The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night is scheduled to consider a rezone request for 6.2 acres on Greensboro highway just south of Watkinsville that challenges the board’s commitment to the Future Development Map it approved in March of 2008 and its commitment to support local small businesses.
Courtney M. (Matt) Elder Jr. is asking the county to rezone the land so he can move his Oconee Waste Transport business from downtown Watkinsville.
Property owners in the area say the waste hauling facility will adversely affect their home values and is at odds with the pastoral landscape and land use patterns of the area.
The county’s planning staff has recommended against the rezone request, saying that the “request is not compatible with the land uses or zoning classifications of neighboring properties” and “does not meet the guiding principles, policies, development strategies” of the county land use map.
The Planning Commission voted Aug. 16, by a vote of 4-3, to recommend to the BOC that it approve the change requested by Elder from A-1 (Agricultural District) to O-B-P (Office Business Park District).
A majority of the four Planning Commission members representing the unincorporated parts of the county actually voted against the resolution. George Rodrigues, who made the motion, represents Watkinsville on the commission, and Karl Berg, who seconded it, represents North High Shoals.
Bruce MacPherson, representing Bishop, joined Rodrigues and Berg and county representative Mike Floyd in voting for the resolution.
Chuck Hunt, Bill Ramsey and Chuck Steen, all representing the unincorporated parts of the county, voted against the rezone request. Vice Chair Bill Yarbrough did not vote.
David Camp, representing Bogart, the county’s fourth city, was not present. Travis Marshall, Penny Mills and Chairman Dan Arnold also were absent.
The final decision is scheduled to be made by the BOC at its 7 p.m. meeting at the courthouse on Tuesday night.
The request the board will be considering is a redraft of one turned down by the Planning Commission by a vote of 5-3 on July 18, 2005. Yarbrough, Ramsey, Arnold, McPherson and then member Jim Butler voted for the denial.
The BOC also voted on Aug. 2, 2005, to deny the rezone. Current board members Margaret Hale, Chuck Horton and Jim Luke joined then member Don Norris in voting unanimously for the denial. John Daniell was not on the board at that time.
In 2005, Elder asked to rezone 9.7 acres from A-1 (Agriculture District) to I (Industrial District) to develop a waste transfer station.
The planning staff concluded that the zoning was out of character with the area and that zoning to industrial “would constitute a spot zoning of the area.” The staff report also said that the rezone was not consistent with development trends in the area or with the land use plan in effect at the time.
The current request uses only 6.2 of the total 9.7 acre-tract (at end of slide show) and is for a “solid waste collection company office facility” rather than for a waste transfer station.
The selected acreage is the northern part of the total tract. The proposal does not specify what is planned for the remaining acreage.
The proposal calls for construction of a 15,900 square-foot building and a 750 square-foot pole barn. It also calls for parking area for collection trucks and an area for storage of waste collection containers.
The site would include buffers to hide it from surrounding properties.
The staff report said “staff has concerns regarding contaminated run-off which could be generated by the site, including rainwater drained through the site.”
The report continues: “Additionally, cleaning and maintenance of the waste collection containers and vehicles will create contaminated run-off.”
“The proposed solid waste collection company office could negatively impact neighboring residential property values,” the staff report stated.
The report said the facility “will include outdroor storage of waste collection containers and collection vehicles resulting in incrased dust, odor and pest and rodent infestation. Noise generated by the delivery and removal of the waste containers, as well as the collection vehicles, could have substantial impact to neighboring residences.”
The staff said if its recommendation for a denial of the rezone request was not accepted, approval should be with nine conditions.
The Planning Commission, in recommending the rezone, modified two of those conditions.
The staff had said that no overnight storage of waste should be allowed. The Planning Commission resolution passed stipulated that only construction and demolition waste could be stored on the site and only overnight or over a weekend.
The Planning Commission resolution expanded the allowed hours of business from the staff recommendation of 7:30 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays to 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
At the Planning Commission meeting on Aug. 16, Jon Williams from Williams & Associates, a land planning company representing Elder on the rezone, submitted a 60-page rebuttal to the staff report.
Included was a statement by Rusty Haygood, Oconee County economic development director, estimating total annual economic impact of Oconee Waste Transport of $1.3 million on the county’s economy.
Elder said he will have to move the business out of the county unless he gets the requested rezone because he is being forced to leave his current location (at front of slide show) and cannot find an alternative site.
Williams of Williams & Associates told the Planning Commission that the current site is contaminated and must be abandoned but the problem is not because of the operation of Oconee Waste Transport.
In making application, Oconee Waste Transport argued that the proposed new site will have “no negative effect on adjoining property values.”
According to the submitted Zoning Impact Analysis, the Future Development Map should be treated only as “a guide” for future development, “current trends in the area have been predominately toward commercial growth,” and the project is located on a major traffic artery make the site appropriate for development.
