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Commission approves Sea of Galilee replica

By Alicia B. Hill
Times-News

In the not-too-distant future, locals and out-of-town visitors may be able to step back into biblical Galilee right here in Troup County.

On Tuesday, the Troup County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 to approve a special use rural tourism permit to allow Dr. James Flemming, who is best known locally for his work with the Biblical History Center, to open a replica of the Sea of Galilee at 5656 Hamilton Road. Commissioner Ellis Cadenhead voted against, citing resident concerns for the development’s impact on the rural character of the area.

The special use permit received an unusually high amount of public comment both for and against. Those in favor of Galilee in Georgia argued that it will be a positive, educational experience that will bring tourism revenue into the county. Those against construction worried that the use could have a negative impact on traffic and the rural character of the area, and also mentioned the organization will not pay property taxes as a nonprofit. Many of the concerns were addressed prior to the public comment section of Tuesday’s meeting.

“This is on Highway 27. It is a state highway, so the capacity of that state highway would handle the traffic,” Senior Building Official Jay Anderson said. “I think the question is not about the capacity of the road, but the location of this particular site for an entrance, and as we talked about last time [on June 7], the applicant is working with an engineer who is in the process of picking a location and designing an entrance to meet whatever GDOT standards would be necessary. Then that entrance would have to be approved by GDOT.”

If the entrance is not approved by GDOT, the tourism business will be unable to open.

Additionally, according to Anderson, the county coordinated with the City of LaGrange to see what the water needs for the tourism destination would be based on its closest comparable location — the Biblical History Center in LaGrange. In a previous meeting, a citizen expressed concern that a business’ water needs would have a negative impact on wells in the area, since it would also be run on well water. According to information released in the meeting, the Galilee property would be expected to use roughly as much water as three households, far fewer gallons of water than would be allowed if additional residences were established on the 19-acre property.

It was also noted in the meeting that the applicant had agreed to a larger vegetative buffer than is required, parking is expected to be on the property and limitations have been placed on light and amplified sound on the property.

Commissioner Lewis Davis asked for verification that the special use permit would hold the center to the uses agreed upon, and Anderson confirmed that unlike a rezoning — where property can easily change use — the rural permit would not allow another owner to take over the location with a new idea or for Flemming to make any significant changes to the site’s use without approval from the Troup County Board of Commissioners.

County Manager Eric Mosley also spoke to the concern raised by some citizens regarding the tourist destination’s tax exempt status. According to estimates that he received from the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce, the center would be expected to have an economic impact of between $1 million and $5 million annually, which would help the county and local businesses.

Other topics covered during the meeting included:

  • The Troup County Board of Commissioners approved a budget amendment to account for grant funding the county received to supply seniors with meals.
  • The board of commissioners held the fiscal year 2020 budget hearing for consideration of the adoption of the county budget for the upcoming budget year. Commissioner Morris Jones asked for clarification that the millage rate will remain the same, Mosley confirmed.
  • The board of commissioners unanimously approved the second phase of the Belmont Farms subdivision on Mountville-Hogansville Road.
  • The board of commissioners unanimously approved the beer and wine license for The Roadhouse at 1872 Vernon Road.
  • The board of commissioners unanimously approved a mobile home placement request on Finney Road.

The Troup County Board of Commissioners will meet again on May 30 at 9 a.m. at 100 Ridley Avenue.