Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oconee's Daniells Bridge Rezone Follows Peculiar Path

Making a Crooked Roadway Wider

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners decided sometime before Oct. 7, 2008, that it wanted to settle a lawsuit over the denial of a rezone request for a piece of property just east of the blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road, but it only started serious consideration of improvements to Daniells Bridge Road at the end of that month.

Those improvements to Daniells Bridge Road, however, became the Board’s justification for its decision on Dec. 2 to finalize the settlement of the lawsuit and approve the rezone despite strong protests from citizens near the proposed office park. The vote was 3 to 1 for the rezone.

The Board had approved spending $400,000 for improvements to the Mars Hill Road and Daniells Bridge Road intersection on March 4, 2008, and it shifted that money to widen Daniells Bridge Road from that intersection to the development site with its vote on Dec. 2.

County Administrative Officer Alan Theriault authorized Public Works Director Emil Beshara on Dec. 1, 2008, to award the contract for the design work on the project to ABE Consulting Inc. of Bogart, which submitted the low bid of $20,860.

The contract and the remainder of the $400,000 cost of the project are to be covered by funds from the 2003 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).

In its March 4 vote, the BOC turned over $2.5 million of SPLOST funds to repair and resurface just less than 15 miles of county roads and for the improvements to the Mars Hills Road and Daniels Bridge Road intersection.

The timing of the decision and the shifting of the funds were revealed by documents released to me by the county on Dec. 16 in response to an open records request I filed on Dec. 8.

I asked to be able to review "Correspondence in electronic or written format that took place from Jan. 1, 2008, to Dec. 6, 2008, between Public Works Director Emil Beshara and members of the Board of Commissioners individually or collectively regarding proposed improvements to or the status of Daniells Bridge Road."

I was given 12 pages of documents and told that the search for the records took two hours. The county charged me $31.96 for the copies and the search.

The chronology of the rezone decision shows how far the Board was willing to go to justify a decision to rezone the property and how irregular the decision-making on the case was.

In May of 2007, the Board turned down by a vote of 3 to 0 a request by Dolores N. Lance and Dorothy N. Anglin to rezone nine acres just east of the blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road for construction of an office park. Commissioner Don Norris recused himself from the vote, claiming he had a conflict of interest.

According to the deed for the property, it once belonged to individuals named George F. Norris and Sarah D. Norris.

Neighbors had turned in petitions with more than 400 signatures of persons opposed to the rezone, claiming it was dangerous because of the blind curve and was at odds with the residential zoning of the surrounding properties. (I was one of the organizers of the petition drive.)

The county presented as part of the rezone a sketch of an extension of Daniells Bridge Road that would fly over SR Loop 10 and connect to the road leading to Home Depot off Epps Bridge Parkway. The county acknowledged that any such improvement to Daniells Bridge Road was at least 10 years away.

Property owner Lance and Anglin, however, agreed to provide a construction easement for the proposed new road, setting back the office park from the road and making it possible for the county to build the roadway at some point in the future.

Anglin and James M. Lance Jr. and James M. Lance Sr., co-executors of the estate of Dolores N. Lance, filed suit in Oconee Superior Court on May 24, 2007, claiming the county’s decision not to rezone their land was unconstitutional.

In an executive session, the Board of Commissioners decided to settle the suit. Since the county does not provide any agenda for or minutes of executive sessions, it is impossible to know from the public record when the BOC agreed to the settlement.

What is known is that Michael Pruett, representing the county, wrote to Superior Court Judge David Sweat on Oct. 7, 2008, indicating the county was prepared to settle the case.

As part of the settlement, Lance and Anglin agreed to execute and deliver to the county a deed for just less than an acre of land for the right of way for the proposed road. Otherwise, the terms of the rezone were unchanged.

The settlement called for the county to go through the regular procedures before granting the rezone. If the Board changed its mind and decided not to agree to the rezone, the suit would continue in court.

On Oct. 20, the Oconee County Planning Commission reviewed the rezone request and decided to send it forward to the BOC without a recommendation. I and a neighbor spoke against the rezone, making the same arguments we had made in May of 2007 and indicating that neighborhood opposition to the rezone remained strong.

Commissioner Chuck Horton attended that meeting.

The hearing before the BOC was scheduled for Nov. 4. Just prior to that, I and others sent out several e-mail messages asking people to contact the commissioners and indicate how they felt about the rezone. Several told me they did so and that they heard back from Horton.

According to the documents released to me by the county, County Administrator Theriault and Public Works Director Emil Beshara met with Commissioner Jim Luke on Oct. 29 and with Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis and Horton on Oct. 30 to review the traffic issues associated with the rezone. At Theriault’s instigation, Beshara visited Commissioner Margaret Hale at her University of Georgia office on Oct. 31 to discuss the rezone.

Horton sent an e-mail message on the afternoon of Nov. 4 to one of the citizens who had written him indicating that he had asked for a postponement of the hearing and that Jeffrey DeLoach, the attorney representing Lance and Anglin, had agreed.

DeLoach did not attend the Nov. 4 meeting. The Board voted to postpone the hearing and to ask Beshara to get bids on improvements to Daniells Bridge Road from the rezone site to the intersection of the road with Mars Hill Road.

On Nov. 25 the BOC reviewed three plans for upgrades to Daniells Bridge Road, including the one submitted by ABE Consulting.

On Dec. 2, the Board held its hearing on the rezone request. This time, Norris did not recuse himself, although he was asked to do so by one of the citizens present. Only Commissioner Hale opposed the rezone.

At present, Daniells Bridge Road starts as a two-lane road at the intersection with Mars Hill Road, then expands to three lanes, reverts to two lanes, expands to three lanes, reverts to two lanes, and expands to three lanes before it reaches Founders Boulevard, the entrance to Founders Grove subdivision. This is a distance of six-tenths of a mile, and the roadway curves several times in that stretch.

From Founders Boulevard to its terminus at Hog Mountain Road, Daniells Bridge road is two-lanes wide.

The design accepted by the county will result in Daniells Bridge Road being three lanes wide from Mars Hill Road to the end of Lance and Anglin property, a distance of about one mile.

The changes will not eliminate the blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road just west of the Lance and Anglin property, though it will make the curve just slighter wider.

The proposed future improvements to Daniells Bridge Road east of the site, however, call for the road to be four-lanes wide and include the fly-over to Home Depot. Beshara told the Board before it voted on Dec. 2 that it will not be possible to squeeze four lanes through the blind curve.

On Sept. 2, I wrote to Gina Lindsay, Clerk of the Board of Commissioners, asking her if she could help me find a copy of plan for the complete Oconee Connector, which would include the upgrades to Daniells Bridge Road between the proposed flyover and Mars Hill Road.

She told me the next day that no plans existed for the Daniells Bridge Road part of that upgrade, other than the section linked to the flyover to Home Depot.

I also checked the minutes of the Oconee County Citizens Advisory Committee on Land Use & Transportation Planning, appointed by the BOC, to see if improvements in Daniells Bridge Road had been discussed.

At its meeting of Jan. 9, 2007, the Committee discussed the Daniells Bridge Road flyover to Home Depot, but, according to the minutes and agendas, the Committee has not discussed since January of 2006 improvements to the section of Daniells Bridge Road between the Lance and Anglin property and the Mars Hill Road intersection.

Abe Abouhamdan, the president of ABE Consulting and winner of the bid for the widening of the road, is chairman of that Committee. He might have been at an advantage in submitting a bid had the Committee actually discussed it.

None of the commissioners has explained at a public meeting why this rezone is so important, particularly given that they had voted it down only a year and a half earlier.

The county Future Development Map does show much of the property on Daniells Bridge Road from the blind curve to Chestnut Hill Road as open for business and commercial development, though none of it is so zoned at present. The county also has designated the area as open for beer and wine sales.

Brad Callender, county planner, told the Board at the Dec. 2 meeting the area would be appropriate for multi-family housing.

Multi-family housing, beer and wine sales, and office buildings would be a radical change for what is now a residential part of the county dominated by four large subdivisions of single-family homes.

For some undisclosed reason, a majority of the Board wanted to approve this rezone and was willing to postpone a hearing without notice, order up a last-minute redesign plan for the roadway, and shift $400,000 in SPLOST funding to make it happen.

The county is asking voters on March 17, 2009, to approve a continuation of this one cent on a dollar sales tax.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oconee Commissioners Set SPLOST Vote

County Offers Some Details on Last SPLOST Too

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 16 took the final two steps needed to give voters a chance in March of 2009 to decide to reduce local sales taxes by a penny on the dollar or to continue paying that tax for another six years.

The Board approved an intergovernmental agreement with the county’s four cities, which will receive $5.7 million from the $40 million in expected tax revenue if it is approved by the voters. The Board also set the election for March 17, 2009.

Two days later, in a required legal advertisement in The Oconee Enterprise, the county gave a bare-bones report on what citizens have gotten for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, which has been in place since December of 2004.

The county reported it has spent 43 percent of the $25 million it expects to take in from the SPLOST when it expires in November of 2009–or 53 percent of the $20.4 million the county has collected as of the end of October of this year.

The report in the Enterprise covered spending through the end of June of 2008, meaning the county still has 17 months of spending left.

To put it another way, the county has spent 43 percent of the projected funds, but it has used up 72 percent of the months it has to spend the money.

