Monday, September 13, 2010

Oconee County Chairman Davis’ Concerns Heard at Meeting He Didn’t Attend

Radius Around a Line

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis didn’t attend the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission Advisory Committee meeting today, but his point of view about the designation of the Athens Line as a regionally important resource did.

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Heidi Davison reported Davis’ concern about protecting the rail line from detrimental development within a mile on either side of it, though she expressed no such anxiety herself.

Lee Carmon, planning director and general counsel for NEGRC, said she was aware of Davis’ reservations as well. Others in the room also acknowledged having heard from Davis about his problem with the rail line designation.

Joe Walter, mayor of Watkinsville and one of three Oconee County representatives on the NEGRC Council and its only representative on the Advisory Committee that selected the regionally important resources, chose not to comment during the discussion.

Davis (left), along with Amrey Harden, president and CEO of Oconee State Bank, and designated as a citizen representative of the county on the Council, and Walter will decide on Thursday whether to send the list of 25 resources designated as regionally important to the Georgia Department of Communication Affairs for review and comment.

The Council is the governing body of NEGRC.

That meeting will be begin at noon at the Holiday Inn in downtown Athens.

Elder Mill, Elder Mill Bridge, the Athens Line and the Apalachee River are the four resources from Oconee County designated by the Council back in April as regionally important in the first round of review.

At the meeting today at the NEGRC offices in Athens, Carmon presented a Resource Management Plan drafted by her staff following that April meeting.

The plan asks counties to take a series of steps to preserve the resources, including steering development away from them, coordinating new development patterns with those of existing neighborhoods, and preserving historic and cultural resources located on or adjacent to the sites.

Davison said that Davis was concerned that it was difficult to draw a one-mile radius around a line. The Athens Line, still partially used, runs from Athens to Madison.

Davison said it is no harder to draw a one-mile radius around the rail line than it is around a river. The Apalachee runs along the western border of the county.

At the BOC meeting back in March, when Carmon unveiled the list of Oconee County resources on the list, Davis expressed concern not about drawing the radius but about the restrictions such a designation might place on development in Oconee County.

Carmon said today that NEGRC would review any development within a mile of the designated resource, but the report NEGRC would release would be only advisory.

NEGRC serves 12 counties and 54 municipal governments in the Northeast Georgia Region.

Back in 2008, NEGRC planners negatively reviewed the large Epps Bridge Centre shopping mall planned for Epps Bridge Parkway behind Lowe’s, citing traffic and environmental concerns. The county ignored that assessment and rezoned the property for development.

And just last week the Board of Commissioners ignored a land use map it passed only two years ago to spot zone a piece of property in the rural southern part of the county for a waste transport facility.

At the April 15 meeting, Davis held his voice, but Davison and Carmon indicated he has not done so in private conversations.

Carmon said critics could work to get any of the four resources taken off the list when the next round of resource review starts later this year.

County officials did not nominate any county resources as regionally important in this first go-around.

Tony Glenn, an avid bicyclist, submitted the Athens Line proposal, noting its historical significance and potential recreational value as a bike trail.

The Friends of Elder Mill and Elder Mill Bridge submitted the Elder Mill and Elder Mill Bridge nomination.

The Apalachee River, as a water resource, was included automatically and was listed as a resource for Barrow, Greene, Morgan, Oconee and Walton counties.