* KKK sign may return to downtown Dahlonega
DAHLONEGA -- It appears protesters and city officials are in-step after a sign and flags with Ku Klux Klan imagery were placed on then removed from a downtown Dahlonega building.
Last Thursday, a sign showing a Klansman with an outstretched hand and the words “Historic Ku Klux Klan Meeting Hall” and Confederate and Klan flags were placed atop the Butler Building, the former home of permanently-closed Piazza Italian Restaurant, reportedly by the building's owner.
The sign was taken down as it violated the city's sign code, but Mayor Gary McCullough said on Friday if the owner applied for one, the city cannot deny it based on its content – only if it violates city regulations.
McCullough said on Friday an employee of property owner Roberta Green-Garrett had applied for a sign permit and that the sign and flags had also been placed by employees.
The sign appears to have been posted due to issues Green-Garrett has with the city over wanting to build a hotel on the land.
“On February 16th an illegal sign was observed and removed from the building,” a statement from the city said. “Later that day, the city was informally advised a filing of a complete application for both the approval of the replacement building and the demolition of the Butler building was soon to be made for the hotel. As of the posting of this article, a complete application has not been submitted.”
Per the city’s release, the property next to the building was approved with conditions for demolition in August 2015 for a hotel with 30 rooms.
Dahlonega property records list Green-Garrett as an owner of the building approved for the hotel and as a former owner of the Butler Building.
“The city met with the Garretts in April 2016 to discuss their interest in a larger project to roughly double the size of the building to 75 rooms. The Garretts must next obtain approval of the replacement building and obtain authority to demolish the Butler building, also. Despite much informal discussion, a complete application for a Certificate of Appropriateness ... has not yet been received,” the city’s release said.
The Dahlonega City Council, acting as the city's Board of Zoning Appeals, denied a request from the Garretts in November 2016 to reduce required parking space sizes and “denied proposed intrusion of two floors leasable enclosed space over public right of way.” Four other variances were also withdrawn.
The city met with the architects and attorneys for the project a month later.
“If plans are not changed, the building concept last seen (two levels of deck parking and lobby with two levels of guest rooms) would exceed height limits for the district and the applicant was advised a conditional use permit will be required,” the city’s release said.
The controversial sign has angered locals, who protested on Thursday and Friday – the second bringing a reported 300-400 participants.
A coalition of local business owners, non-profits and a University of North Georgia student-group is organizing a protest of Green-Garrett’s businesses “in response to her political ploy to utilize the current social climate to blackmail the city government.”
“Ms. Neva Garrett, purportedly on behalf of the business owner, declares that should her demands, unspecified, be met by the city lawyer, that she has negotiated with the Ku Klux Klan to ensure they never officially operate within Dahlonega city limits ever again,” the coalition’s release said.
“Clearly implicit in this is the suggestion that they might be compelled to … if the city does not grant her requests.”
The group will also hold a public press conference on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. in room 014 in the Newton Oaks/Dunlap Hall Building at UNG’s Dahlonega Campus.
“In short, a wealthy business owner, the provider of a substantial portion of student housing, has collaborated with a known hate group to blackmail the city of Dahlonega and shame our town,” the coalition’s release said. “Our non-partisan coalition finds this blatant race-baiting and cynical political opportunism disgusting and unbefitting our business.”