According to the statement in the Enterprise, which is the legal organ for the county, the county does expect to spend the money by the time the SPLOST expires at the end of 2009. "There are no surplus funds projected for any SPLOST projects," according to the statement.

The Enterprise did not run any story about the legal statement.

The report was submitted by the county’s Finance Department. Finance Director Jeff Benko told me in an e-mail message of Dec. 19 that the report does not reflect the full level of spending to date by the county on authorized SPLOST projects.

Costs are not shifted to the SPLOST account until projects are completed and audited, he said.

The published report shows that $3.4 million of the budgeted $6 million for water and sewer projects had been spent by June 30, 2008, and $3.8 million of the budgeted $5 million for recreational and cultural projects had been spent.

In addition, $1.5 million of the $6 million set aside for roads, $67,000 of the $1.5 million for a fire station, and $167,000 of the budgeted $4.6 million for county facilities expansion and renovation had been spent.

The full $1.3 million of the budget for the jail expansion and the full $600,000 for the Emergency Operations Center already have been spent, according to the report.

The report provides no details beyond these broad categories, so it is hard to know exactly how the county spent the tax revenues in each of these areas.

I suggested during public comments at the end of the first public meeting on SPLOST on Oct. 21, 2008, that the county prepare a report on how the money was spent so citizens could know what they had gotten for the last SPLOST as they evaluated the proposal for another.

County Administrative Officer Alan Theriault told me that Benko was preparing such a report "that has to be presented in the newspaper and he should have that for you in the next several days as a matter of fact." Benko confirmed that the reports for earlier years already had been published and subsequently provided them to me.

At the beginning of the second public meeting on Nov. 3, Board of Commission Chairman Melvin Davis did recite a list of accomplishments of the current SPLOST.

He mentioned the new jail, the emergency operations center for 911 calls, recreation facilities, fire trucks, renovations at the library, resurfacing of roads and "water and sewer expenditures."

He said Benko could give exact details.

Davis also made an argument in favor of the SPLOST tax. "As most of you know, a great percentage of the revenue we receive comes from out-of-county residents," he said.

When people from Athens-Clarke County or other counties make purchases in Wal-Mart or Home Depot on Epps Bridge Parkway, they leave behind a penny on every dollar they spend for SPLOST projects in Oconee County. Of course, Oconee County citizens also contribute to SPLOST funds when they shop at these and other stores in the county.

Since Clarke also has a SPLOST tax, Oconee citizens give their money to Clarke when they shop there.

Oconee County officials, who are looking for expansion of the commercial base in Oconee County, particularly with the approved Epps Bridge Centre near the Wal-Mart, expect the new SPLOST to bring in more money than the old.

The current SPLOST is projected to produce $25 million over five years, but the county is expecting the new SPLOST to produce $40 million over six. SPLOST taxes must be renewed by voters. To go to the six-year cycle, the county had to agree this time around to share revenue with the four cities in the county, with the ratio based on their population size.

The BOC approval of the intergovernmental agreement on Dec. 16 confirmed that arrangement.

How realistic that $40 million projection is no one really knows, given the current national and local economic downturn. The current SPLOST produced $5.1 million in the fiscal year ending June 30 of 2006, $5.5 million in the year ending June 30, 2007, and $5.4 million in the year ending June 30, 2008.

The county collected a little more than $1,730,695 in the first four months of the current fiscal year, compared with $1,855,978 during this period a year ago. Benko has said he still projects the county will reach the $25 million cap before the current SPLOST authorization expires in November of 2009.

To reach the $40 million figure for the new SPLOST, the county will have to average $6.7 million annually over the six-year run of the tax.

The county clearly is counting on voters to approve the new SPLOST. Funds will be used to pay down the debt on the new park on Hog Mountain Road ($4.8 million) , to pay down the debt on the new jail ($6.0 million) and to provide for road resurfacing ($8 million) and sewer and water projects ($6.8 million).

Other projects are for fire department equipment and facility upgrades, a new communication system for the sheriff’s office, parks and recreation, and farmland protection.

If citizens don’t approve the new SPLOST, the county is going to have to pay for most of these projects from other sources, such as property taxes and the Local Option Sales Tax, which does not require voter approval for continuation and also is 1 cent on the dollar.

The county’s record for approving these local taxes is strong. The SPLOST for $13.5 million in 1999 was approved by 75 percent of the voters. The current SPLOST was approved by 82 percent of the voters.

In 2006, 79 percent of Oconee voters approved a five-year tax of one cent on the dollar for educational purposes.

The 1999 and 2003 SPLOST voters were voted on in special elections, when relatively few voters go to the polls. Only 1,696 people voted on the current SPLOST when it was approved in 2003.

The 2006 educational tax was approved in the state-wide July primary, and 4,110 of the 17,030 registered voters participated.

How many of the 21,579 registered voters in Oconee County will go to the polls in March is an open question. At the general election in November, 17,208 voted.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Corps Near Decision on Epps Bridge Centre Permit

A Mitigation Permit for the Holidays?

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers expects to reach its decision in the next three to four weeks on the request by the developer for a permit to destroy streams and wetlands for the construction of the proposed $76 million Epps Bridge Centre on Epps Bridge Parkway.

I received an e-mail message on Dec. 10, 2008, from Billy E. Birdwell, chief of public affairs for the Savannah District of the Corps, confirming that as of that date no final permit had been issued for the shopping center.

"We are currently working on the Environmental Assessment and should come to a permit decision within the next 30 days," an attachment to Birdwell’s e-mail said. The attachment was from the Regulatory Division of the Corps, Birdwell reported.

Frank Bishop, developer of the proposed shopping center, also needs the state to sign a contract for construction of the $26 million Oconee County Extension, which will provide access to Bishop’s shopping center, before he can begin work on the site.

Alan Therialt, Oconee County administrative officer, told me on Dec. 12 that bids for construction of the Oconee Connector Extension were submitted to the state at 11 a.m. that day. Theriault said he did not know how long it would take for the state to decide on the contract.

Oconee County already has put up more than $5 million to purchase right of way for the roadway and is waiting on the state for reimbursement.

Bishop also will need a variance to the state’s buffer for the streams on the site, but he cannot obtain that variance until he has the Corps of Engineer permit.

The Corps of Engineers already has granted a permit for the mitigation bank Bishop plans to build in Greene County. That bank is designed to provide credits to offset putting 2,678 linear feet of perennial streams into underground pipes and filling and paving over wetlands and natural drainage areas on the Oconee County site.

The state is reviewing Bishop’s request for a variance to allow him to do the mitigation work in Greene County. The Environmental Protection Division of the state issued a public advisory regarding this variance request on Oct. 20, 2008.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners, when it approved the rezone for the shopping center on Oct. 7, 2008, said the county will not issue any permits for construction work on the site until the state signs the contract for the Oconee Connector Extension.

"The USACE (Corps of Engineers) is on the last step of developing the Environmental Assessment and Case Document for the final permit decision. The next step will be to issue or deny the permit application," the document I received from Birdwell at the Corps said.

"The USACE approved the (Greensboro) mitigation bank on 6 June 2008. The USACE received copy of recorded restrictive covenants for the site on 7 July 2008. The USACE issued the NWP 27 verification letter for construction work on bank 23 September 2008," according to the document.

Because Bishop wants to pipe the streams and fill wetlands under the jurisdiction of the federal government at the Oconee County site, he must "migitate" that damage by obtaining credits for fixing a stream and wetlands elsewhere.

Bishop said he considered purchasing land in Oconee County for that mitigation but opted for the Greene County land because the Oconee land was not "affordable."

On Feb. 4, 2008, Justin A. Hammonds, project manager at the Savannah District of the Corps of Engineers, told Bishop that the Epps Bridge Centre project as proposed did not meet federal guidelines.

I contacted Hammonds on Nov. 17, 2008, to ask for an update on the permit, but Hammonds told me he was not authorized to talk to me and that I had to work through Birdwell to get information about the project.

In a letter to Hammonds on Sept. 15, 2008, Kendall W. Cochran, a senior biologist at Wildlands Environmental Inc., wrote that Bishop was revising his originally submitted plans to include 0.5 acres of wetlands "avoidance" on the property. The original plan called for filling and paving over 1.06 acres of wetlands.

"This avoidance will be accomplished by placing an arch pipe culvert at a road crossing and utilizing underground detention to achieve the require (error in original) storage capacity for the site," Cochran wrote.

Cochran concluded by saying that the application now meets all the federal requirements and "Therefore, we request that the Individual Permit be authorized."

He should learn soon if he will get what he requested.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Oconee Agrees to Daniells Bridge Road Rezone

Settlement Has a Price

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners has decided to invest $400,000 in improvements for Daniells Bridge Road to justify its decision on Tuesday night to rezone property just east of the blind curve on the road for development of an office park.

The decision on how to spend the money appears not to have been a part of the behind-the-scenes deliberations by the Board to settle the lawsuit filed by the property owners after the Board turned down the original rezone request in May of 2007.

It wasn’t until citizens complained about the proposed settlement that Commissioner Chuck Horton began to push the Board to be specific about the roadway improvements. He asked the Board at the scheduled public hearing on the rezone on Nov. 4 to postpone the decision so it could obtain design plans.

Only at that time did the Board instruct Public Utility Director Emil Beshara to come up with specific plans for the roadway.

