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.