Sunday, April 23, 2017

Oconee County Puts Two Projects On Three-Year Hold Because Of Issue With Ground Clearance Permits

Timbering At Issue

Oconee County has informed developers of two projects, both of which have been before the county’s Development Review Committee in recent weeks, that their projects are on hold because they cleared trees from the sites without getting clearing and grubbing permits.

A representative of one of those projects--the expansion of Briarwood Baptist Church on Hog Mountain Road--was before the DRC on Friday and was told that even though the DRC approved the Preliminary Site Plan the county would not issue any permits for work to go forward.

Jason Lawson, representative of Rhino Storage on U.S. 441 north of Watkinsville, was before the DRC last month and similarly received approval of his Preliminary Site Plan.

Sandy Weinel, assistant director of the county Planning and Code Enforcement Department, subsequently wrote Lawson telling him of the three-year moratorium of “development approval.”

Both entities have the option of asking the Oconee County Board of Commissioners to waive the moratorium.

Briarwood Baptist

Briarwood Baptist Church received approval from the Board of Commissioners late last year for construction of a 12,000-square-foot-building to be used for a worship center and educational space.

Cleared Area Behind Sign, Right

The plans before the DRC on Friday were for that 12,000-square-foot building, which would be in addition to the existing main building and modular unit used for youth education and fellowship.

The county’s Development Review Committee provides technical reviews of zoning applications, construction plans and other related matters.

The church expansion would be on a previously wooded lost to the west of the existing facility.

Total acreage for the church property, which is at the corner of Hog Mountain Road and Robinhood Road, is a little more than 17 acres.

Cleared Land

According to a letter Weinel sent to Jeff Carter of Carter Engineering Consultants, 3651 Mars Hill Road, on April 13, the church cleared a portion of the lot of trees in February.

Carter is representing the church in the expansion.

The cleared lot fronts on Hog Mountain Road and adjoins property already cleared that is part of the commercial component of the dormant Parkside residential and commercial complex, which stretches from Hog Mountain Road to Mars Hill Road.

“We can move forward with this project with the review phase,” Weinel said at the DRC meeting on Friday. “We cannot issue any permits until the three year period has passed or the Board has granted a waiver.”

The county is waiting on a letter from Carter Engineering Consultants, 3651 Mars Hill Road, requesting that waiver by the Board of Commissioners, Weinel said.

Rhino Storage

Broome Street LLC, 1251 Overlook Ridge Road, south of Hog Mountain Road in the west of the county, is planning to build a six-building storage facility on part of a 12-acre parcel of land tucked behind the Stone Store on U.S. 441 at the intersection with Hog Mountain Road.

Proposed Storage Facility (Click To Enlarge)

The parcel, owned, according to county tax records, by Patricia Wynn and Ivy, et al., 1350 Allgood Road, will be accessible via an easement on the property housing the operations center of Oconee State Bank, 7920 Macon Highway (U.S. 441).

According to Georgia Secretary of State Corporate records, Broome Street LLC is owned by Harrison Tyler McClure, who also owns All About Pinestraw, 73 North Main Street, Watkinsville.

The storage facility is to be called Rhino Storage.

The storage facility is across a creek from homes on Chaddwyck Drive, off of Lavista Road.

Stop Work Order

The county issued a Stop Work Order on Feb. 14 for the storage project, stating that “a permit is required to conduct land-disturbing activities on the subject parcel.”

At the DRC meeting on March 17, county Building Inspector Paul Smith asked Jason Lawson of Baseline Surveying and Engineering Inc., about that order. Baseline, 1800 Hog Mountain Road, east of Butler’s Crossing, is representing Broome Street LLC on the project.

“The way I understood it,” Lawson said, “once we have approval of our erosion control, we will be allowed to proceed.”

On April 12, however, Weinel wrote to Lawson saying that clearing of a portion of the lot had occurred on Feb. 8, and that a three-year moratorium on issuance of a permit for the project is now in effect, ending on Feb. 7, 2020.

Legal Issue

The county’s Unified Development Code specifies that the DRC “must first approve a preliminary plat for a major subdivision, or a preliminary site plan for development of a condominium, multi-family or nonresidential project, prior to the issuance of a development permit or initiation of any land disturbing or construction activities.”

The UDC, in a separate section, does specify that “timbering and forestry operations are allowed if the tree removal represents tree harvesting undertaken as a bona fide agricultural activity.” The code spells out how such harvesting can be carried out.

The code section further specifies: “A preliminary plat for any type of subdivision or a site plan for any type of multi-family or nonresidential development shall not be approved if any portion of the property has been cleared of trees within 3 years prior to such approval request.

“This restriction may be waived by the Board of Commissioners upon a finding that: a. The tree removal occurred as a bona fide agricultural activity; and, b. A minimum basal area of at least 50 square feet per acre, distributed evenly throughout the property, was retained on the property at the time of tree removal, as certified by a qualified arborist or forester.”

In a letter dated April 4, Lawson told the county that “The tree removal occurred as a bona fide agricultural activity, as a common forestry practice” and asked that the moratorium be waived.