Those design plans call for widening of Daniells Bridge Road to include a center turn lane all the way from the Oconee Connector to the end of the proposed office park development.

The plans do not call for elimination of the blind curve where the roadway runs very close to the entrance ramp to SR Loop 10. The office park will be just east of that curve and will have an entrance very near to it.

The concept plan also does not include sidewalks or bike lanes.

Beshara explained on Tuesday night that the improvements will allow for slight improvement in the tightness of the curve. He also said the way to eliminate the curve would be to put in a new roadway behind the houses currently on Daniells Bridge Road.

Beshara said that when the county goes forward with its long-range plans to create a four-lane Daniells Bridge Road as part of a loop around the Epps Bridge Parkway and SR Loop 10 interchange, it will have to follow that alternate route or accept a narrower stretch of roadway through the curve.

It will not be possible squeeze four-lanes through the existing curve, he said.

The county received three concept plans for the roadway work after the BOC postponed the first scheduled public hearing on the rezone.

Beshara explained to me in an email exchange the day after the BOC vote that he had "evaluated the concept plans and their cost proposals and picked the best proposed approach." That, he said, was offered by ABE Consulting Inc. of Bogart. Abe Abouhamdan is the president and was at the meeting on Tuesday night.

The $400,000 for the project is part of the Transportation Improvements and Maintenance Plan adopted by the Board this spring, Beshara said. He said he expects the work on the project to be completed by the end of June of 2009.

Commisioner Margaret Hale cast the only dissenting vote on Tuesday night. Horton made the motion to approve, which was seconded by Commissioner Jim Luke.

Commissioner Don Norris, who in May of 2007 concluded he had a conflict of interest on the same rezone and recused himself, decided Tuesday he was not in conflict and remained in the meeting to vote with Horton and Luke to approve the project. He simply smiled when he was asked by one of the citizens present to recuse himself.

According to the deed for the property being considered for the rezone, the property once belonged to individuals named George F. Norris and Sarah D. Norris.

The rezone request was made in the name of Dolores N. Lance and Dorothy N. Anglin as property owners.

In May of 2007, Hale, Horton and Luke all voted against the same rezone. Anglin and James M. Lance Jr. and James M. Lance Sr., co-executors of the estate of Dolores N. Lance, filed suit claiming their rights had been violated.

In one of its closed executive sessions, the Board decided to settle the suit. It has never released any minutes of those meetings. The vote on Tuesday was simply a confirmation of that closed-meeting decision.

Beshara, director of Public Works, told the BOC on Tuesday that the blind curve was not "dangerous" but the development would make it better because it would include turn lanes and allow the county to swing the curve out just a bit wider.

Jeffrey DeLoach, the attorney representing the developer, forgot to attend the Tuesday hearing, though it had been scheduled at the time of the Nov. 4 vote by Horton, Luke and Norris to postpone the originally scheduled hearing. Hale missed that meeting, as did DeLoach.

County attorney Daniel Haygood left the meeting chamber on Tuesday to call DeLoach to ask him to appear out of concern that the Board could not take action in his absence. The Board dithered, then allowed DeLoach to speak, though his scheduled time to do so had passed.

Seven citizens, including me, spoke in opposition to the rezone. Ben Goss, president of the Welbrook Farms Home Owners Association, presented 384 petitions in opposition and reported that the HOA had voted unanimously against the rezone. A similar number of petitions in opposition had been presented in May of 2007.

Eleanor Cotton, an attorney, presented the Board with a two-page statement by attorney Matt Karzen, who could not attend, arguing that the Board had a solid legal base to reject the settlement and fight to preserve its original decision to turn down the rezone.

Ralph Johnson, a trained engineer, also spoke in opposition, arguing that the blind curve is unsafe and that the extra traffic created by the development would make the roadway even more dangerous.

Two citizens who live opposite the development on Daniells Bridge Road also spoke in opposition.

No one spoke in favor, except DeLoach.

DeLoach said that construction of the property is not imminent and that the owners may well sell the property once it is rezoned. Documents filed as part of the zoning application in August of 2008 by developers Stephen Jenkins and Edward Nichols of Athens had indicated that construction of the two-story office building would start in the summer of 2009 and be completed by January of 2011.

As is usual in such cases, the developer agreed as part of the rezone to pay for turn lanes and acceleration and deceleration lanes at the entrances to the development. On Tuesday night, DeLoach also agreed to let the county go forward with the improvements and that his client will reimburse the county for that work.

Beshara told me in the email exchange that he hoped the county’s portion of the final costs after reimbursement will be between $300,000 and $350,000.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oconee SPLOST Decisions Now Before Commissioners


The Oconee County Board of Commissioners has three meetings in the next two weeks that should shape the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) voters will be asked to approve when they go to the polls for a special election in March of 2009.

The Board has scheduled a work session to start at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday to talk about SPLOST and expansion of wastewater treatment capacity in the county.

On Nov. 25 at the Board’s regular agenda setting session, it is expected to select the projects that will be covered by funding from the one cent on a dollar sales tax, should it be approved by voters in 2009. That meeting starts at 7 p.m.

At the regular meeting on Dec. 2, the Board is expected to approve the SPLOST itself, sending it forward for ultimate approval or rejection by voters next year. That meeting also starts at 7 p.m.

At the election in March voters will be asked to continue the extra one cent sales tax per dollar for projects the Board selects for funding. The tax will expire at the end of six years or when the county collects $40 million in tax revenue.

Citizens in Oconee currently pay four cents on the dollar for the state’s sales tax and three additional cents on the dollar in local taxes. One of those local pennies goes to the schools, and the other two go to the county government. The school tax and the SPLOST–one of the two pennies that go to county government--expire unless citizens vote to extend them.

Oconee County voters approved the five-year educational sales tax in July of 2006.

The current SPLOST was approved in November of 2003 and will expire either when the county collects $25 million in tax revenue or at the end of November of 2009. Jeff Benko, county finance director, told me in a telephone conversation on Nov. 14 that he expects the county to reach its $25 goal two months before the November 2009 deadline.

According to Benko, the county had collected $20.4 million by the end of October of this year.

If voters do not approve the new SPLOST in March, the sales tax in the county will drop to 6 percent at the end of November of 2009 or when the county reaches the $25 million goal.

The Board’s decision on Dec. 2 on the SPLOST will be at the culmination of a series of meetings that began on Dec. 7, 2007, when the Board met without proper legal notification in Madison to discuss SPLOST and a variety of other issues, including expansion of the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant and the beer and wine ordinance approved earlier this year.

The Board also met for a day-long session on Sept. 25 to discuss SPLOST and other issues. At its agenda-setting meeting on Sept. 30, the Board agreed to a timetable for action on the SPLOST that included public hearings on Oct. 21 and Nov. 3.

The meeting this coming Thursday was not included in that timetable and was announced only Nov. 14.

At the two public hearings, county officials indicated that $5.7 million of the anticipated $40 million in SPLOST funds will go to Watkinsville, Bishop, Bogart and North High Shoals. Under the new rules, the cities in the county must be given a share of the revenue--based on population size--if the SPLOST is extended to six years, as is the plan for the new tax.

Of the remaining $34.3 million, $6 million is preliminarily earmarked for Parks and Recreation, most of that to pay down debt for the county’s new park on Hog Mountain Road, $6 million is to go to the Sheriff’s office to make payments on the new jail, $7.2 million is to go to the PublicWorks Department for routine road projects, and $7.2 million is to go to the Utility Department to pay for routine water and sewage projects.

If the BOC approves these figures, it would be a continuation of the current level of funding from the existing SPLOST for Parks and Recreation, the Sheriff, Public Works and the Utility Department.

If the SPLOST is not approved, the county will have to cover these costs from the other one cent in sales tax and from other sources, such as property taxes.

If the county collects about $5 million per year, as it has done over the last five years, it would collect only $30 million over the next six. The $40 million figure assumes the average for the next six years will be $6.7 million.

If the county reaches the $40 million figure, and the "commitments" and the funds allocated to the cities are subtracted from the $40 million figure, $7.9 million would remain to be allocated by the Board. The Board also will have to decide what to do if the $40 million is not reached.

At the two public meetings, Parks and Recreation Department asked for an additional $4 million above the current $6 million for a variety of projects including softball fields at the new park, the Sheriff asked for an additional $3.5 million for an upgrade to the county’s radio system, Public works asked for an additional $7.8 million for transportation infrastructure needs, and the Utility Department asked for an additional $12.8 million for a variety of projects, including at the sewage plant.

On top of that, the Emergency Management Services asked for $.75 million for an early warning siren system for the county and the Fire Department asked for $4.9 million for new stations and trucks.

After the department heads made their pitches, citizens were given a chance at the Oct. 21 and Nov. 3 meetings to make the case for SPLOST funding for other projects. About 20 citizens attended the first session, and seven attended the second.

Russ Page, farmland protection advocate, asked for $1 million for historic and scenic site protection and an additional $1 million for farmland protection at both meetings. Page estimated he could generate about $50 million from grants and other contributions to these initiatives.

Another citizen at the Nov. 3 meeting asked for an unspecified amount of money to be used to purchase land for an expanded courthouse in Watkinsville, another seconded Page’s request for farmland protection funding, another called for additional recreational funding, including projects covered by Page’s presentation, and a final asked for riding and hiking trails, also a part of Page’s presentation.

The first item on the agenda for the called meeting on Thursday is expansion of the wastewater treatment capacity of the county.

