Thursday, December 07, 2023

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Rezone For Commercial Development, Self Storage Units At Park Entrance

***Details Of Future Development Discussed***

Oconee County commissioners on Tuesday night unanimously approved a rezone for a 25-acre commercial development at the planned second entrance to Oconee Veterans Park but split their vote on allowing for a self storage unit within that development.

With Mark Saxon and Mark Thomas voting for the special use allowing for the self storage unit, and Amrey Harden and Chuck Horton voting against, Commission Chair John Daniell was forced to vote, breaking the tie in favor of the self storage use.

Neither Harden nor Horton had voiced opposition to the self-storage unit in the discussion leading up to the vote.

Ian Taylor, the only citizen who spoke at the public hearing, said he was not opposed to the development but did not think the self-storage facility was in the best interest of the community.

Most of the discussion among commissioners that followed the public hearing focused on other parts of the massive Parkside commercial and residential complex, which stretches across 500 acres from Hog Mountain Road to Mars Hill Road.

The project has been dormant since it was approved--over much public opposition--in 2004.

Abe Abouhamdan, representing current owner and developer Mark Jennings, told the Board that it is at least possible that the 50-acre parcel to the east of the shopping center approved by the Board on Tuesday will be developed as a big box center.

Oconee County Director of Planning and Code Enforcement Guy Herring said Jennings will be required to build the key roadway inside the development connecting Mars Hill Road and Hog Mountain Road before any permits will be issued for the approved shopping center.

Description Of Shopping Center

Property owner Jennings, through his Athens Construction Group Property Holdings LLC and Parkside Property Development LLC, was asking the Board to rezone 20 acres that front on Hog Mountain Road and abut the eastern side of Oconee Veterans Park zoned for agriculture as well as five adjoining acres cut from another parcel zoned for residential development.

Abouhamdan 12/5/2023

Jennings was asking that both parcels be rezoned for highway business use and for a special use to allow for the self-storage unit.

The 20-acre parcel was not part of the 2004 Parkside rezone, while the adjoining five acres were.

Abouhamdan told the Board that the 25 acres under consider for the rezone “is a parcel that is kind of sandwiched between the OVP Park (Oconee Veterans Park) and 50-acres already zoned commercial that is within Parkside.”

He said it didn’t make sense to develop the 25 acres as residential because of the traffic and he said he he and Jennings rejected the idea of making it a large shopping center.

“We wanted to put something that's transitional, quality, small scale and that's really where we came up with a footprint of commercial buildings, cafes, delis--you know, something that you can get a coffee, a cappuccino,” Abouhamdan said. “You can get an ice cream cone, or you can take and buy some sports shoes or shirts.”

The self-storage facility will consist of 12 one- and two-story buildings on 5.7 acres and, according to Abouhamdan, will be all brick or stone. “We want something to be attractive, to be nice,” he said.

Citizen Comment

“I’m not against the development per se,” Taylor told the Board. “I’m kind of, sort of, ambivalent to it.”

“I just want to make sure that careful consideration is given to the self storage portion of this unit,” he said.

Taylor said he has talked with some law enforcement officers about “some theft and what not at self storage units and it has come to my attention that crime at these self storage units is a little bit more prevalent than I had certainly understood it to be.”

“Given that this will be right next to the park, and then ultimately a residential area, I just want to make sure that consideration is given to the safety aspect of it,” he said.

“Is self storage the right thing to have there?” he asked. “I don't know if it's the best land use for the property. That's for the developer to decide.”

“I'm just not convinced that the location is in the best interest of the community,” he said.

Discussion Following Hearing

Abouhamdan said that the self-storage unit will be a gated facility, will be attractive, and will be an “amenity” for residents of Parkside and other subdivisions in the area.

Labeled Clip From Presentation 12/5/2023

In response to a question from Harden, Herring said that, before any building permits are issued for the self storage unit or any other part of the proposed subdivision, the entire Dooley Boulevard will have to be complete. (Herring said after the meeting that Dooley Connector will have to be completed as well.)

Dooley Boulevard is the main road through Parkside, running from Hog Mountain Road to Mars Hill Road.

The road exists, but the final paving has not been done, and it has been exposed to weather for years while Parkside has gone through several hands and remained unbuilt.

As currently platted, Parkside will have 776 residential lots, with 269 of those lots designated for persons 55 years old and older, as well as commercial components at Mars Hill Road and Hog Mountain Road.

Herring also told Harden that the 50 acres on Hog Mountain Road between Dooley Boulevard and Dooley Connector–just east of the shopping center before the Board on Tuesday, is zoned R-2 but is designated as commercial.

Parkside was zoned as a master plan development, containing both commercial and residential components.

Herring said a big box shopping center with a grocery store “was envisioned for that area.”

Traffic Lights

“Are there traffic lights slated for any of these intersections?” Harden asked.

Entrance To OVP
Via Dooley And Park Connectors

Herring said a traffic study was done in 2004 and it proposed a traffic signal at Dooley Connector and Hog Mountain Road.

“It also proposed a signal up at Mars Hill, where Dooley Boulevard comes through there,” he said.

He said it “referenced another signal” at Dooley Boulevard and Hog Mountain Road “based on the commercial development that develops out.”

Herring said the signals will have to go through permitting by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and “meet warrants,” and GDOT will determine the timing of installation of those signals.

“Do you have any idea what you all are thinking of on the other side over here?” Horton asked Abouhamdan, referring to the tract between the Dooley Connector and Dooley Boulevard.

