Sunday, February 19, 2017

Field Trip In Oconee County Provided Opportunity For Sampling Of Greenbriar Creek And Examination Of Stream Characteristics

Three Farms Visited

The Citizen Committee for Water Resources and its guests on Saturday got a chance to see Greenbriar Creek and one of its tributaries up close in a field trip to three farms just east of Bishop.

The creek, and the three farms, could be impacted by construction of a U.S. 441 bypass of Bishop if the Georgia Department of Transportation opts for a route east of the small city.

GDOT officials have stressed that they have not selected a route, but one that was listed as under review when the state resurrected the U.S. 441 widening project back in June of 2015 would affect the three farms visited.

During the walk on Saturday, the 10 participants did some preliminary stream sampling and got a sense of the current characteristics of the stream.

Chris Greer, who does drone photography, joined the group when the rain cleared to record some still and video images of the creek.

Greenbriar Creek

Greenbriar Creek originates on the north side of Bishop, crosses under the existing U.S. 441 and flows south on the east side of Salem Road–and U.S. 441--in Oconee County on its way to Lake Oconee.

Ken Morneault, Dave Wenner, Diane Windham With Samples

The stream is fed by a variety of tributaries in the farms just east of Bishop, including one on the farm of Carole Ludwig off Old Farmington Road.

The tour yesterday started on Ludwig’s farm, followed the tributary on her property to where it joins Greenbriar Creek, and then followed Greenbriar Creek to the farm of Del and Marian Finco.

Finco’s farm also is on Old Farmington Road.

The route also crossed the farm of James and Kathryn Poulnott, which has a U.S. 441 address.

Ludwig and the Fincos led the tour.

Citizen Committee

The Citizen Committee for Water Resources consists of representatives of Friends of Barber Creek, Friends of Calls Creek, and Oconee Waters, as well as others who have joined.

Finco Says One Route Would Pass Here

I was one of the organizers of the group.

The goal of the group is to give citizens an additional voice in matters involving water and its use in the county.

The field trip on Saturday is the first step in developing a broader discussion of Greenbriar Creek and its potential role in selection of routes for a bypass of Bishop. Our plans are to develop a public program on the topic.

The route discussed back in June of 2015 involved numerous crossings of Greenbriar Creek in the area east of Bishop.

All three of the farms visited on Saturday would be affected by that route.

Hunter Helping Greer Land Drone

Oconee County Planning Commission To Try Again To Review Ministry College Proposal

Will Need Quorum

The Oconee County Planning Commission tomorrow (Monday) night is to pick up its agenda from last month, when it did not have a quorum, and give consideration to a request to convert a portion of the former Green Hills Golf Course and Country Club in the far east of the county to a ministry college.

The Commission also will review a request from Stonebridge Partners LLC for a rezone of land for a residential subdivision on undeveloped land across from the existing Daniells Plantation subdivision, just east of Butler’s Crossing.

Other agenda items include a request from RWJ Inc. to modify the approved plans for Downs Creek Farm subdivision, now under development on the west side of Daniells Bridge Road.

Watkinsville First Baptist Church is seeking approval of its plans to expand its facilities on a 17.7 acre-tract at Simonton Bridge Road and Norton Road.

And the Commission will review a request for a convenience food store at Bob Godfrey Road and Belmont Road, near the proposed ministry college. The convenience story is not to have fuel pumps.

The Planning Commission meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

No Quorum

Only six of the 12 members of the Planning Commission showed up for the scheduled meeting on Jan. 17, leaving the body without a quorum and unable to conduct business. A quorum is defined for the Commission as half of the members plus one.

Outline Of Golf Course Visible
(Click To Enlarge)

Green Hills Farms LLC, the current land owner, was seeking a special use to allow the Athens College of Ministry to develop a campus on just more than 100 acres on the agriculturally-zoned land.

The 100-acre-parcel is part of a larger tract of 189 acres in the small triangle of Oconee County on the east side of the Oconee River tucked between Athens-Clarke County and Oglethorpe County. The property has been vacant since 2009.

