Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Citizen Committee Moves Forward With Public Hearing on Oconee County Courthouse

Concerned about Rear-Ends Too

The Oconee County Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee tonight decided to go forward with a plan to hold a public hearing in late July or early August on its recommendation that the county build a separate judicial facility near the courthouse.

County Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost showed the committee a first draft of a presentation that he proposed he give to citizens who turn out at the future public meeting.

The committee took no note of the action of the Board of Commissioners, who on May 25 decided to move county offices now in the leased Courthouse Annex across the street from the current courthouse in downtown Watkinsville to the Government Annex on SR15 on the south side of the city.

Commissioner John Daniell told me after that meeting that he wanted to see what kinds of renovations could be done to the Government Annex to accommodate administrative needs of the county before he made any decision about future space needs for either administrative or judicial activities of the county.

Maybe all county administrative offices could be moved to the Government Annex location and the current courthouse could be dedicated to court functions, he said.

The BOC decided to toss out the previously approved plans to redesign the space now used by the Public Works Department in the Government Annex and instead to redesign the entire facility to accommodate Code Enforcement and the Planning Department as well as other smaller departments now in the Courthouse Annex.

The two buildings that make up the Courthouse Annex are referred to as the Dolvin property in deference to previous owners.

County Administrative Officer Alan Theriault told the commissioners on May 25 that he expected construction at the Government Annex to start in January of 2011.

At the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meeting tonight Provost offered a rough estimate of between $20 and 22 million as the cost of acquiring property for and building a judicial facility and renovating the existing courthouse for administrative offices.

The Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee voted on March 9 to recommend to the BOC that the county build a separate judicial facility near the courthouse to accommodate the future needs of the county.

Provost said tonight he thinks it is a good time to acquire property and suggested that the county might use some of the estimated $4.2 million in unspent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue for that purpose.

The BOC has decided to use an undetermined amount of that money for the renovation of the Government Annex.

Provost said he would revise the presentation he gave tonight taking into consideration comments made by committee members. They asked that he include pictures, more details about possible funding and a time line for the construction of the judicial facility.

The plan now is for Provost to bring that revision back to the committee at its July 13 meeting, which was nearly canceled. By a vote of 4 to 3, the committee turned down a motion that it not meet in July because of the difficulty of getting a quorum during the summer vacation period.

The committee canceled its May meeting because it could not get the required eight of 14 members to agree to attend.

At the July 13 meeting the committee is scheduled to decide the details of its public hearing. Committee chairman Abe Abouhamdan said he hoped that at least some of the commissioners would attend.

Following the discussion of the courthouse, Bob Isaac, a member of the committee, said that he was concerned about the likelihood of traffic accidents at the QuikTrip gas station and convenience story set to open later this month at the intersection of Daniells Bridge road and the Oconee Connector.

“We’re getting ready to have a nightmare,” Isaac said. The entrance to the gas station off the Oconee Connector from the turn lane to Daniells Bridge road is unsafe, he said. “You’re going to have rear ends. You are going to have collisions.”

Abouhamdam said the intersection was under the control of the Georgia Department of Transportation, not the county, and the county couldn’t do much about it. Provost said improvements could be made when the Oconee Connector was widened, but he said that could be as late as 2020.

Committee member Shane Carson said he thought the problem was going to be particularly bad about 5:30 in the evening when a driver decides “I need a drink on the way home” and turns suddenly into QuikTrip to pick up some beer or wine.

The Board of Commissioners granted QuikTrip its alcohol license at its meeting on June 1.