Both OWT and the planning staff agree that the Future Development Map designates the area as for low-intensity residential community development that is “reminiscent of a rural environment” and serves as a transition to the part of the county to be preserved as rural and for agriculture.
The site is only about three-tenths of a mile south of the Watkinsville city line and its industrial area.
On Aug. 5, 2008, the Board of Commissioners voted to deny a rezoning request from planning commission member Travis Marshall for a subdivision about a mile south of the Elder site on the grounds that it was inconsistent with the Future Development Map.
The county successfully defended that decision in court after Marshall filed suit against the county for denying the rezone.
Commissioners Horton and Luke voted against the rezone request by Marshall. Commissioner Hale was absent, and Commissioner Norris voted in favor.
The Oconee Waste Transport rezone request in 2005 and the one this year have produced vocal opposition from residents in the area.
Residents have turned in petition in opposition to the current rezone request signed by more than 150 people.
In addition, someone dropped off at the Planning Department office a seven-page document that included, among other things, pictures of the current Oconee Waste Transport site on Experiment Station Road opposite the Watkinsville Post Office.
The planning staff forwarded the document from the unidentified person to the members of the Planning Commission, producing an email response from BOC Chairman Melvin Davis.
“I really have mixed reactions to this type of information being distributed to the PC by the Planning Department,” he wrote on Aug. 16. “Perhaps it would be in the best interest of the Planning Department to stick to the factual maters of a rezone/variance request and leave it up to those who do or do not support the request to make their preference known to the PC and the BOC.”
Alan Theriault, county administrative officer, disagreed.
“I personally think it is important that Planning Commission members have complete access to everything provided to staff about an issue if it provided to you in advance of their meeting,” Theriault wrote to planner Brad Callender. “Not to do so, might give some citizens the impression that we may be withholding information that is part of the public record.”
The email exchange is part of the Elder rezone file in the Planning Department. I came across it when I reviewed that file on Aug. 20.
Davis attended the Planning Commission meeting on Aug. 16, as did Commissioner Horton. Davis will vote on the rezone only in the case of a tie vote among the four other commissioners.
The rezone request has generated considerable interest in the development community.
Chuck Williams, president of North Georgia Bank and chair of the county’s Industrial Development Authority, was present at the Planning Commission meeting on Aug. 16, as was local businessman and developer Mike Power.
Neither spoke, but L.C. Givens, owner of Outdoor Speciality in Watkinsville, and local developer Tom Little did.
Both criticized the commission, assuming it was going to vote against the rezone.
“I think our forefathers would be ashamed of what we are going through tonight,” Givens said. “As an American people, we have took our country and brought it down to a point where nobody can do anything anymore unless it suits the neighbor.”
Little said “If you can’t support that, you can’t be pro business. You can’t say you’re pro business.”
“Those people who are against it," Little added, "if they don’t want him to be there, they can buy about a half acre apiece and let him go on down the road somewhere else.”
About 40 people attended the Aug. 16 Planning Commission meeting, and eight citizens spoke in opposition to the rezone.
At a Town Hall meeting held by the BOC on June 10, Chuck Williams from the development authority and Elder asked questions that anticipated the Oconee Waste Transport rezone request, which was submitted in July.
Williams asked how the board members would accommodate what he called “blue collar businesses” such as Elder’s waste hauling business when neighbors don’t want them nearby.
Commissioners Daniell, Hale, Horton and Luke said they thought the county needed to identify land for heavy industrial use and that they recognized there likely would be some public opposition to nearly any sight picked. (Chairman Davis missed the meeting because he was on vacation.)
Elder followed Williams at that meeting by asking the commissioners more specifically where they would be willing to locate industrial sites.
Luke said “near and around” the railroads in the county would be good sites. He also suggested some areas along U.S. 78 and “some areas in and around Watkinsville.”
Horton said he would look first at property adjacent to where these activities currently exist and also along the U.S. 78 corridor.
Hale said she would look at where current infrastructure exits and mentioned areas along U.S. 78 and U.S. 441. She said she also would consider some properties along SR 316.
Daniell didn’t commit.
The site Elder is seeking to rezone does have county water, but not county sewage treatment. Elder proposes to handle water treatment via a septic system.
What the site certainly does have is a small subdivision very near to it.
Planning Commission member Bill Ramsey said at the Aug. 16 meeting that “In this particular case, I have a hard time deciding whether this would be spot zoning or whether the subdivision would be spot zoning.”
The subdivision is question is known as Bell’s and is on Maple lane and Maple circle off Greene Ferry road.
Tax records show that of the four houses that are on properties that abut the full 9.7-acre tract (the northern part of which is under consideration for rezone), the first was built in 1966. The others were built in 1972, 1973 and 1983.
Ramsey said his concern was what the residents would see of the Oconee Waste Transport facility.
Jon Williams said they would be protected because of the buffers.
As a letter in today’s Athens Banner-Herald makes clear, at least some residents of the subdivision disagree.
The full video of the Planning Commissioner meeting is on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.