Video Available

I obtained the correspondence involving the Briarwood Baptist Church and Rhino permits through an open records request I filed after the DRC meeting on Friday.

The video of that session is HERE, and the video of the March 17 session is HERE.

The Briarwood Baptist Church plan was the second item on the agenda of the DRC meeting on Friday.

Rhino Storage was the final item on March 17 agenda.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Oconee County Says It Cannot Provide Sewer Capacity To Auto Dealership Being Built On SR 316

12-18 Month Delay

Oconee County told Mercedes-Benz of Athens Friday that the county will not be able to provide sewer service for the planned new auto dealership on SR 316 at Virgil Langford Road for another 12 to 18 months.

The announcement coincided with the release of a memorandum stating that those requesting Letters of Availability of sewer service be advised of limited capacity in parts of the county’s service area and the complete lack of availability in others, including where the Mercedes-Benz facility is planned.

The county released the announcement on sewer capacity in a meeting of the county’s Development Review Committee, which was considering the Preliminary Site Plan and Site Development Plans for the new auto dealership.

The DRC approved the Preliminary Site Plan, but Sandy Weinel, assistant director of the Planning and Code Enforcement Department, told a representative of Mercedes-Benz the firm will have to build a private septic system if it wants to move forward before sewer capacity is available.

The Development Review Committee also reviewed revised Site Development Plans for a Burger King restaurant on Hog Mountain Road across from Oconee Elementary School.

The only question raised was about striping on Hog Mountain Road at the entrance to the drive-through restaurant, and no resolution was reached on that issue.

Utility Department Memorandum

Weinel, who chaired the DRC meeting, raised the problem of sewer services at the beginning of the discussion of the Mercedes-Benz plans.

Adam Layfield, Left, Public Works, And Ken Beall

“The biggest issue for this project right now is that there is no sewer capacity available,” Weinel told Jason Stough, of On Site Civil Group of Milton, representing Mercedes-Benz at the meeting. “There is a 12- to 18-month delay,” she added.

Weinel gave Stough a copy of a Memorandum dated March 21 from Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie to herself and B.R. White, director of the Planning and Code Enforcement Department.

The memorandum states that both the county’s Land Application Site on Rocky Branch Road and Calls Creek wasterwater plant on the northern edge of Watkinsville “are experiencing conditions that place them near or over their allowable capacity.”

How To Respond

The Calls Creek plant is being expanded, and additional capacity should become available in 12 to 18 months, Haynie’s memorandum states.

Some of the current flow to the LAS will be diverted to the Calls Creek plant, and “some limited commercial and industrial capacity” will become available at the LAS sometime in the middle of 2018, Haynie wrote.

In the meantime, those who ask about capacity are to be told that, if the project is in the Calls Creek service basin, the county will “assess the requested wastewater load and issue a letter that may qualify or limit the amount of capacity available.”

If the project is in the LAS service area, “we may defer on the letter or, if requested, issue a letter stating that capacity does not current exist,” according to the memorandum.

Rezone For Dealership

In June of last year, the Board of Commissioners approved a rezone request for nearly 30 acres on SR 316 at Virgil Langford Road for a proposed cluster of auto dealerships and related businesses.

Mercedes-Benz was identified as a potential tenant, and county tax records show that TT of Athens Inc., owner of the Mercedes-Benz dealership and a West Palm Beach, Fla., auto business, purchased the property in July of 2016.

The Preliminary Site Plan approved by the DRC was for 8.3 acres and shows a 360,431-square-foot-building fronting on SR 316.

The dealership will be accessible off Jimmy Daniell Road.

Effect On Plans

Stough of On Site Civil told the DRC that it would take about 18 months to finish work on the Mercedes-Benz dealership so the delay might not be a problem.

“At this point, it is what it is,” he said of the lack of sewer capacity. “If we don’t have it, we don’t have it.”

The project could be delayed a year to accommodate the lack of sewer, he said.

“I know the sewer issue is a problem,” he said. “I’m going to speak with the owner and see how they want to approach it.”

In the initial rezone proposal, Williams and Associates, the land planning firm representing the dealership, had estimated that the entire complex would require 7,940 gallons per day of sewer capacity.

Haynie had not made a firm commitment indicating that capacity would be available.

Burger King

Ken Beall of Beall and Company represented Burger King at the DRC meeting.

Beall also had represented Stonebridge Partners LLC in the rezone request for two drive through restaurants opposite the school complex that includes Oconee Middle School, Oconee Primary School, and Oconee Elementary School.

The revised site development plans reviewed by the DRC modify the previous plans to accommodate Burger King by adjusting the building location and revising the lot design.

The site plans show a 3,410-square-foot-building separated by a parking from the existing Subway restaurant.

The Board of Commissioners voted in July to rezone the nearly two acres for the two restaurants, both with drive-through operations.


The county’s Development Review Committee provides technical reviews of zoning applications, construction plans and other related matters.

It consists of representatives of the Planning and Code Enforcement Department, the Public Works Department, the Environmental Health Department, the Utility Department, and the Emergency Management and Fire Department.

The meeting today took place in the conference room of the Government Annex on SR 15 on the south of Watkinsville.

