Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Oconee County Commissioners Postpone Decision On Old Mars Hill Road Pending Input From Public

Luke Most Outspoken

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners last night turned back Chairman Melvin Davis’ attempt to get funding for the reconnection of Old Mars Hill Road to Mars Hill Road itself, but it agreed to revisit the question in a month.

The Board also learned that the actual cost of the project will be $140,000 or more, not the $115,000 originally listed.

And it was told that the county already has spent $10,000 of that amount on design work.

County Public Works Department Director Emil Beshara told the group that he had no data on possible use of the route, which would be a shortcut between the section of Mars Hill Road that runs east-west and the part that runs north-south.

Beshara also told the group that no one from the county had informed residents of the nearby Oak Ridge subdivision or anyone else of the county’s plans to reconnect Old Mars Hill Road to the new Mars Hill Road now undergoing widening and reconstruction.

Told To Do It

Beshara told Commissioner Jim Luke he had been told to go forward with the request for design work for the intersection of Old Mars Hill Road with the section of Mars Hill Road now being widenened, but he did not say who gave him those instructions.

Email messages indicate that Chairman Davis initiated the project at the request of Perry Aycock, who owns four lots on Old Mars Hill Road, and that County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko instructed Beshara to follow up on Davis’ request.

The land that Aycock owns is being identified as representing a “Future Development Opportunity” on maps that were shown to the county last night by consultant Bill Ross.

Ross gave the Board a summary of his meeting on Aug. 13 during which he outlined possible future uses for land along Mars Hill Road when the widening project is finished in another two years.

Luke Outspoken

Luke was the most outspoken of the commissioners last night, saying that he had been kept in the dark on the project. He said he needed public feedback before he would go forward, as the video clip below shows.

OCO: Luke On Mars Hill from Lee Becker on Vimeo

None of the commissioners voiced support for the project, with concern expressed about cost and about the implications of the road for traffic in the area.

The design Beshara released showed a complex intersection that meets at an angle the new Mars Hill Road opposite Barber Creek Drive.

The road would be a shortcut for traffic moving from the east-west section of Mars Hill Road to the north-south section.

Cost Breakdown

Beshara told the Board that none of his cost estimates included any improvements to the existing surface of Old Mars Hill Road or to the intersection of Old Mars Hill Road and the east-west section of Mars Hill Road proper.

Beshara told the Board that Moreland Altobelli, the firm that did the design work, has informed him the cost for those services will be a few dollars less than $10,000.

In addition, the county will have to do about $15,000 more roadwork as Hollow Creek Lane is made to connect at a right angle with the new section of Old Mars Hill Road.

Before spending any more money, the commissioners asked that a public hearing be held on the proposal.

That meeting tentatively has been set for Sept. 22, or a week before the next discussion of the project by the BOC.

Citizen Feedback

The meeting ended last night with a dispute over citizen input on issues on the agenda.

At the beginning of the meeting, Davis asked, as is the custom, for any citizen input on issues not on the agenda. Comment on agenda items is to be held until those issues come before the Commission.

Citizen Pam Lohr Hendrix accepted Davis’ invitation, raising concerns about euthanasia at the county’s Animal Shelter, about the costs for adoption of animals held there, and about the county ordinance and its ability to protect those who foster animals.

She praised the adoption program and its success in placing animals.

No Comments Allowed

Davis did not call for comments after Rick Waller and Mark Thomas, members of the county’s Industrial Development Authority, gave that group’s report on the commercial development process in the county.

He also did not call for citizen comment after Ross gave his report.

When Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost completed his report on plans for a new administrative facility for the county, Davis did ask for citizen input.

Russ Page came forward and said he wanted to talk about the reports by the IDA members and by Ross.

Davis told him he would have to wait until the end of the meeting.

Last Item Completed

When the Commission completed its discussion of the Old Mars Hill Road project proposal, the final agenda item, Davis offered Page the chance to speak.

Page said he was disappointed that the IDA report and the Ross report had not dealt with the possibility of establishing a transfer of development rights program, a zoning option Page has championed for years and that has been endorsed by a county study committee.

