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 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.

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