The video below is of the entire meeting.

The discussion of the Mercedes-Benz plans was the first item on the agenda.

The discussion of the Burger King was the last item on the agenda and begins at 19:30.

OCO: DRC 4 21 2017 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Georgia Department Of Transportation Releases Maps Of U.S. 441 Widening In Oconee County

Show Bishop Roundabouts

The Georgia Department of Transportation today (Tuesday) released electronic versions of the five maps it unveiled March 28 at a meeting of the Oconee County Citizen Advisory Committee on the widening of U.S. 441 from Watkinsville to the Apalachee River.

Included were maps showing two alternate designs for the roadway through Bishop as well as three maps of the sections of roadway through Oconee County

At that meeting on March 28, GDOT officials said they were no longer considering a bypass of Bishop and presented the five maps to the Citizen Advisory Committee members as well as to a handful of other citizens present.

The state officials said that the only copies of the maps available were those shown at the meeting and that they were not able to release the copies to the public.

Release Of Maps

GDOT released the maps in response to an open records request filed by Michael Prochaska, editor of The Oconee Enterprise.

Roundabouts On Either Side Of Bishop (Click To Enlarge)

Prochaska told me yesterday that he had received the files from GDOT but was having difficulty downloading them. He asked if I would be willing to help.

I agreed, saying I, too, had asked for copies of the maps. I had not filed an open records request because I was told the maps were not with GDOT but in the possession of its consultant.

After I talked to Prochaska, I sent a message to Bruce Anderson, GDOT project manager, asking him to send me the files as well, since I had asked for them at the March 28 meeting.

I told Prochaska I would share with him anything I was able to acquire.

Kerrie Boyette, from GDOT consultant KCI, who had presented the maps at the meeting on March 28, sent Anderson instructions on how to download the very large files. Anderson forwarded those instructions to me.

Prochaska told me this afternoon that he also had been able to download the files.

Bishop Map Details

One of the files showing the roadway through Bishop includes roundabouts at Astondale Road and SR 186/High Shoals Road. A clip from that file is above.

I have put the complete file on, and it can be downloaded HERE. All of these files are very large, so downloading takes patience.

A second file shows what GDOT is calling Florida-T designs at the Astondale Road intersection with U.S. 441 and at the SR 186/High Shoals Road intersection with U.S. 441.

That file can be downloaded HERE.

Maps Of Complete Route

GDOT released sheet 1 of the route, from the Apalachee River to Heritage Park, south of Farmington.

That map can be downloaded HERE.

Sheet 2 of the route is from Heritage Park to just south of Bishop.

That map is available HERE.

Sheet 3 is from Bishop to Watkinsville.

That map is HERE.

On all three maps, the purple route is for the railroad right of way.

I had made a video recording of all of these maps at the March 28 meeting.

March 28 Meeting

At the meeting on March 28, Bishop Mayor Johnny Pritchett voiced strong opposition to the decision not to bypass Bishop.

Except in Bishop, the highway would be four lanes wide. In Bishop, it would be three lanes wide.

For the whole route, the new road would follow the existing right of way.

To slow traffic moving through Bishop, consultants to GDOT are proposing the roundabouts, but the Florida-T was presented as an alternate.

The plans also include a pedestrian crossing in Bishop with a traffic light that is push-button activated.

The plans call for streetscaping in Bishop to make the roadway pedestrian friendly, for landscaping and for pedestrian lighting.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Alexion Decides Not To Expand Oconee County Plant And Cancels Land Purchase At Gateway Business Park

90 Day Deadline

Alexion Pharma of New Haven, Conn., has decided not to expand its operation at the Gateway Technology Business Park on the edge of Bogart, dealing a setback to efforts of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority to develop the business park.

Rick Waller, chair of the IDA, announced the decision of Alexion as an afterthought following his Chair Report to the IDA last week.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sewer Issues At Top Of County Concerns, Citizens Told At Oconee County Town Hall Meeting

Closing Question

James Gaither, 1040 Cumberland Road, north of Watkinsville, asked the final question at the Town Hall Meeting held by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Thursday night.

“If you guys could have one thing off your plate right now, or tomorrow morning, what would you choose--to be done with it, don’t have to worry about it for another 10 years?” Gaither asked.

Dollar General Store Under Construction On U.S. 78 In Oconee County

Near Dickens Corner

Exterior construction is complete on the 9,100- square-foot-building on U.S. 78 and Pete Dickens Road that is slated to be the location of the first Dollar General in Oconee County.

According to the estimate on the building permit the county issued late last year for the project, interior and exterior construction is to be completed by early next month.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Oconee County Asks Court To Dismiss Suits Filed Over Sewer Capacity Fee Refunds

Westland And Parkside

Oconee County is asking the Superior Court to dismiss the three suits filed against it challenging the county’s right to refund unused sewage capacity fees, stating that the decision to issue the refunds was in full compliance with state laws and the county’s zoning and related ordinances.

The county also claims that the actions of the commissioners in voting to refund sewage capacity fees paid developers of two large, dormant subdivisions “were a proper and legal exercise of discretion as government officials and do not breach any rights” of the property owners.