“I know from the previous rezone, commissioner, that there was a shopping center, multiple restaurants, a variety of commercial,” Abouhamdan said.

“I couldn't begin to tell you what's going to go in there,” he said, “but it is commercial. It could be big box retail or it could be more like Epps Bridge setting.”

“That’s why we’re trying to do much less intensive here between the park and that zone,” he said.

Other Action

In another zoning case, the Board approved a request by Commissioner Mark Thomas that a cell tower already approved for property he owns on Cedar Road in the south of the county be allowed to be 49 feet taller than originally proposed (to 199 feet) and be moved slightly on the property to maximize its reach. Thomas recused himself from that vote.

Pilgrim Before Board 12/5/2023

At the beginning of the meeting, David Clementson used the Public Comment section of the meeting to “compliment the good work” of the county Parks and Recreation Department.

“In these times when there's a lot to complain about in unsafe communities,” he said, “we can be proud of Oconee County's parks department and we should express our gratitude for the leadership of director Lisa Devol.”

Much of the early part of the meeting was devoted to a review of the just completed Fiscal Year 2023 Audit by Rushton LLC, with offices in Gainesville.

Clay Pilgrim from Rushton told the Board that “nothing came to our attention during the audit process that would prohibit us from issuing an unmodified or clean opinion on the financials.”

The Board also approved ground lease agreements with Prime Tower Development of Alpharetta for 199 foot high cell towers at 1030 Rankin Road (Butler's Crossing Collection Site) and 3500 Hog Mountain Road (Oconee Veterans Park).

The Board also awarded a bid for renovation of Eagle Tavern to Watkinsville's Bayne Development Group, LLC, with authorization not to exceed $114,000. The funding will come from SPLOST 2015 monies set aside for Historic and Scenic Facilities.

The Board also approved items put on the consent agenda at the Nov. 28 meeting approving a naming right agreement at Heritage Park, authorizing the county to submit a joint claim with Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority in a damages settlement, agreeing to abandon Hillsboro Road so New High Shoals can assume responsibility for the roadway, and agreeing to the annexation by Watkinsville of that portion of the Thomas Farm outside the city limits.


The video below is on the Oconee County YouTube Channel.

The meeting begins at 7:19 in the video.

Clementson made his comments at 8:24 in the video.

Pilgrim began his review of the audit at 11:07 in the video.

Discussion of the Parkside rezone begins at 30:12 in the video.

Abouhamdan made his initial comments at 33:54 in the video.

Taylor spoke at 42:55.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Oconee School Board Denies Co-Publisher Of The Oconee Enterprise Opportunity To Respond To Criticism From Board Member

***Cites Board Policy On Residency***

Amanda Prochaska, co-publisher of The Oconee Enterprise, went to the Oconee County Board of Education meeting on Monday evening planning to respond to the criticism of the paper made by Board Member Tim Burgess at the November Board meeting.

Prochaska intended to point out, contrary to what Burgess had said, that the paper publishes a large number of positive stories about Oconee County Schools.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Oconee County Commission Considering Leasing Space In Oconee Veterans Park, At Butler’s Crossing Collection Site, For Cell Towers

***Agreement On Agenda For Tuesday Meeting***

Oconee County Commissioners took steps last week at their agenda setting meeting to improve the cell phone coverage in the northern part of the county when they heard details of two Ground Lease Agreements with Alpharetta-based Prime Tower Development.

The agreements will allow Prime Tower to construct 199 foot tall cell towers at the county’s Butler's Crossing Collection Site, 1030 Rankin Road, and at Oconee Veterans Park, 3500 Hog Mountain Road.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Analysis Of Per Pupil Expenditures For Oconee County Schools Shows Spending Outpaced Inflation In Last 10 Years

***OCS Received 5 Star Efficiency Rating–in 2019***

Pam Hendrix told the Oconee County Board of Education last month during the public comment section of its meeting that she wanted to understand spending per student in Oconee County Schools and how it has changed over time.

She said her goal was frustrated by errors in calculations of Per Pupil Expenditures in the 2022-23 Annual Report Oconee County Schools had sent to mailboxes in the county in July.

Friday, December 01, 2023

Northeast Health District COVID Case Count Mostly Unchanged; Oconee Registers Its 109th Confirmed Death From Disease

***Newly Report Death Is Of A 47-Year-Old***

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported that the Northeast Health District added 155 new cases of COVID-19 in the week ending on Nov. 29, based on the Department’s electronic tracking system.

The Department of Public Health reported the Northeast Health District had added 145 cases in the week ending Nov. 22.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Rep. Spencer Frye, In Meeting With Oconee County Democrats, Says He Has Little Information About Upcoming Special Session

***Legislature Must Redistrict Following Court Ruling***

Spencer Frye, who represents the 122nd District in the Georgia House, told Oconee County Democrats earlier this month that he doesn’t know what is going to happen when the General Assembly meets in special session Wednesday to create new legislative districts for the state.

Frye said his district, which currently falls entirely in Clarke County, could be changed or left alone.

Friday, November 24, 2023

COVID Case Count In Northeast Health District Drops Back After Modest Increase Week Earlier

***No New Confirmed Deaths From Disease Reported***

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported that the Northeast Health District added 145 new cases of COVID-19 in the week ending on Nov. 22, based on the Department’s electronic tracking system.

The Department of Public Health reported the Northeast Health District had added 184 cases in the week ending on Nov. 15.