Rome City Commission rezones former NWGA Regional property amid protest
The Rome City Commission voted to rezone the former Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital property on Monday, amid protests from nearby residents.
Commissioners rezoned the 132.5-acre complex on Division Street from Office Institutional to Heavy Industrial. The Rome Floyd County Development Authority purchased the site from the state, using $2.25 million in funds approved by voters in the 2013 and 2017 SPLOST packages.
The motion, presented by City Commissioner Bill Collins, contained several provisions like having the main access on Redmond Circle as well as a 100-foot buffer zone on the border of the property. Other provisions concerning air quality measures and assurances that noise levels would be kept to a minimum.
Joining residents in nearby Summerville Park objecting to the rezoning was Berry College. Danny Price, Berry’s general counsel, said the college is concerned about the location being close to dormitories as well as the competition to sell land in the area.
The college already has land ready for sale and development along nearby Technology Parkway.
Price asked commissioners to put off rezoning until a later date, then stated the college supports rezoning the western portion of the site for expansion of existing industries like Lewis Chemical and VT Industries.
Several commissioners, including Jamie Doss and Elaina Beeman, said they have faith in the RFCDA and asked those opposed to trust in their elected officials.
Commissioner Mark Cochran commended the work Collins put in to address the concerns of Summerville Park residents and act as an intermediary. Citing environmental hazards the city is currently facing, Cochran said he is concerned they could later regret the decision. He was the sole no-vote to rezone the property.
During the meeting Cochran read out a list of neighborhoods, nursing homes, and residences in the area to be developed. In the April 25 meeting, he had raised concerns about a potential industrial accident similar to incidents at Bekaert in 2009 and 2014, which led to large-scale evacuations in the area.
State of the city
Also on Monday, City Manager Sammy Rich delivered the annual State of the City address, reporting positive economic activity from the past year alongside favorable trends for 2022.
“The city’s in great financial shape,” Rich said.
He lauded an increase in pay for police and firefighters during the past year.
“It’s been a great investment,” Rich said. “It’s been hard to not only attract (recruits) as well as retain.”
As the general fund has increased, so have the cost — and taxes. In this case, Rich mentioned sales tax revenues. There was a peak in 2012, then a dip over the next few years. However, sales tax revenues have been strong in the past few years.
“Even in covid there was a positive growth in sales tax,” Rich said. Also, looking at the millage rate, there have only been small increases over the past 20 years, a point Rich said he is proud of.
Alongside those figures, the general fund balance has increased steadily since 2015. In 2021 Rome reported a $29.36 million balance, compared to $14.27 million in 2015.
“It is a good sign for a very solid overall economic look for the city,” Rich said.
Bond debt dropped over the past 10 years, but Rich said they’re expecting future debt as the city begins to construct a reverse osmosis system to filter harmful perfluorinated chemicals from the Oostanaula River.
That project is expected to cost approximately $100 million. Rome’s water and sewer systems are funded by customers, not general tax dollars. That means the initial cost, alongside another $3.07 million annually in operating costs, will fall to ratepayers in 9% annual increases over the next four years, followed by 3% rate hikes planned annually until 2031.
Rich also spoke of two former SPLOST projects that are making money for the community — the Stonebridge Golf Course and Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.
He said Stonebridge did very well during the pandemic and, despite the loss of large tennis tournaments during the same period, the tennis center is back in the swing of things.
“If you love, hate, or don’t know anything about tennis — $25.4 million dollars, that’s the economic impact,” Rich said. “There’s your answer. That’s why tennis is a win for this community.”
In other business, the commission set a qualifying fee for the 2022 Rome Board of Education election at 3% of the annual salary, $126. That fee must be paid by candidates during the qualifying period between Aug. 15-19.