The county has been discussing construction of a new sewage treatment plant at the site of the Land Application System on Rocky Branch Road since at least 2004, but talk of that project has been on hold for several months.

At the Aug. 5, 2008, BOC meeting, Utility Director Chris Thomas was given authorization to negotiate with Southern Champion Construction Inc. of Savannah and Stone Mountain to perform the Construction Manager at Risk responsibilities for the $8 to $10 million plant.

The outcome of those negotiations has not came back to the BOC. The Utility Department has included a septic receiving station as part of its wish list for additional SPLOST funding, and the ability to treat septic tank waste was added to the Rocky Branch plant in the engineering and design contract discussion.

The Utility Department, which is referred to as an "enterprise" department because it is supposed to pay its own way without tax support, is suffering from lower than projected levels of income because of the drought and the crash of the local economy.

The SPLOST funding the department receives at present and asked for from any future tax shows that the Utility Department is far from self-supporting.

Video recordings of Russ Page’s presentation at the Oct. 21 meeting, of his and other citizen requests at the Nov. 3 meeting, of departmental requests at the Nov. 3 meeting, and of a summary of the requests are available on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Corps of Engineers Questions Epps Bridge Centre Request

Negotiations Not a Concern for County Officials

The developer of the planned Epps Bridge Centre has told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers he proposes to put 2,678 linear feet of perennial streams–including one that originates offsite--into underground pipes and fill and pave over 1.06 acres of wetlands and natural drainage areas in order to build the $76 million shopping center on Epps Bridge Parkway.

The Corps of Engineers, however, has not yet agreed to the plan.

On Feb. 4, 2008, Justin A. Hammonds, project manager at the Savannah District of the Corps of Engineers, wrote to developer Frank Bishop informing him that the project as proposed did not meet federal guidelines.

As recently as Sept. 22, 2008, biologists working for the developer were still providing requested details of the project to the Corps of Engineer. The Oconee County Planning Commission recommended the project for approval after Bishop met with the Board more than a month earlier–on Aug. 18.

According to documents submitted to the Corps on behalf of Bishop in August 2007, the Epps Bridge Parkway site was selected because "Oconee County is willing to rezone the site."

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners made good on that assertion on Oct. 7 when it rezoned the 68-acre site from agricultural and residential use to business to accommodate the 444,000 square foot retail project, which is to include a 16-screen movie theater, space for anchor stores, small retail shops and seven restaurants.

The Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center (NEGRDC) earlier reviewed the project and concluded in July of 2008 that it was "not in the best interest of the region and therefore the state" and that "the negative impacts of the project outweighed the positive economic impacts and job creation."

NEGRDC criticized the project because of its negative environmental impact and because of its adverse effects on traffic on Epps Bridge Parkway.

The Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior, however, was even harsher.

In a letter dated Feb. 12, 2008, Sandra S. Tucker, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said biologists for the Service made site inspections on Jan. 8 and Feb. 7 of 2008 and found that the site "is currently providing ecological benefits and habitat for birds, deer, racoons and other wildlife in a rapidly developing area that will soon have very little habitat or greenspace."

Tucker noted that the project "would result in conversion of approximately 50 acres of forested landscape to impervious surface (roofs, parking lots, roads)" that will result in the loss of habitat and produce "hydrologic changes" to the site by "increasing the amount and decrease the quality of storm water runoff."

According to Tucker’s analysis, even though Bishop proposes to meet the state’s standard’s on storm water, these standards only address "downstream flow rates, flood control, and water quality to an extent." The state standards, she said, "do not adequately address volume control or groundwater recharge."

Bishop is proposing to mitigate the destruction of the streams and wetlands by a restoration project in Greene County.

Tucker, however didn’t like the calculations. "Restoration of 981 linear feet of stream (in Greene County) for loss of 3,074 linear feet of stream impact (in Oconee County) appears to be inadequate," she wrote.

Tucker recommended a variety of changes to the project, including use of "infiltration practices to better replicate the natural hydrology of the site," using porous pavement, preserving green space and reusing water on the site.

Even before that letter, Corps Project Manager Hammonds had written to Bishop informing him that "no discharge of dredged or fill material" can be put into waters under federal jurisdiction "unless appropriate and practicable steps have been taken which will minimize potential adverse impacts of the discharge on the aquatic ecosystem.

"As the project is currently proposed, there has been no effort to avoid and/or minimize impacts to waters of the U.S.," Hammonds continued.

On Sept. 15, Kendall Cochran, a senior biologist at Wildlands Environmental Inc. of Lawrenceville, responded to the letter of Hammonds and proposed that some of the existing wetlands on the site be retained. He also responded to the NEGRDC critique. He did not respond to the Fish and Wildlife Service letter.

On Sept. 22, 2008, however, Cochran submitted a revised calculation of restoration credits.

I received these documents from the Corps of Engineers after the Board of Commissioners voted to approve the rezone on Oct. 7. I had filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request on Sept. 11, 2008, but the final set of documents was not mailed to me until Oct. 7. I received them a few days later.

That Bishop planned to destroy the wetland was clear from the NEGRDC review, but the details of the proposed piping and filling of streams and wetlands has not been made public before.

Bishop had applied for a Corps of Engineer permit to pipe and fill the federally regulated waters on the development site on Epps Bridge Parkway in April of 2007, but he withdrew that permit application after the Corps noted that he did not own all the land covered by the application.

In August of 2007 Bishop submitted a second application, and in December of 2007 the Corps gave Public Notice that it was soliciting response to the application. Tucker’s letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service was submitted in response to that Public Notice.

Bishop also will need a state variance to disturb the 25-foot buffer for streams that the state requires, but that variance cannot be granted until the Corps of Engineers had granted a permit.

Bishop told the Corps that the cost of acquiring the land for the shopping center on Epps Bridge Parkway was so great that it is necessary to be able to pave over and build on all of the site rather than preserve the streams and wetlands or "the economic return-on-investment would not justify the acquisition and development costs."

The developer told the Corps he considered eight alternate sites for the development but rejected them all in selecting the site on Epps Bridge Parkway west of the current Lowe’s because the selected site will be served by the proposed Oconee Connector Extension and because the site provided enough land to "accommodate the entire scope of the project."

The state has not yet let the contract for the Oconee Connector Extension. He purchased the land for the right of way for the Connection, and Oconee County then spent $5 million purchasing that right of way for the state.

The State has not yet reimbursed the county for the expenditure.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

EXTRA! EXTRA! Read About Rezone

Get Your Corrections Here

Regular readers of The Oconee Enterprise know they often have to read between the lines to try to make sense of stories in the paper. Sometimes, even that is not enough, and it simply is not possible to disentangle a report.

The story in today's paper on the Dec. 4 postponement of the rezone hearing on Daniells Bridge Road (page A3) is a case of the latter.

I've marked up a copy of the story to correct the errors. My posting below gives further details about the meeting. The video of the meeting is available as well on the official county site.

Errors in the Enterprise are not limited to stories by one writer. The lead story in the paper today reports that Melvin Davis got 99 percent of the votes cast in the race for chairman of the Board of Commissioners. In fact, Davis got 12,803 votes and write-in candidate Tom Leach got 450, or 3.4 percent, according to the posted county figures today.

On election night the county did not initially report returns for those who voted early. Later it posted only returns for those who voted early for Davis, leaving out the write-in count. This story is an example of needing to read between the lines.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Oconee BOC Postpones Another Hearing

More than One Curve Involved

Oconee County stipulated as part of legal documents it filed with the Superior Court in early October that it would hold a public hearing on Nov. 4 regarding the proposed rezone for nine acres of land just east of a blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road that the property owners want to develop as an office park.

According to the consent order filed with the court, the county was to publicize the hearing via a legal notice in The Oconee Enterprise and signs on the property. The Planning Commission was to review the proposal on Oct. 20.

The County advertised the hearing as required, and the Planning Commission reviewed it as required.

The Board of Commissioners at its agenda setting meeting on Oct. 28 confirmed the scheduled hearing for election night.

Before the Nov. 4 hearing began, however, Commissioner Chuck Horton asked for a postponement and made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Jim Luke, that the hearing not be held. The motion passed unanimously, and the hearing was postponed to the Dec. 2 meeting of the BOC.

Fifteen citizens, including me, had come to the meeting to speak against the rezone. I tried to get chairman Melvin Davis to recognize me before the BOC voted on the rezone, but he ignored my raised hand and looked away from the audience.

On Sept. 2, the BOC similarly postponed a scheduled hearing regarding the rezone request for 68 acres on Epps Bridge Parkway, this time at the request of the developer but without any recognition of the inconvenience it caused citizens who had come to participate in the hearing.

The Board approved that rezone on Oct. 7 after citizens again came out to argue that the massive shopping center planned for the site had adverse consequences for the traffic in the area and environment on and around the site.

Before postponing the Daniells Bridge Rezone on Nov. 4, the Board also postponed a hearing on a rezone issue at Hog Mountain Road and Loch Lomond Circle. Again, the Board did not ask if any citizens in the audience were inconvenienced by the postponement.

The decision to try to settle the lawsuit with property owners Dolores N. Lance and Dorothy N. Anglin apparently was made in one of the many executive sessions the BOC holds with county attorney Daniel Haygood. No public record of those discussions has been released.

