The Oconee County Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee has changed its schedule for its next meeting on Sept. 14 and will begin discussions at that meeting of bike-friendly road signage rather than make a presentation to the public about its recommendation for a new county judicial facility.
Committee Chairman Abe Abouhamdan announced the schedule change at the end of the Aug. 10 meeting, during which the committee reviewed for the third straight meeting a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Oconee County Strategic and Long Range Planning Director Wayne Provost.
The presentation is designed to persuade the public that the committee reached the right decision back in March when it voted to recommend to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners that it build a judicial facility separate from the current courthouse in downtown Watkinsville.
The new facility, according to the committee recommendation, should be near the current jail on Experiment Station road.
It took the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee a year to respond to a request from the BOC that it provide guidance on the courthouse issue, and the BOC has now gone forward with its own plan to remodel the Government Annex south of Watkinsville to accommodate county space needs.
At its Aug. 3 meeting, the BOC approved a $74,500 contract for architectural services and agreed to proceed with the hiring of a constructions manager for the project. Commissioner Jim Luke opposed the decision, which was approved 3-1.
At the July 13 meeting Abouhamdan scheduled the public presentation for the next meeting of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee on Sept. 14, but he announced at the end of the Aug. 10 meeting that, according to the draft of the minutes, “the public meeting will be held at the will” of the BOC.
Abouhamdan told the committee members he will discuss the public hearing with the BOC at its agenda-setting meeting on Aug. 31.
(I was not able to attend the Aug. 10 meeting, but Russ Page did record sections of the meeting.)
The decision not to turn the Sept. 14 meeting into a public hearing freed Abouhamdan to move forward on the committee schedule discussion of a request from the Oconee County Cycling Organization that the county install Share The Road signs on roads used by cyclists throughout the county.
The cycling group has identified four key roads it want to be top priorities: Colham Ferry road from Watkinsville to Watson Spring Mill road, Simonton Bridge road from Watkinsville to the county line, New High Shoals road from U.S. 441 to SR 186, and Barnett Shoals road from Watkinsville to the county line.
Richard McSpadden, a member of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee and president of the Oconee County Cycling Organization, asked Abouhamdan to put the request on the agenda of the committee. (McSpadden is pictured above, left, at the July meeting with committee member Bill Tollner.)
Abouhamdan said at the July meeting when McSpadden made the request that he would not schedule the discussion until the committee was finished with the courthouse issue.
Abouhamdan told McSpadden that biking issues have been controversial with the committee in the past.
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis made an unusual appearance at the Aug. 10 Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meeting, joining the committee at the table and engaging in the discussion.
Visitors usually sit at the rear or sides of the room for the hour-long meetings, which begin at 7 p.m. at the community center in Veterans Park.
According to the draft minutes, Davis told the committee that it will be 2014 before citizens can approve a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that could include money for new courthouse facilities and that it would take several years of tax collections to have “seed money” for the project.
Planner Provost noted, however, that the roughly $4.2 million in unspent funds from the SPLOST voters approved in 2003 could be use to purchase land for a new judicial facility.
The committee has not devoted much time to discussion of what might be done with the $4.2 million in unspent funds and has devoted no time to discussion of properties, though it has recommended that the new judicial facility be close to the jail to facilitate safe transfer of prisoners.
In discussing the PowerPoint presentation the last three meetings, the committee has focused on ways to strengthen the argument for its recommendation, opting to add more pictures, including of facilities from Jackson and Barrow counties, which recently have built new courthouses.
At the urging of Chairman Abouhamdan, the committee reached a final decision at the August meeting on the background color for the presentation.
The committee voted for blue.