Davis then turned to County Clerk Jane Greathouse and asked her to read the agenda for the Sept. 1 meeting.

At that point, I indicated I wished to speak, as did at least one other person in the audience.

Davis Overruled

Davis said he would allow comment on Ross’ report, but he would not allow me to speak on the Old Mars Hill Road project. He said I would have another chance to do that when the public meeting was held.

“I would rather say something now,” I responded, but Davis called for comment on the Ross report only.

Bryan Hicks, 1010 Burr Harris Road, said his and his neighbors’ homes were going to be devalued as a result of the changes being proposed. “That’s very unfair,” he added.

After Hicks spoke, Davis turned to the other commissioners and asked them if I should be allowed to speak.

John Daniell said “I don’t see any reason not to” allow me to speak, and Davis gave in.

Even before I began speaking, Davis looked down and began noisily shuffling his papers, as the video below indicates. He looked up only fleetingly during the 1 minute and 15 seconds I spoke.

OCO: My Comment from Lee Becker on Vimeo

I said that the county had spent $10,000 for a project at the request of one individual who wants to develop his property, and the county should try to figure out how to avoid this kind of mistake in the future.

Additional Video

The full video of the citizen input follows.

OCO: BOC 8 25 15 Citizen Comments from Lee Becker on Vimeo

This final video is of the full discussion of the Old Mars Hill Road project by the commissioners.

OCO: Old Mars Hill Road from Lee Becker on Vimeo

NOTE: An earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to Beshara as Utility Department Director rather than Public Works Department Director. I apologize for the mental lapse.

Oconee County Reporting A Sewer Spill Into Barber Creek Due To Mars Hill Widening Project

Upstream From Subdivisions

The Oconee County Utility Department is reporting a spill of 5,500 gallons of sewage into a tributary of Barber Creek as a result of the widening of Mars Hill Road.

The spill occurred at 11 a.m. on Friday when the contractor for the Mars Hill Road construction project hit the force main at the corner of Mars Hill and Daniells Bridge roads, causing a break in the line, according to the county.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Oconee County Commission Chairman Asking County To Spend $115,000 For Mars Hill Road Modification

On Tuesday Agenda

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis is asking his fellow Board members on Tuesday night to spend up to $115,000 to create a connection between Old Mars Hill Road and the new Mars Hill Road now under reconstruction.

The change will benefit a landowner who asked Davis to alter the road design, according to email messages among county officials.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Oconee County Animal Shelter Holding Petfest On Saturday To Raise Money For Adoption Program

Free To Public

The Oconee County Animal Shelter is holding a petfest on Saturday at Heritage Park in the south of the county to raise money to support the Shelter’s adoption program.

The event will include pony rides and face painting for children, food and crafts for the adults, and low cost rabies vaccines and microchipping for the pets.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Audience At Oconee County Meeting On Mars Hill Road Land Use Voiced No Support For Project

Given Little Time To Complain

About 40 people showed up last Thursday night at a meeting in Veterans Park to learn about county plans for development of Oconee County’s Mars Hill Road corridor, and none gave evidence of being there because of happiness with how things are going as the two-lane road is widened to four lanes.

Bill Ross, hired by the county as a consultant, told the residents as the meeting got underway that he wanted to hear from them, but he also said the meeting would last only an hour.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Oconee County Holding Meeting On Future Land Use Along Widened Mars Hill Road

Second Of Three

Oconee County is scheduled to hold a meeting at 7 p.m. tomorrow night to allow the public to react to preliminary findings regarding a possible overlay district for the Mars Hill Road corridor.

The meeting, to be held at the Community Center in Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road, is a sequel to a session held on July 23, where about 20 attendees got an introduction to the process for creation of a district.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Leader Relaunching As Free Paper Delivered To Driveways In Oconee County

Owned By Athens Paper

The Oconee Leader, which ceased publication on May 15, is relaunching, with the first edition to be delivered to driveways and distribution stands around the county on Thursday.

The paper will be owned by the Athens Banner-Herald, according to an Aug. 2 post on Facebook by former Leader owner Rob Peecher.