Commissioner Horton did acknowledge on Tuesday night that the rezone has been a topic of BOC discussions.

"Based on conversation we’ve had regarding the Daniells Bridge Road," he said, he was asking Emil Beshara, director of Public Works for the county, to "put on paper what we have been discussing about Daniells Bridge Road."

Beshara confirmed further discussion with commissioners, this time outside of executive session.
"I had the opportunity to meet with all the commissioners–or commissioners that had time available–on the site...to discuss various improvements to the corridor," he said.

State open meetings law prohibits a quorum of the Board–three members–from meeting without giving public notice. Beshara did not provide any details of the meeting or meetings.

"We discussed several improvements," Beshara said. "I think what Commissioner Horton is after is a visual depiction of our conversation and what our proposed approach is."

Chairman Davis said the discussion was regarding the stretch of Daniells Bridge Road from Lynn Drive west to the Oconee Connector. Lynn Drive is near the center of the blind curve and just west of the proposed office park development.

As Beshara acknowledged, citizens complained before the initial rezone request was denied in May of 2007 about the danger of the curve itself and the area where the proposed office park would be located.

Lance and Anglin filed suit shortly after that rezone was denied by the BOC claiming the county’s failure to rezone has caused them "to suffer significant detriment under the existing coding" and that the action was "insubstantially related to the public health, safety, morality and welfare" and is therefore "arbitrary and unreasonable."

The county’s refusal to grant the rezone "amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property without just and adequate compensation," according to the lawsuit.

Since the consent order stipulated that the hearing had to take place on Nov. 4, Commissioner Luke worried at the meeting if the postponement would create any legal problems for the county.

"I discussed this with their attorney this afternoon," County Attorney Haygood said, "and they had no reservations about postponement–at least none that were expressed."

On May 1, 2007, Commissioner Don Norris recused himself from the discussion and vote on the Lance and Anglin rezone, saying he had a conflict of interest. He did not leave the meeting on Dec. 4 and voted on the decision to postpone the hearing. Commissioner Margaret Hale did not attend the Dec. 4 meeting.

Officially, at least, Beshara is supposed to bring to the BOC at its Nov. 25 agenda setting meeting the requested concept plans.

And the public hearing on the rezone request is scheduled once again for Dec. 2.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Daniells Bridge Rezone Needs a Road

What to Do on Election Night

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night will vote for the second time in as many months on a rezone request that is linked to a roadway that does not exist.

The county’s legal advisors have recommended approval of the rezone on Tuesday night for property just east of a blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road as part of a settlement in which the county would obtain one acre of land for a proposed roadway that the county has said is at least 10 years from completion.

The blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road was created when the on-ramp from SR 316 East to SR Loop 10 was built. The curve is particularly dangerous because drivers traveling east on Daniells Bridge Road can easily get the impression they need to bear left in the direction of Loop 10, but they actually need to turn right to stay on Daniells Bridge Road.

The curve is at a high point of roadway, meaning that drivers in either direction are looking at the sky rather than at the roadway. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour.

Stephen D. Jenkins and Edward Nichols of Athens propose to build a two-story office business park on a nine-acre site just east of the curve. The business park will have two exits onto Daniells Bridge Road, one at Will Usher Road about 450 feet from the curve.

Commissioner Jim Luke confirmed to me in a conversation on Oct. 21 that the county has been advised to approve the rezone as part of a settlement of a suit that was filed by land owners Dorothy N. Anglin and Dolores N. Lance of 340 Ashton Drive in Athens after the BOC turned down the rezone request on May 1, 2007.

The county is concerned that if it does not settle the suit, Luke said, the Oconee County Superior Court will grant the rezone without any conditions. At present, the Oconee County Planning Staff has recommended eight conditions, including that Anglin and Lance give the county ownership of one of the nine acres for the right of way of the future road.

On Oct. 7, 2008, attorney Michael Pruett, representing the county, filed a consent order with the Superior Court stipulating that Anglin and Lance had agreed to meet the conditions if the BOC approves the rezone. Jeffrey DeLoach, representing Anglin and Lance, told the Planning Commission on Oct. 20 that Judge David Sweat had signed the consent order on Oct. 14.

The Planning Commission voted 5-1 to send the rezone request forward to the BOC without recommendation.

The BOC frequently goes into closed session to discuss legal matters with County Attorney Daniel Haygood, who practices law in partnership with Pruett in Watkinsville. The county never provides an agenda for those meetings or any record of what was discussed.

Pruett is unlikely to have filed the consent order if the members of the BOC had indicated in the closed discussions that they did not wish to settle the case.

On Oct. 7 the BOC approved a rezone for Epps Bridge Centre on 68 acres across the intersection of SR 316 and SR Loop 10 from the proposed office park on Daniells Bridge Road even though the primary access road to that development has not been built. The state is expected to let the contract later this year, though the date has been pushed back several times already.

That unbuilt road is called at present the Oconee Connector Extension, and it will run from the current Oconee Connector intersection with SR 316 west of SR Loop 10, fly over SR Loop 10, and connect back to Epps Bridge Parkway east of SR Loop 10.

The county proposes to extend the existing Jennings Mill Parkway that serves as the entrance to Home Depot so that the extended roadway crosses SR Loop 10 south of Home Depot. The new roadway would be called the Daniells Bridge Extension and would connect with the existing Daniells Bridge road just west of Chestnut Hill Road.

At the May 1, 2007, BOC meeting, then Public Works Director Mike Leonas, said construction of this roadway was at least 10 years away. That was before the current financial crisis that has resulted in the cancellation of many state roadway projects, including the widening of Mars Hill Road from SR 316 to Watkinsville in Oconee County.

Even if the Daniells Bridge Extension were built, however, it would not fix the blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road just west of the proposed office park.

The county has discussed improving Daniells Bridge Road from Founders Boulevard to Mars Hill Road but not east from Founders Boulevard to the proposed rezone site, at which the proposed Daniells Bridge Extension is to end.

GCA of Atlanta conducted a Traffic Impact Analysis for Nichols Land Development Company and submitted its report in March of 2007. According to that report, the proposed office park will have 394 parking spaces and exits onto Daniells Bridge Road at Will Usher Drive and 520 feet east of Will Usher Drive.

According to the report, the study focused on the impact of the new development on Daniells Bridge Road at these two exits and entrances, at the Daniells Bridge Road intersection with Founders Boulevard, at the Daniells Bridge Road intersection with the Oconee Connector, and at the intersection of the Oconee Connector and State Route 316.

The traffic study makes no reference to the blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road just west of the site, essentially treating Daniells Bridge Road as if it were straight. The analysis was performed "to evaluate each of the three intersections with respect to the current volumes and the additional traffic from the development."

Based on a "Trip Generation Manual," GCA estimated that an office park of the size of the one proposed will generate 1,458 average daily trips, including 206 in the morning peak and 206 in the evening peak.

"After consultation with Oconee County staff, it was decided that" 90 percent of the traffic coming out of the Anglin and Lance site would turn right, heading toward the Oconee Connector, and the remaining 10 percent would turn left, heading east on Daniells Bridge Road in the direction of Hog Mountain Road.

CGA estimated that half of the traffic would use the western most exit, and half would use the eastern most exit.

CGA concluded that Level of Service (LOS) will deteriorate at all three of the intersections as a result of the proposed project, but only at Daniells Bridge Road and Oconee Connector and Oconee Connector and SR 316 is the deterioration expected to be significant.

CGA said the deterioration at these latter two intersections would occur even if the development did not take place and recommended improvements to those sites. The LOS would be "undesirable" without those upgrades, CGA wrote.

Of course, continued congestion at these two exits could encourage more drivers to turn left coming out of the proposed office park, putting more traffic on Daniells Bridge Road heading east. A left-turn exit is necessarily more dangerous than a right-turn exit since it requires the driver to cross traffic.

The CGA report said the LOS at the project driveways would remain at the top level, though it did not indicate how much deterioration would take place from the existing LOS.

The Oconee planning staff concluded that the advantage of not granting the rezone would be "less traffic and road maintenance and less demand for law enforcement and fire suppression activities, emergency services, and other county services."

The existing roadway has no paved berms or sidewalks. Four driveways enter Daniells Bridge Road, in addition to Lynn Drive and Will Usher Drive, in the short distance of the proposed development.

In addition, overhead power lines cross from the Anglin and Lance property, back to the opposite side of Daniells Bridge Road, and back to the Anglin and Lance property.

The Oconee County planning staff has stipulated as one of its eight conditions that the developer install center turn lanes and acceleration and deceleration lanes at each entrance and exit. The center turn lane would start in the blind curve, meaning that backed up traffic coming fromthe west and turning left into the proposed office business park would make it even more difficult for drivers wishing to turn left from that park onto Daniells Bridge Road to see traffic coming out of the blind curve.

The two-story building will have a footprint of approximately 56,000 square feet. According to a drawing submitted by Beall and Company on behalf of the developer, about 55 percent of the surface area would be impervious surface, but the 45 percent designed as landscaped includes the acre set aside for future highway right of way.

With that acre removed, more than 60 percent of the surface area that is currently wooded would be impervious surface. To accommodate stormwater runoff, the developer proposes to create underground detention facilities.

The developer also proposes to include a lift station to pump sewage from the site to the county’s main lines.