The special use is only for the western portion of that acreage.

Oconee County currently does not provide either water or sewer to the land to the east of the Oconee River, and the narrative for the development states the college will seek to obtain water from Athens-Clarke County and rely on septic in the short term.

Stonebridge Partners

The Planning Commission agenda for last month did not include the request by Stonebridge Partners LLC for a rezone of the just less than 40 acres east of Butler’s Crossing for the residential subdivision.

That item had been on the Planning Commission’s agenda in November, but, on the request of the owner, the Commission postponed action at that meeting.

The request is for a 35 lot single-family subdivision. The houses would use septic.

The land currently is zoned for Office Institutional Professional Planned Unit Development and Highway Business.

The portion of the property designated for Office Institutional Profession use had been zoned in 1996 for a for a retirement community that was never built.

The acreage currently is wooded.

Other Items

RWJ Inc, owned by Rodney Jones, is seeking to modify the approved plans for Downs Creek Farm subdivision, now under development on the west side of Daniells Bridge Road just south of the bridge over Barber Creek.

The county rezoned 53 acres for the subdivision in January of 2014, with 11 lots.

Subsequently, RWJ Inc. sold two of those lots to David Mulkey, who combined them with adjoining acreage he purchased.

Jones now is seeking to change the rezone so he can build 11 houses on the remaining 33 acres. Three houses already are under construction, according to the planning documents.

The recommendations of the Planning Commission will go to the Board of Commissioners for its March 7 meeting.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

First Meeting of Stakeholders Committee for Oconee County Joint Comprehensive Plan Set For Tuesday

First of 4-5 Meetings

The Stakeholders Committee for the Oconee County Joint Comprehensive Plan is scheduled to hold its first meeting from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.

According to Justin Crighton from the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, this is one of four of five meetings the Stakeholders Committee will hold over the next 10 to 12 months as it works to create a new Joint Comprehensive Plan for the county and its four cities.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan is required to meet requirements for state grants, assistance and permitting programs.

The document, according to Crighton, will outline where the county is, determine where it wants to be, and plan how to get there.

Three Groups

Crighton told the Oconee County Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Feb. 7 that three distinct groups are to be involved in the creation of the Comprehensive Plan, an update of the one created in 2008.

The first group is the Stakeholders Committee, Crighton said, which is responsible for the biggest part of the work on the Plan.

“They are going to be responsible for helping me and my staff craft what that vision is, including the future development map, land use, goals, policies, objectives, needs, opportunities.”

The second group is the members of the Board of Commissioners and the mayors and council members of the county’s four cities.

That group will meet three of four times during the process to make sure that what the Stakeholder Committee suggests is not “out of character or undoable.”

Crighton said the elected officials will be asked to “Give your consent and provide your input as well.”

Citizen Input

Crighton said the “third and probably the most important (group) is the general public.”

At present, Crighton said he is proposing to hold two public forums, one after the Stakeholders Committee has completed some of its work and the other toward the end of the process.

At that second meeting, “We’ll present a draft of the plan” for public comment, he said.

In addition, the law requires that two official public hearings be held.

The final of these is before the plan is transmitted to the state, Crighton told the Commission.


The Board of Commissioners appointed 24 members to the Stakeholders Committee at its meeting on Feb. 7.

Bishop, Bogart, North High Shoals and Watkinsville each also appointed a member, as did the Oconee County Board of Education.

The Stakeholders Committee consists of two nurses, a geologist, a farmer, four educators, a retired Internal Revenue Service administrator, and a forester.

The Board of Commissioners selected nine women from the 10 who applied for the Stakeholders Committee. A total of 33 citizens applied to serve on the Committee

Familiar Faces

Maria Caudill and Charles Hunt, members of the county’s Planning Commission, are on the Stakeholders Committee, as is Ed Perkins from the County’s Industrial Development Authority.

