Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Oconee County Commissioners Decide To Discuss Referenda On Sunday Sales Of Alcohol At Next Meeting

Aug. 10 Deadline

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis’ efforts to get alcohol referenda on the ballot in November got a slight push-back from two of his Commission colleagues last (Tuesday) night.

Commissioner Jim Luke said the county needed to do more to warn the citizens that the referenda were under consideration by the Board, and Commissioner Mark Saxon agreed.

The bigger setback for Davis came from County Attorney Daniel Haygood.

Haygood told the commissioners that getting separate referenda on the November ballot for Sunday sale of beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores and for Sunday sale of beer, wine and alcohol by the drink in restaurants is straightforward, requiring only a majority vote of the Commission.

Getting package sales of alcoholic spirits in what would be liquor stores, which the county does not now have, would be much more difficult, Haygood said, requiring petitions signed by 35 percent of the county’s 22,187 registered voters, or 7,766, before the issue could go on the ballot.

The commissioners agreed to take out an advertisement in The Oconee Enterprise to warn citizens the issue will be on the agenda for consideration and possible action when the Commission meets again on Aug. 2.

Aug. 10 Deadline

The Commission would have to decide by Aug. 10 if it wants to put the Sunday sales on the ballot.

“I think it is almost impossible to get the distilled spirits by the package by this election,” Haygood said.

Commissioner Luke said he was concerned about the timing of the Sunday sales referenda.

“The public is not going to have very much opportunity to know about this in the short term,” he said. “It seems as though in an issue like this we ought to try to get a feel for the pulse of the public on whether they want a referendum or not.”

Saxon said he agreed, but Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes said that he was ready to put the issue on the ballot.

That video below contains all of the discussion of the issue at last night’s meeting.

OCO: Sunday And Package Sales from Lee Becker on Vimeo

All agreed in the end to keep the issue on the agenda for the meeting on Aug. 2, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

Davis’ Efforts

While Davis feigned ignorance about the particulars of the law and what the county would have to do to put the issue in the ballot in the early part of the discussion, as the video above shows, he was the instigator of the discussion, an examination of email messages shows.

Davis sent County Attorney Haygood an email on July 1, copied to the three voting commissioners, saying “As you know, the BOC has received several requests regarding allowing the citizens to vote, in November, to authorize Sunday Sales of alcoholic beverages.”

Davis added that “There has also been discussion requesting the voters to allow package stores to be located in Oconee County.”

Davis asked Haygood to “give some thought to developing a draft ordinance” for the Board to consider. He said “This may be a topic for discussion” at the July 19 meeting.

When Davis created the agenda for last night’s meeting, released to the public on Friday afternoon, it contained the item: Discuss Sunday Alcohol Sales Referendum.”

When Davis introduced the topic last night and turned to Haygood for discussion, Haygood immediately included package sales in liquor stores in his response.

Letters In Support

Davis had forwarded to the commissioners a series of letters in support of Sunday sales of beer and wine in groceries.

They came from Kroger’s (three letters), Publix (one letter), and Wal-Mart (identical letters signed by five different people).

The Wal-Mart letters all were dated June 14, 2016.

The three Kroger’s letters were dated June 16, 2016.

The Publix Letter was dated June 26, 2016.

None of the letters, which I obtained through an open records request, mentioned package sales of alcohol.

Law Changed

The General Assembly changed Georgia law in 2011, allowing for the sale of beer and wine in grocery, convenience, and liquor stores on Sundays.

The law also allowed for Sunday sale of beer, wine and alcoholic drinks in restaurants.

Athens-Clarke County passed referenda allowing Sunday sales in 2012.

The BOC allowed beer and wine sales in restaurants in 2008. The sale of beer and wine in grocery stores already was in place at that time.

Voters approved the sale of liquor by the drink in November of 2014.

Until last night, the BOC had not discussed Sunday sales or package sales in liquor stores.

What’s changed?

No one said this last night, but what is different now is that the Bishop Company of Atlanta is trying to lure Costco to locate in Phase II of an expanded Epps Bridge Centre, across from the existing shopping center.

The preliminary site plans approved by the county’s Development Review Committee last week include a 146,290-square-foot building that will face Plaza Parkway west of its intersection with the Oconee Connector.

The site plans show fuel station bays in front of the building, and Costco, a membership-only warehouse club headquartered in Issaquah, Washington, near Seattle, has been mentioned as a possible tenant.

Costco stores across the country sell and heavily promote beer and wine products.

Many have liquor stories either as part of their operations or attached to them.

Sam’s Club on Atlanta Highway, which is a competitor to Costco, already has Sunday sales and liquor sales.

The Oconee County site will be less attractive to Costco than a site in Athens-Clarke County or elsewhere without a change in the county’s liquor laws.

Video

A full video of the BOC meeting last night is below.