In May of 2007, neighbors turned in petitions with more than 400 signatures in opposition to the rezone. The Welbrook Farms Home Owners Associations voted to oppose the development, and citizens from neighboring subdivisions spoke against it at the public hearing. I helped organize the petition drive and was head of the Welbrook Farms HOA at the time. I also spoke at the hearing.

Commission Don Norris recused himself at that meeting because of an unspecified conflict of interest. Commissioners Luke, Margaret Hale and Chuck Horton voted to turn it down.

Anglin and Lance are seeking to rezone the land from Agricultural-Residential to Office Business Park. The OBP category allows for a variety of business applications. It does not include restaurants, though the county has designated the area as "wet" in the beer and wine ordinance it passed earlier this year.

The public hearing on Tuesday–election night--will start at 7 p.m. in the courthouse in Watkinsville. Polling stations throughout the county and state close at that same time.

That the county would agree as part of the consent order to a public hearing on election night starting as polling stations are closing says a lot about the county’s approach to the hearing.

Click here to take a drive along Daniells Bridge Road at the proposed development site. Cick here to see what a driver exiting the site looking to the blind curve will see.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Post 5 Oconee BOE Candidates React to Superintendent Dismissal

The Signs of the Campaign

The two candidates running for the Post 5 seat on the Oconee County Board of Education said they learned similar lessons from the recent revelation that the outgoing Board asked former Superintendent Tom Dohrmann to retire, contrary to the earlier announcement that Dohrmann initiated the resignation.

"I’ve learned that the public’s perception of an occurrence such as this can play a large part in the trust given to and confidence placed in an elected body," Tom Breedlove said.

"The revelation of new information about the termination of the contract with the last superintendent reinforces in my mind the fragile nature of public trust," said Rich Clark. "Once public trust (has) been violated, it is difficult to regain."

Breedlove, 39, the Republican candidate, and Clark, 43, the Democratic candidate, give these responses to two written questions I posed to them via email on Oct. 19 regarding the story that broke in the Athens Banner-Herald on Oct. 15 and was followed with a second story in the paper four days later.

Both candidates had appeared at a Candidate Forum organized by Citizens for Oconee’s Future, Citizens for South Oconee County, Friends of Barber Creek, Friends of the Apalachee and Oconee Citizens for Responsible Growth on Oct. 13. A video of that forum is now available, but, no questions about the termination of the former superintendent were raised at that session.

"I promise never to misrepresent the facts of any Board decision to the public or press," Clark said in response to a question I posted about future Board activity.

"I can only say that as one of the Board members I would be as open as possible about the matter," Breedlove said.

The two candidates have children in the Oconee school system. Breedlove’s three children are currently enrolled, as are both of Clark’s children.

Clark would bring to the Board his experience as a political scientist responsible for survey research and program evaluation in the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

Breedlove would bring his experiences as a partner and director of Landscape Architecture at Williams & Associates, a local land planning and development consulting firm.

Breedlove has raised $1,500 in contributions for his campaign, the largest amount, $1,000, coming from JMW Ventures, LLC, according to his campaign contribution disclosure reports of June and September. JMW Ventures LLC is headquarted at 2470 Daniells Bridge Road in Oconee County. Jon Williams is listed in the Georgia Secretary of State database as the registered agent. Jon Williams is president of Williams & Associates, headquartered at 2470 Daniells Bridge Road.

The Athens Area Home Builders contributed $150 to Breedlove’s campaign, with the remainder in contributions all individually under $100, for which disclosure of the identity of the donor is not required by law.

Clark has raised $1,612 in contributions, with the largest contributions of $200 each coming from the Oconee County Democrats and Heather Kleiner of 1061 Greystone Lane in Watkinsville, listed as retired. Clark reported that he raised the remainder of his money in contributions of under $100.

Breedlove had to win the Republican endorsement and spent before the June reporting period more than a third of the $1,436 he has spent in the campaign. He defeated Kyle Martin in the July 15 primary.

Clark had no opposition in the primary and has spent most of the $720 he has spent after the June and before the September filing period.

Campaign signs were a big item for both candidates.

I’ve filed the questions I posed to the two candidates are their full answers are on my web site.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Oconee Agrees to Follow Open Meetings Law

I Don’t Have to but I Will

Without admitting any wrongdoing in the past, Oconee County has informed the state’s Attorney General that it plans to notify the public of meetings of its Drought Contingency Committee and of meetings of other advisory committees in the future in keeping with the state’s Open Meetings Law.

County Attorney Daniel Haygood informed Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter of that decision in a letter of Sept. 18, 2008. Ritter responded to Haygood in a letter of Oct. 15 in which he said he considered the matter resolved.

Ritter sent me a copy of his letter to Haygood as well as Haygood’s letter to him of Sept. 18.

Ritter had sent a letter to Haygood on Sept. 17, 2008, asking him to explain if the Drought Contingency Committee actually had met earlier this year, "and, if so, whether it was properly agendized, noticed, and if summary minutes were prepared."

Documents provided by the county in response to an open records request I filed on May 13, 2008, showed that the Drought Contingency Committee met on Feb. 19, 2008, and approved an increase in water rates for residential users of the county. The county did not provide any evidence of advance notice of the meeting or minutes from the meeting.

At the Feb. 19 meeting, the Committee approved the rate increase, which had been initiated by Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, according to the records released to me by the county. The actual rate increase had been proposed to the Committee by the County’s Utility Department, the documents showed.

The Utility Department did not propose an increase in commercial rates, and the Drought Contingency Committee did not propose one.

Without discussion, the rate increase was approved by the full Board of Commissioners on April 1, 2008, after a report by Drought Contingency Committee Chairman Jim Kundell.

I wrote about the water rate increase and the meeting of the Drought Contingency Committee in a blog on Sept. 8, 2008. On Sept. 9, I sent an email message to Ritter telling him I hoped he would "take the time to read" the posting.

I met Ritter at a meeting in Atlanta On March 18 to honor Heroes of Open Government. We talked briefly about a complaint I had filed with him on Jan. 17 about the county’s refusal to allow me access to a meeting of the Selection Committee the BOC had appointed to review bids for the design of the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant.

Ritter had written me on Feb. 29, 2008, saying he did not believe citizens had a right to attend meetings of the Selection Committee. He and I also have exchanged several email messages and talked over the telephone regarding that decision.

In my email message on Sept. 9, I said that "we need your office to take an aggressive stance in dealing with citizen access to government meetings and government records."

Ritter treated my email message to him as an official complaint and forwarded it to Haygood with his letter of Sept. 17.

Haygood told Ritter in his Sept. 18 letter that the "Drought Contingency Committee is an advisory committee set up by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners in 2003."

According to Haygood, the "minutes of the Board of Commissioners reflect no specific purpose for the committee," yet "it has in fact served as a sounding board and advisory committee for issues related to the drought in the past few years."

Haygood said it is his opinion that the Drought Contingency Committee is not covered by the State’s Open Meetings Law.

"Nonetheless," Haygood wrote, "Oconee County intends to notify the public of such advisory committee meetings and to take the other steps set out in the Open Meetings Law just as if that law applied to such committee meetings, including the ‘Drought Contingency Committee.’"

Ritter took no position on whether Haygood’s interpretation of the law was correct.

"I sincerely appreciate Oconee County taking the position described in your letter," Ritter wrote to Haygood.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Oconee Preparing for March SPLOST Election

But IDDs and TADs on November Ballot

While many voters are still focused on the upcoming November election, the County is about to launch a campaign to get voters to approve a renewal of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) of 1 cent on the dollar at a special election on March 17, 2009.

The first of two public information sessions on the proposed SPLOST renewal will be on Oct. 21 and it will be followed by a second on Nov. 3. Both meetings will begin at 7 p.m. at the Oconee County Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road.

The hearings are not designed to get public input on whether to move forward with the tax, but on what should be included in it. The SPLOST has to specify in general terms how the money will be spent.

The BOC plans to create its list of projects at its Nov. 25 meeting and then vote to put the issue on the ballot at its Dec. 2 meeting.

The county currently receives three of the seven cents in sales taxes collected in the county, with the state getting the remaining four cents. One cent of the local tax goes to the local school system. Another goes into the general fund of the county. The third is for special projects of the county.

If voters do not approve the renewal of the current SPLOST, it will expire in 2009 and the local sales tax will drop to six cents.

Local Farmland Protection advocate Russ Page is working to get farmland protection included by the BOC among the SPLOST projects. He has created a memo explaining the value of Farmland Protection, a questionnaire asking for opinions on the issue, and a petition that can be signed to support including Farmland Protection among the SPLOST projects.

The Oconee County Advisory Committee on Recreational Affairs also is taking advantage of the SPLOST meeting on Oct. 21 to schedule a discussion of greenways, rails to trails and connectivity between parks, schools and neighborhoods.

The meeting, to be held at the Civic Center and to begin at 6 p.m., will feature guest speakers Mike Wharton from Athens-Clarke Leisure Services and John Devine from the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center.

The November ballot also contains two amendments that have stirred the interest of environmental groups.

The Georgia Water Coalition, an alliance of 150 organizations committed to ensuring that water is managed fairly for all Georgians and protected for future generations, has called for a Yes vote on Amendment 1 and a No vote on Amendment 3. Friends of Barber Creek is part of the Georgia Water Coalition.

Amendment 1 is to help preserve tracts of forest land 200 acres or greater throughout the state. Under the Act, landowners could enter a 15-year covenant to protect the tracts from development and, in return, receive a property tax reduction. Among the supporters are the Georgia Forestry Association.