Maria Caudill also serves on the county’s Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee. Tammy Gilland, also a member of the Land Use Committee, is on the Stakeholders Committee.

Marcus Wiedower, a custom home builder and general contractor, is a Stakeholders Committee member, as is Bob Bishop, retired from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and an active property developer.

Wiedower ran unsuccessfully for the Board of Commissioners in a special election last November.

Becky Moore, who has spoken out for smart growth, is on the Stakeholders Committee. So is Lisa Douglas, who is one of the organizers of Positively Oconee, a group working to preserve green space in the county.


Citizens interested in serving on the Stakeholders Committee completed an application, though not all used the same form.

The county released most, but not all, of those applications before the Jan. 31 meeting, when candidates were given a chance to appear before the Board of Commissioners.

The county also released a list of applicants, but it was formatted in a way that made it difficult to read addresses. I have recreated that list for the 24 selected citizens, and the list is available HERE.

I also assembled the applications of the 24 selected citizens into a single file, which can be downloaded HERE. The applications appear alphabetically. Laura Iyer appears incorrectly as Laura Lyer on the application but is alphabetized correctly in this file.

The county blanked out some information on some of those forms but not on others.

Video of Interviews

Nineteen of the 24 selected applicants appeared before the Commission on Jan. 31.

I created a video file, alphabetized, of the comments of those 19 applicants. I eliminated the presentations of those who were not selected.

That video is below.

Toby Bradberry, mayor of North High Shoals and the designated representative of that city to the Stakeholders Committee, completed an application but he did not make a presentation at the Commission meeting on Jan. 31.

His application is at the end of the merged file I created of those applications.

OCO: Stakeholder Applicant Interviews from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Video of Crighton’s Comments

The video below is of the comments Crighton, from the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission (NEGCR), made to the Board of Commissioners at the meeting on Feb. 7 explaining the steps to be followed in creation of the Comprehensive Plan.

The county is paying the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission $65,000 to cover the costs of the Commission’s work on the Comprehensive Plan.

In addition, the county pays $30,282 in annual dues to NEGRC.

Oconee County Planning Department Director B.R. White told me he will serve as a resource person for work on the Comprehensive Plan but that NEGRC is responsible for creation of the Plan itself.

OCO: Crighton On Comprehensive Plan from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oconee County Administrative Officer Benko Announces Retirement Effective July 1

Informed Board Tuesday

Oconee County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko announced at the end of his meeting with department directors this (Wednesday) morning that he plans to retire effective July 1.

Benko, 62, said he informed the members of the Board of Commissioners of his decision on Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Feasibility Study For New Oconee County Animal Shelter Questioned By Animal Control Advisory Board

Key Meeting Feb. 28

Tevis Architects’ recommendation that Oconee County replace its Animal Shelter with a new facility costing an estimated $2.9 million met with some resistance from members of the Animal Control Advisory Board at its meeting last week.

Board member Claire Hamilton said the price tag “is way too high...It is a pretty big price tag for the taxpayers.”

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Owner Of Land For Proposed Oconee County Solar Farm Also Owned Land That Became Neighboring Wildflower Meadows Subdivision

Developer Says Project Still Alive

When the developers of Wildflower Meadows, a 263.1- acre subdivision in northwest Oconee County, wanted to launch the project in 2006, they assembled 10 different pieces of property to accommodate the proposed 170 lots.

The largest of the 10 assembled tracts was a 113.5-acre parcel owned by the Hammond family of Gainesville.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Oconee County Commission, In Split Vote, Decided To Move Forward With Calls Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

3 MGD Option

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners, in a 3-1 vote Tuesday night, agreed to spend $13.4 million to upgrade the Calls Creek wastewater treatment plant to 1.5 million gallons per day and prepare the plant for possible future upgrade to 3.0 million gallons per day.

Oconee County Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie argued that the county would save money in the long-run if it spent a $1.1 million “premium” on the plant now so that the county would have the option of upgrading the plant to 3 million gallons per day in the future.