The Oconee County Board of Commissioners tonight approved a modification to an earlier rezone that could result in the United States Department of Agriculture relocating its offices from the county Government Annex on Greensboro highway south of Watkinsville to near the USDA farms on Hog Mountain road.
The modifications would allow Allen Giddens of Gainesville to purchase a vacant lot (below) in Twelve Oaks Office Park, build a single-story building and lease the building to the USDA.
Prior to the unanimous vote tonight, buildings in the five-lot office park could not be larger than 2,800 feet of ground coverage. The BOC vote increased the amount to 5,600 square feet.
The USDA currently is renting space on a monthly basis in the Government Annex for its Farm Service Agency and for its Natural Resource Conservation Service. The county had a lease with USDA for the space, but the lease expired earlier this year.
In May the county began discussing the possibility of renovating the Government Annex to accommodate county space needs. It told the USDA after those discussions began that it would have to leave.
On Nov. 2, the BOC voted to stop the discussions of the renovation.
County Administrative Officer Alan Theriault told the BOC tonight that the county has informed USDA it can stay. In that circumstance, the county and USDA would have to renegotiate the lease.
Theriault told me after the meeting that the USDA was paying about $10,000 a year for use of the Government Annex space and has not told the county what it plans to do in the future.
Giddens told the BOC tonight he has an option to purchase the lot in the Hog Mountain road office park from Robert and Joanne Fine of Bishop. Giddens said the option runs only through the end of this year.
Giddens said he submitted a bid to USDA earlier this year but has not heard if it will be accepted. He said he hopes to hear in the next few weeks.
“If we don’t get the bid, the project will not go forward,” he said.
The proposal calls for use of 4,100 square feet of the 5,500 square-foot building Giddens said he plans to build. He said the additional space would be available to the USDA for future expansion.
Giddens told the Board the USDA specified it wants a one-story building. He told me that the cost of an elevator for such a small building would increase the price by $100,000, making it too expensive for him to build.
Total estimated cost of the proposed building without the elevator is $400,000, according to a letter Giddens submitted to the county along with the rezone application.
The rezone the BOC approved in March of 1993 for the office park specified that the buildings must have a brick exterior, be built “in a Georgian style” and be one and a half stories or two stories in height.
The BOC tonight added the requirement that Giddens modify his submitted plan to add dormers at the front of the building to give it the appearance of being a story and a half in height.
The Board also added the stipulation that the change it was making to allow Giddens to build a single-story building did not apply to another unbuilt lot in the subdivision.
Giddens was the only person speaking in favor of the proposed change tonight. No one spoke against, though I did ask the Board several questions about the proposal, including how the one-story structure meshed with the 1993 ordinance and whether the change applied to the other empty lot.
Twelve Oaks Business Park was designed when the adjoining Twelve Oaks subdivision was built early last decade. Both adjoin USDA farm land.
Two lots in the subdivision are used by Summer Hill Recreation Club for a commercial pool and tennis court facility under a Conditional Use Permit approved by the county in 1994. Summerhill also uses space in Twelve Oaks Business Park for parking.