Amendment 3 would permit counties to give developers the power to create special districts called infrastructure development district (IDDs) that would issue tax-free bonds to finance infrastructure for large, private residential communities. The developers would be given the power to levy taxes to pay any costs incurred in development. The counties will be required to collect the taxes for the IDDs.

Amendment 2 has attracted less attention. It would allow counties, municipalities and local boards of education to use tax funds for redevelopment. Earlier this year the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that local governments cannot use school property tax revenue to help finance redevelopment projects.

Amendment 2 would allow for the creation of tax allocation districts (TADs) to stimulate redevelopment in areas were development was otherwise unlikely. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has called for passage. In Athens, flagpole has called for its defeat.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Daniells Bridge Rezone Back to Oconee BOC

A Blind Curve Among Neighbors

Oconee County submitted a consent order on Oct. 7 to settle a suit filed against it in Oconee Superior Court by owners of land on Daniells Bridge Road who were denied a rezone request in May of 2007 for development of an office and business park on the site.

As part of the agreement, the county agreed to bring the rezone request back before the Planning Commission on Oct. 20 and before the Board of Commissioners on Nov. 4. In return, the property owners agreed to provide the county ownership of right of way for a roadway that may be built some time in the distant future.

Both the Planning Commission and the BOC have the authority to turn down the rezone, but the members of the BOC most likely decided to move forward with the consent order in one or more closed sessions with the county attorney. The BOC regularly holds secret meetings to discuss these kinds of issues, and no minutes of the sessions are available to the public.

The rezone request is being brought by Beall & Company on behalf of Dolores N. Lance and Dorothy N. Anglin. The 9-acre site is on Daniells Bridge Road just east of a blind curve as the road abuts an on ramp to SR Loop 10.

Stephen Jenkins and Edward Nichols propose to build an office business center, to be named Perimeter Center, on the now-wooded site. The development will consist of a 112,000 square foot, two-story building.

The project will have two exits onto Daniells Bridge Road. The first will be opposite Will Usher Road, just east of the blind curve. The second will be near the eastern most property line.

The project is the same as the project rejected by the BOC on May 1 of 2007 when a petition was presented to the Board by more than 400 residents of neighborhoods on Daniells Bridge Road opposed to the development. I helped organize that petition drive. (The Banner-Herald story about the meeting attributes a quote to me made by a neighbor.)

As was the case in 2007, the staff review of the proposal by the Oconee County Utility Department, revised on Oct. 10, 2008, contains a picture of a roadway that does not exist. Figure 1 in the report shows an improved Daniells Bridge Road at the eastern edge of the property that connects with a new road looping across SR Loop 10 to connect with the roadway that leads into Home Depot.

At the BOC meeting in May of 2007, Mike Leonas, then the head of the Public Works Department, said the roadway was at least 10 years in the future. That was before the current state financial crisis, which has resulted in severe curtailment of state roadway construction and planning.

The proposed roadway would connect with the Oconee Connector Extension proposed to open up land for development of the Epps Bridge Center on Epps Bridge Parkway. That road project has been delayed because of a lack of state funding.

These two proposed roads would be part of a roughly circulate road looping around Epps Bridge Parkway and SR 316, meeting at the current Oconee Connector. No plans have been presented for the remainder of Daniells Bridge Road, including the part of the roadway in front of the Lance and Anglin property up for rezone on election night.

Anglin and Lance filed suit against the county on May 24, 2007, or just a little more than three weeks after being denied their rezone request. As is usual in these cases, they claimed the county’s decision not to rezone their land was an “unconstitutional taking of property without just and adequate compensation and without due process of law.”

Michael Pruett, representing the county, filed a consent order with Judge David Sweat on Oct. 7. It states that Anglin and Lance have agreed to accept the Office Business Park rezone with eight conditions, six of which were listed by the planning staff when it recommended the rezone in 2007.

The sixth condition requires the developer to install central left turn lanes at each entrance and deceleration and acceleration lanes at each entrance.

The seventh condition from 2007, requiring the developer to participate in a development agreement for the upgrade of Daniells Bridge Road, was dropped. Other developers along Daniells Bridge already have agreed to some upgrades of the road, though not at the Anglin and Lance site.

The new seventh condition was the old eighth, in which the developer agreed to provide a construction easement for the proposed new road.

The new eighth condition is that the owner shall execute and deliver to the county a deed for just less than an acre of land for the right of way for the proposed road.

The new project will add 1,458 Average Daily Traffic units to Daniells Bridge Road. An ADT is a value representing the average annual 24 hour traffic volume. Of these, 206 will be at morning peak traffic times and the same number will be at evening traffic peak times.

The land abutting the Lance and Anglin property currently is zoned agricultural and residential, though the land on the other side of SR Loop 10 is commercial. The county has designed the Lance and Anglin property as office/professional land as part of its 2022 Future Land Use Plan.

The beer and wine ordinance passed by the BOC earlier this year included this land as open for beer and wine sales.

In May of 2007, Commissioner Don Norris recused himself from the vote for unspecified reasons of conflict of interest. Commissioners Margaret Hale, Chuck Horton and Jim Luke voted against the rezone.

Commissioners frequently go into closed session at the end of regular BOC meetings to discuss legal and personnel issues. No record of these meetings is released to the public.

I asked Commissioner Horton tonight to confirm that this matter was discussed in one such executive session.

He refused, saying “I am going to be a good guy and stay away from executive session.”

Horton said “folks can speak” at the public hearings before the Planning Commission and the BOC. “I don’t think you could say it is 100 percent” decided, he said.

If the BOC does not approve the rezone, according to the consent order, the land owners have the right to resume litigation, and a final hearing will be held with 120 days following the BOC vote.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

State Economy a Concern at Oconee Candidate Forum

Small Audience, Lots of Questions

A relatively small audience generated a lot of questions at the Candidate Forum at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville Monday night. Concerns about the state economy and its impact on Oconee County were reflected in many of the queries.

Bill Cowsert and Sherry Jackson, candidates for the 46th Senate District, responded to questions from 7 to 7:40 p.m. and were followed by Tom Leach, write-in candidate for the chairmanship of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.

Tom Breedlove and Rich Clark, running for Post 5 of the Oconee County Board of Education, took citizens questions during the second hour of the Candidate Forum, which was organized by Citizens for Oconee’s Future, Citizens for South Oconee County, Friends of Barber Creek, Friends of the Apalachee and Oconee Citizens for Responsible Growth.

Approximately 25 persons were in the room during the session, as some persons left and others entered.

A summary of the questions and answers of Breedlove, the Republican candidate, and Clark, the Democratic candidate, appears in today’s edition of the Athens Banner-Herald. The story also includes some of the interaction with Leach. The story did not mention that Cowsert and Jackson were at the meeting.

Cowsert, the Republican candidate, is the incumbent. Jackson is running as the Democratic candidate. Both are Athens attorneys.

Leach, a truck driver and former member of the Planning Commission, said he decided to run as a write-in candidate after Sarah Bell was defeated in the Republican primary for the BOC chair position. "I supported Sarah," he said.

Incumbent BOC Chairman Melvin Davis did not attend the Monday Candidate Forum, citing a conflict in his schedule.

Breedlove is a land planner with the firm Williams & Associates in Oconee County, and Clark is a faculty member in the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

The Forum was video recorded and is available at my Vimeo site (Senate and Cowsert) or Tony Glenn's Vimeo Site (Tom Leach).

Cowsert and Jackson are scheduled to appear at the Athens Press Club debate from 7-9 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 27, at the Melting Point in downtown Athens. The debate will be broadcast live on WGAU 1340 AM.

Bobby Saxon, the Democratic candidate for U.S. House from the 10th District, will appear at a Press Club from 7-9 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 20. Incumbent Republican Paul Brown has indicated he will not attend. That debate also will be broadcast on WGAU.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Oconee Traffic, Permits and Epps Bridge Centre

It's the Shopping, Really

The Oconee County Commissioners were looking at a concept plan Tuesday night showing six entrances to the proposed $76 million Epps Bridge Centre and involving the destruction of streams and wetlands requiring both state and federal permits.

Only one of those entrances to the strip mall can be built until the state completes a major highway project for which it has not yet even let the contracts.

Neither the state nor the federal permits for stream and wetland destruction have been granted.

County Attorney Daniel Haygood reminded the Commissioners that the concept plan the developer presents has to show what the developer actually intends to do before a rezone can be granted.

For some, that might have been a good reason to either postpone action on the rezone or deny it, since what the developer intends to do is not doable at present. Several of the seven persons speaking against the rezone–myself included--suggested the Board do just that.

By a vote of 3-1, with Margaret Hale dissenting, however, the Board of Commissioners approved the rezone anyway.

They did include a condition patched together on the spot to cover for the fact that the submitted concept plan is only a dream without the roadway. The Board, however, ignored the issue of the state and federal permits.

They also ignored the fact that the sole entrance to and exit from the shopping mall will allow only right turns in and right turns out and is at a very congested part of Epps Bridge Parkway.

Attorney Haygood, who said he had not recognized a problem with the condition for the rezone proposed by the planning staff back in August until he looked at it during the discussion Tuesday night, offered the replacement condition.

Those speaking against the rezone included Brenda Rashleigh, president of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring clean water for the Upper Oconee Watershed.

