The Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 tonight to set aside the Future Development Map it approved in March of 2008 and rezone 6.2 acres on Greensboro highway just south of Watkinsville so Courtney M. (Matt) Elder Jr. can move his Oconee Waste Transport business from downtown Watkinsville.
Only Commissioner Chuck Horton voted against the decision.
The public hearing and discussion of the rezone request lasted two hours and included a well-organized presentation by neighbors strongly opposed to the rezone.
The opponents argued that the relocation of the trash transport business was inconsistent with the county development map and with the county code and threatened the quality of their lives and value of their homes.
Proponents, including Oconee County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Kenneth Mann, argued that the rezone was necessary to support a local business that contributes to the local economy.
Elder threatened to move his business outside the county if he didn’t get the rezone.
Elder submitted a letter from AmeriPride Services Inc. saying that his current property on Experiment Station Road is contaminated as a result of past dry cleaning activities carried out on the AmeriPride-owned property adjoining Elder’s current location.
According to the letter, AmeriPride will install a groundwater extraction and treatment system on the Elder property.
Land Planner Jon Williams (above during break with Elder behind), representing Elder, said at the meeting that Elder could not find any sites for his business other than the one he owned.
At the meeting tonight and prior to the vote, Oconee County Planning Director B.R. White said he would recommend that the BOC change its Future Development Map if it approved the rezone since the use proposed by Elder was inconsistent with the designated uses in the area.
The planning staff recommended against the rezone.
The 2030 Future Development Map classifies the area as Country Estates. Areas so designated are to provide a transition from urban to more rural areas and should include estate farms or large-lot subdivisions.
None of the commissioners argued that the waste transport business was consistent with the designation, with Commissioner Jim Luke joining Horton in arguing most vocally that it was not. Luke said if the vote was positive he wanted to redraw the Future Development Map to allow for more such zoning in the future.
More than 100 people attended the hearing, which was moved from the usual commission chamber to a courtroom to accommodate the crowd.
The vote by the BOC changed the zoning for the 6.2 acres from A-1 (Agricultural District) to O-B-P (Office Business Park District).
The tract rezoned is part of a larger tract of 9.7 acres that Elder asked in 2005 be rezoned from A-1 (Agriculture District) to I (Industrial District). The BOC denied that request.
Land Planner Williams tonight said Elder has no firm plans for how to use the remaining acreage but that it could be used for future expansion.
He’ll have to come back for another rezone if he wants to do that, but the discussion tonight suggests the county will have changed the land use map by then to make it easy for him to do so.
The future development map, meant to guide zoning until the year 2030, has never had any legal authority. As a guide, it relies only upon the intentions of its authors and the commissioners who voted to adopt the map. This was pointed out in a letter to the editor in The Oconee Enterprise a year ago, which point was met with some hostility.
When community desires collide with Constitutionally guaranteed rights to property ownership and the use thereof, each parcel will be argued on a separate basis, and no map of intentions will be worth a hill of beans.
You ain't seen nothin' yet.
According to Georgia Dept of Community Affairs, "Comprehensive plans are used by local governments to guide, manage, and implement quality growth."
How do Luke, Daniell, and Hale rationalize this misguided decision with the intent of the county's comprehensive plan? Why even have a plan if it can be redrawn to support such incongruous spot zoning?
I'll be curious to see how quickly the surrounding residential property values decline. One of the criteria of any rezone is that it must not have any negligible impact on surrounding property values. Few will want to buy homes in the vicinity of this business.
On the flip side, the curb appeal of Experiment Station Road will surely improve with the exit of this business.
Values decline? Hardly.
Office, industrial, business, and professional values will soar. What is really going to happen to the homeowners is that their adjudicated values will rise as will their tax burden.
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