OCO: Board of Commissioners 7 19 16 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Oconee County Ready To Move Forward With Feasibility Study of Animal Shelter, Administrative Officer Said

RFP This Month

Oconee County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko told members of the county’s Animal Control Advisory Board last week that he expects to advertise this month for a feasibility study of improvements to or replacement of the county’s Animal Shelter.

Benko said he expected the county to open bids responding to the request for proposals in August and that the Board of Commissioners likely would award a contract at its meeting on Sept. 6.

The feasibility study will look at the current building, including its wiring and plumbing, the land on which it is built, and the surrounding land to see whether it is possible to add on or whether it will be necessary to build a new facility, either on that site or elsewhere in the county.

In other action at the meeting last week, the Board elected Tom Beacorn as chair, replacing Susan Wells, who will serve as vice chair, and Janet Calpin to continue as secretary.

South Of County

The Animal Shelter sits on just more than 6 acres at 2541 Macon Highway (U.S. 441) in the far south of the county.

Benko 7/13/2016

According to the county’s tax records, the 1,680-square-foot building was constructed in 1980.

The one-story building is valued at $88,819 and the land is valued at $98,496.

The land is next door to the old county landfill and Heritage Park.

The staff of the Animal Control Department has long advocated for a new facility, and it has been joined more recently by at least some members of the Animal Control Advisory Board in making that case.

Many have argued that the facility should be more centrally located in the county.

SPLOST Funds

Benko said the feasibility study would include an assessment of the soils at the site and examine the problem of flooding of the existing facility.

The submitted bids will be reviewed by a committee, according to Benko. Members of the Animal Control Board expressed interest in being involved in the evaluation.

Benko told the Advisory Board back in February that the county would not spend the estimated $10,000 for the feasibility study until it had collected sufficient revenue in the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which went into effect in October.

Once the county has completed the feasibility study it will begin the process of designing an expanded or new facility, Benko said.

New Member

Philip Freshley, newly appointed to the Advisory Board by the Board of Commissioners, introduced himself to his colleagues at the front of the meeting, saying he assumed he had been selected because he knew former Advisory Board member Mary Mahaffey.

In selecting Freshley, the BOC passed over eight other applicants, including several who have been very active as volunteers at the Animal Shelter.

Freshley and Mahaffey both live on Cedar Road in the far south of the county, near Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis.

Commissioner Mark Saxon said during a candidate forum this spring that the commissioners favor people they know when they make appointments to the various citizen committees.

Video

The complete video of the July 13 meeting of the Advisory Board is below.

The meeting took place in the Community Center in Veterans Park.

Only four persons, plus Benko, were in the audience.

OCO: Animal Control Board 7 13 16 from Lee Becker on Vimeo

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Oconee County Expects To Have Data Needed For Response To EPD On Calls Creek Discharge This Week

Waste Load Allocation Request

Oconee County Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie said last week that he expects to be able to provide to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division this week the information it has sought in response to the county's request for a new waste load allocation for Calls Creek.

Haynie said he expects to get the information he needs from consultant Carter and Sloope Inc., 1031 Stonebridge Parkway, just outside Butler’s Crossing, on projected county water discharges and to be able to send that to the EPD.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Oconee County Planning Commission Votes Against A Recreational Day Camp On Colham Ferry Road

Neighbors Opposed

The Oconee County Planning Commission voted 8 to 1 tonight (Monday) against a request by High Point Land Holdings LLC for special use of 35 acres on Colham Ferry Road for a residential day camp in an agricultural district.

Nine people from areas around the existing horse boarding and training facility spoke against the request, saying the addition of a residential day camp would create traffic and noise problems and is inconsistent with the Agricultural Preservation designation of the area on the county’s future development map.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Oconee County Election Superintendent Issues Call For Special Election For Board Of Commissioners Vacancy

Qualifying Aug. 1-3

Oconee County Election Superintendent Pat Hayes has issued a call for a special election to fill the vacancy in the Board of Commissioners created when John Daniell resigned Post 2 to run for Board chair.

The election to fill out Daniell’s four year term ending in 2018 will be held on Nov. 8 in conjunction with the general election.

Oconee County Planning Staff Not Recommending Approval Of Recreational Day Camp On Colham Ferry Road

Access One Issue

The Oconee County planning staff is not recommending approval of a special use request that would allow for a horse farm with a recreational day camp on Colham Ferry Road south of Watkinsville.

The request is before the Oconee County Planning Commission and calls for construction of a multi-use pavilion, to be partially used as a farm management residence, eight cabins, a bath house, and an announcer booth and tack house.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Oconee County Review Committee Approved Preliminary Site Plans for Epps Bridge Centre Expansion

Taco Bell Coming Too

Oconee County’s Development Review Committee approved preliminary site plans for Epps Bridge Centre Phase II and Phase III on Friday, and a representative of the developer of the shopping center said he expects construction to begin on the project within the next two months.

The county should let bids for construction of Parkway Boulevard Extension, the entranceway to the shopping center, next month, Adam Layfield of the county Utility Department told the group.