"We are opposed to this rezone because of the environmental impacts on the downstream waters," she said. Rashleigh said her group is concerned about McNutt Creek, which is near the development site, and "we believe that rezoning should not take place without the proper permits and variances."

The North East Georgia Regional Development Center also criticized the project because of its negative environmental impact.

According to the Aug. 8 staff report of the Oconee County Planning Department, developer Frank Bishop "has received approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to mitigate" the destruction of the streams and wetlands on the site through a mitigation bank he established in Greene County.

When I asked to see that permit, however, B.R. White, director of the Planning Department, told me the county did not have a copy of the permit.

When I filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the permit, I was told that none had been issued.

The state Environmental Protection Division also told me that the state has not yet issued a variance allowing Bishop to enter the 25-foot buffer of the streams on the site. Both the variance and the Corps permit are to be in hand before Oconee County issues a permit for disturbance of the site.

After I pointed out at the Tuesday rezone hearing that neither the Corps permit nor the state variance had been issued, Bishop acknowledged that fact.

"We have worked with the Army Corps of Engineers for approximately two years addressing mitigation concerns on this site to get this property rezoned," he said. He did not say why he had been unsuccessful in obtaining the permits before the rezone hearing or why he was going forward with the rezone request without them.

"Before any work could be done on this project, we would have to satisfy all the requirements of the Army Corps of Engineers," he did say. "No work would proceed on this project until all permits are in hand, which would include all federal permits, all state permits and all county permits."

That was enough for the majority of the Board.

Here is the language County Attorney Daniel Haygood offered the Board to cover for the lack of the $26 state roadway that is supposed to be built to the Epps Bridge Centre project:

"No development permits can be issued prior to the Georgia Department of Transportation signing a contract for construction of the Oconee Connector Extension, and, until the Oconee Connector Project is completed, no more than one-third of the overall building square footage of the site shall be issued COs (Certificates of Occupancy), or should be allowed to use the Epps Bridge Parkway as long as Epps Bridge Parkway is the sole exit."

Two people other than Bishop spoke up on Tuesday night for the project. One said the county was lucky to have a developer of the caliber of Bishop doing the project.

In his allowed rebuttal of the citizen concerns, Bishop offered his view of why his mall is good for Oconee County.

"We have spent a lot of time and resources trying to bring this project to fruition in Oconee County," he said, "believing it will be a benefit to Oconee County, to the citizens of Oconee County, and will enhance their lifestyles in that it will provide additional shopping, services, that will be closer to the residents’ homes in Oconee County and thusly they will not have to travel as far. They will spend less time in automobiles. The need to consume more gasoline will be reduced."

Despite his proposed–but not yet approved–destruction of 2,421 linear feet of streams and 1.06 acres of wetlands, Bishop, it seems, is something of an environmentalist after all.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Oconee BOC To Take Up Epps Bridge Centre Again

A Variance Here and a Variance There

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night is scheduled to make a crucial rezone decision regarding the proposed $76 million Epps Bridge Centre.

The rezone comes before the BOC with a negative finding from the North East Georgia Regional Development Center that "the development is not in the best interest of the Region and therefore the State."

Environmental and traffic concerns topped the list of problems NEGRDC has with the project.

While the Oconee County Planning Commission recommended approval at its Aug. 18 meeting, several commissioners who ultimately voted for it also raised questions about the project on these same and other grounds.

Here is a summary of those concerns as well as others that my reading of the documents suggest should be addressed on Tuesday night.

The BOC can vote to deny, but it probably is more likely to vote to approve, perhaps with added conditions.


Epps Bridge Centre is proposed to have a total of six entrances, one off Epps Bridge Parkway and five off the as yet unbuilt Oconee Connector Extension.

Because no one knows when the Oconee Connector Extension will be built, the county planning staff has recommended the following condition:

"Until the Oconee Connector Extension project is completed, no more than one-third (1/3) of the overall building square footage of the site shall be allowed to use Epps Bridge Parkway as the sole access to the development."

Here is alternative language that is clearer:

"No more than one-third of the square footage shall be certified for occupancy by Oconee County until the Oconee Connector Extension is completed."

But that does not solve a big problem with the entrance to and exit from the shopping center directly on Epps Bridge Parkway. That entrance and exit will be between the McDonalds restaurant and Loop 10, across from the entrance to Krogers.

A map submitted by Bishop indicates the entrance and exit directly on Epps Bridge Parkway will allow only right turns into the development and right turns out, but this has not been stipulated as a condition of the development. It should be.

(Click here to watch a video clip I shot from my car window to show where the entrance and exit on Epps Bridge Parkway will be located.)

Even if only right turns are allowed, many drivers will want to enter SR Loop 10 going north, at least until another entrance to SR Loop 10 is built. Given the location of the current entrance ramps, that will mean merging from the right to the left lane in a very short distance.

It would make much more sense to stipulate that Epps Bridge Centre cannot open until at least two entrances are available, including one that uses the part of the future Oconee Connector Extension that already exists just west of Lowe’s. That stretch of road allows for a left-turn into and out of Lowe’s.

Drivers from the shopping center wishing to enter SR Loop 10 north could be directed to this exit, and the exit with the right turn only onto Epps Bridge Parkway could stipulate that traffic could not enter SR Loop 10.

Although the Oconee Connector Extension will be built with both bike lanes and sidewalks, Epps Bridge Centre does not have bike lanes.

The county could require that bike lanes be included in the design and integrated with the bike lanes from the Connector.

Stream and wetland destruction

Bishop told the Planning Commission he knew the site he wants to rezone for the Epps Bridge Centre had wetlands and flowing streams before he started to develop it.

He could have decided to preserve those streams and wetlands and to incorporate them into his shopping center design. Pictures Bishop submitted to the U.S. Corps of Engineers show some of the streams are quite substantial and attractive.

Bishop chose instead to pave over and pipe almost all of the streams and wetlands, and he sought a permit from the Corps of Engineers to allow him to do that. That procedure required him to mitigate the damage to the streams and wetlands either by purchasing wetland credits from a commercial mitigation bank or by purchasing land and doing restoration himself.

Bishop told the Planning Commission he could not find a mitigation bank in Clarke County and did not want to pay the price required for Oconee County land where he could do restoration. He chose instead to purchase land in Greene County, and he now is proposing to convert that land to a commercial mitigation bank.

According to the Oconee County Planning Department staff report, Bishop has received permission from the Corps of Engineers to mitigate the damage to the Oconee site via the Greene County site. Bishop also told the county in a memo he sent on Sept. 17, 2008, that he has received permission from the Corps for the mitigation bank itself.

According to Michael Berry, an environmental specialist at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, Bishop also has applied for two variances that would allow him to enter the 25-foot buffers on the streams on the two sites, but he does not have the required variances.

Berry told me by telephone on Oct. 3 that the variance request for the Oconee site has been "in house" since "back in January" but has not been approved. He said the request for the Greene County site was filed only in September of this year and also is still under review.

Once the EPD makes a decision for a variance, the public is invited to comment. Berry said that piping a stream is viewed as a significant course of action and that the Corps of Engineers approval is only one of the criteria used by the state in granting a variance.

Oconee County is supposed to make sure that no permits for disturbance of the site takes place without both the federal permits and the state variance allowances.

One option for the BOC would be to postpone approval on the rezone until the needed permits and variances are in hand.

Impervious surface and tree canopy

Bishop also plans to clear the site of almost all existing vegetation as part of the construction process. When the project is completed, 70 percent of the will be covered with impervious surfaces such as roofs and pavement.

The NEGRDC recommended that Bishop "preserve a greater percentage of existing tree canopy" and "reduce the amount of impervious surface."

A large part of that surface is parking. The concept plan shows 2,905 parking spaces, which is 17 percent more than the 2,483 required, according to the document.

Planning Commission member George Rodrigues said at the Aug. 18 meeting he wondered if Bishop "was invested in asphalt" and suggested that the amount of parking be cut back.
The BOC certainly could ask that parking be the minimum and that more tree cover be preserved.


Bishop has said this Epps Bridge Center will generate about $750,000 each year in property taxes for the county and $4.7 million in sales taxes. The sales tax calculations are based on projected annual sales at the mall of approximately $158 million.

Bishop has never been asked in a public meeting to explain those figures. Given the current economic crisis and its affect on all aspects of the economy, it seems reasonable to ask how realistic these figures are.

Bishop also has estimated it will cost the county only $55,498 annually to provide community services associated with the project. Given that Epps Bridge Centre is intended to be an entertainment complex with restaurants and a 16-screen theater, the county will have some security costs as well as costs associated with administration and enforcement of the beer and wine ordinance.

It would be nice to know the source of the $55,498 figure.

It also would be nice to hear Bishop’s opinion on whether he will be able to get restaurants to locate in the mall as long as the county does not allow sale of alcohol by the drink. If he is going to want that law changed, he should say so.


At the Aug. 18 Planning Commission meeting, member Travis Marshall expressed concern that the rear of the restaurants facing Loop 10 be attractive to those passing by the mall. Marshall asked if it was safe to "assume" they would be attractive, and Bishop said it was.

It would be nice if the BOC would do something other than rely on Bishop’s reassurance. The county usually buffers subdivisions and other developments with berms and vegetation.

This might be a nice way of saving some of the tree cover on the site.