition to the crematory and the cremation company and city officials reached a settlement that prevented a lengthy courtroom fight.
“Maybe you could say that was a low point for us,” Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer said. “It pointed out a number of problems with the city. If you think about it, the only business we could attract was a crematory. But maybe now we’re turning a corner.”
Things were much different back in July 2008. That’s when residents learned Cremation Society of the South wanted to establish itself in a residential neighborhood, just blocks from South Gwinnett High School. For weeks, hundreds of homeowners packed city hall to voice their complaints and express concerns.
The crematory appeared to catch city leaders by surprise, with some officials under the impression the location would be used as an office for lawyers or realtors.
Efforts to stop the crematory from opening proved futile. Chris Nuzum, then-owner of the Cremation Society of the South, met city and state requirements for his business and started operating in September 2008 over the protests of city officials.
A month later, the city revoked Nuzum’s operating license and closed the business after an appeals board ruling involving building plans. Nuzum sued, seeking unspecified damages, and demanded the return of his licenses.
Nuzum and the city settled the suit in June 2009. Nuzum received $120,000 in exchange for agreeing to remove crematorium equipment from the house and selling the property.
The property went on sale for $279,000 before the price dropped.
“I wish that it all could have played out in a less political way,” councilwoman Kelly Kautz said. “But I think the council now works better together than in the past.”
The Cremation Society of the South has made changes, too: Nuzum left the company late last year because of a “personnel matter,” and the board of directors renamed the company SouthCare Cremation Society.
“We’re glad that it’s all behind us,” said Tom Taylor, president of SouthCare. “The death care industry is something people are squeamish about. … We think we provide a valuable service.”
Nuzum didn’t respond to numerous messages left at his home.
A few homes away from the intersection of U.S. 78 and Abington, longtime resident Larry Finney said the controversy brought the neighborhood closer together and made people more politically engaged. That infamous vacant house on the corner doesn’t bother him all that much anymore.
“I thank the Lord for what happened,” Finney said. “It all came out for the best.”
Snellville tries to keep harmony ongoing
In nearly eight years as mayor of Snellville, Jerry Oberholtzer has never been one to back down from a fight.
Oberholtzer faced down a challenge to his authority to make key city job appointments. He once defied an attorney general’s ruling that he couldn’t legally fill the vacant city manager’s position. And there was the time his clash with a councilman became so noxious that he asked for a police escort to the City Hall restroom.
But facing a potentially disastrous deadlock over the city’s millage rate, Oberholtzer is taking on the role of peacemaker.
“This council has done really great things and I don’t want this to be a wedge,” Oberholtzer said last week.
Oberholtzer has said he will vote to lower the city’s property tax millage rate, a reversal of position that would break a stalemate on the City Council and preserve a two-year record of cooperation that has pleased local officials and residents.
“I think many of the things done over last two years have been positive and renewed energy in the city,” said state Rep. Brett Harrell, Oberholtzer’s predecessor.
Most observers attribute the change to the elections of November 2009, which brought in new council members Barbara Bender, Mike Sabbagh and Tom Witts after two years of infighting and deadlocked votes on issues ranging from a controversial crematory to Sunday alcohol sales.
During the past two years, Oberholtzer has found support — and reliable votes — in Bender, Witts and Tod Warner. As a result, the city has rallied to save its annual Christmas tree lighting, created a farmers market, formed the Snellville Trade and Tourism Association and opened a new Police Department and public works facility.
Snellville also has unveiled the vision for a new downtown area, a pivotal step in its plan to create a vibrant destination rivaling those in Gwinnett County cities such as Suwanee and Duluth.
“Since we’ve had election and a couple of the people have left, things have been very positive,” longtime resident Marilyn Swinney said. “We’re getting lots of things done and we’re bringing the community back together.”
But after failing to agree last week on a property tax millage rate for 2012, City Council members took turns accusing each other of political pandering, dishonesty and questionable motives.
Councilwoman Kelly Kautz accused Bender, who is running for mayor this fall, of playing politics by pushing for a lower tax rate of 5.7 mills. That would cut the bill on a $150,000 home by about $12, not counting homestead or other reductions. Kautz also raised questions about Bender’s mayoral campaign being placed prominently on T-shirts that were passed out at the city’s Independence Day celebration.
Bender vigorously denied that accusation and said Kautz, who’s running for re-election to the council, was turning the millage rate vote into a “political event.”
City Manager Russell Treadway has told the council that lowering the rate to 5.7 mills would create a deficit of about $128,000. Bender and other supporters said they aren’t concerned by that because city tax revenues should increase with the arrival of several new businesses.
Ultimately, Bender’s motion failed, with Kautz, Sabbagh and Oberholtzer voting against it. Kautz followed with a motion to keep the rate at 5.9 mills, which also resulted in a split vote. Oberholtzer eventually called off debate on the issue after council members seemed to be at an impasse.
In the hours after the vote, the resentment seemed reminiscent of the bad old days on the council.
“I hope that people aren’t slipping back into old patterns,” Bender said the next morning.
But Oberholtzer’s turnabout may have avoided another fight. If he follows through on his pledge, Bender will have enough support to get approval for her proposal at the city’s special-called meeting on Aug. 1. The county has set a deadline of Aug. 2 to add Snellville’s property tax bill to the county’s annual bill.
“You got to remember that [Oberholtzer] is basically throwing in the towel a little bit,” said Garry Lapides, a Snellville resident and the city’s appointee to the Evermore Community Improvement District. “You fight the fight that you can win. Why get an ulcer with only five months left?”
Many officials and residents are hopeful the council’s newfound harmony can survive following another round of elections in November.
“We were given a narrow majority after the last election and I think the community has been rewarded for that,” said Councilman Tod Warner, who will not run for re-election this fall. “Hopefully, they will keep that in mind when this election comes out.”