Monday, January 12, 2009

Epps Bridge Centre Explains Need for EPD Variances

Streams or Shopping

The developer of the proposed Epps Bridge Centre on Epps Bridge Parkway has asked the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to allow him to violate the 25-foot buffer along streams and wetlands on the site because he otherwise cannot do his development given the stream and wetland location.

He also has asked the EPD to set aside its expectation that he mitigate the damage to the streams by restoring other streams on the site because he wants to pave over or pipe all the streams on the site, not leaving any streams for mitigation.

The EPD is considering the request by developer Frank Bishop of Atlanta to get a variance to the state buffers so he can build a $76 million shopping center on Epps Bridge Parkway west of the current Lowe’s.

Citizens have until Jan. 19 to submit their comments.

According to the Jan. 22, 2008, letter from Barney Crooks of environmental consultant ACER that accompanies the application for the variance, Bishop proposes to disturb 62 acres of the 63-acre site on Epps Bridge Parkway.

The site contains five perennial streams, two ephemeral streams and four vegetated or forested wetlands, all of which drain to McNutt Creek, which forms the border with Clarke County near the development.

The application is to allow Bishop to encroach on the 25-foot buffer along 2,678 linear feet of perennial streams (about a half mile), 0.06 acre of ephemeral streams and 1.0 acre of forested wetlands on the site.

Several revisions were made to the conceptual site plan to try to reduce impact on the streams and wetlands "as much as possible," according to the ACER letter. "But, due to the location of the jurisdictional areas on the site, the spatial constraints of the site and the development requirements of the project, impacts of these jurisdictional areas were unavoidable."

EPD requires that the developer "offset the buffer encroachment and any loss of buffer functions" through mitigation, which "should be on-site when possible."

In the Jan. 22 letter, Crooks of ACER argues that Bishop should be exempted from the EPD requirement of on-site mitigation since such mitigation is "unfeasible because of the site’s layout" and because there are no remaining streams or wetlands left on the site that can be restored.

ACER of Lawrenceville prepared the buffer variance application for Bishop and his Oconee 316 Associates.

Bishop told the Oconee County Planning Commission on Aug, 18, 2008, that he was aware of the existence of the streams and wetlands on the site when he purchased it.

According to the application, Epps Bridge Centre, which is proposed to contain a movie theater, restaurants and large and small retail outlets, consumers in Oconee County need the proposed development.

"This section of Oconee County is rapidly growing," the application states, "and the need for commercial retail development that is economically valuable to the consumer and easily accessible from the highway is in high demand."

The letter was written before the current economic collapse of the county, state and nation, and at least one retail development, near Kohl’s just east of the proposed site on Epps Bridge Parkway, is largely unoccupied.

Before the state can grant a variance, Bishop must obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the proposed piping and filling of the streams and wetlands on the site. The Corps is supposed to post its decisions on its web site once they are made, and no posting for the Epps Bridge Centre application has appeared as of this writing.

Billy E. Birdwell, chief of Public Affairs for the Savannah District of the Corps, told me in an e-mail message on Dec. 31 that "We should complete our decision in the next two weeks."

Citizens interested in writing to the EPD regarding the variance request can send their letters to:

Program Manager
Non Point Source Program
Erosion and Sedimentation Control
4220 International Parkway
Suite 101
Atlanta, Georgia 30354.

Reference should be made to:
Control #: BV-108-08-01.

The EPD can hold a public hearing on the variance request.

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