Sunday, September 18, 2011

Oconee County Planning Commission to Look at Downzone Request for Subdivison Along Apalachee River

Part of River Walk.

The Oconee County Planning Commission tomorrow night is scheduled to take up a request from the owner of a 422-acre tract along the Apalachee River south of Farmington who wants to downzone the property from a category that allows for development of five-acre housing plots to simple agriculture.

This is the third such downzone request in the county since the crash in the local housing market in 2008. Both of the other two also involved the conversion of land rezoned for residential development back to agriculture use.

The anticipated impact of the downzones is to reduce the assessed value of the land and thus the taxes the landowner pays to the county.

Apalachee River, October 2006
The rezone before the Planning Commission tomorrow night is for a piece of property between Heritage Park, where the county has limited access to the Apalachee River, and where U.S. 441 crosses the river and leaves Oconee County.

Russ Page, a local advocate for preservation of farmland and green space, along with others, had proposed that the frontage of the property along the river be a part of a 5-and-a-half mile River Walk that would allow public access to the river.

Page told me last night that he remains interested in the possibility of creating a hiking trail along the river and that his effort in the past had been stymied in part by uncertainty on the part of the former owners of the 422-acre tract about the plan.

The tract is now owned by Classic City Properties LLC, which told the county in the narrative to its application for downzoning that it wishes “to raise livestock, farm trees, manage and harvest wild game and preserve the natural and unique beauty of the property.”

The proposed residential development, according to that statement, was stopped before any of the infrastructure was put into place, and the land is currently being used for agriculture.

In 2005, ALP Development Inc. asked the county to rezone this same piece of land from A-1 to AR-5 to allow it to create 79 lots of at least five acres in size for single-family residences. The Board of Commissioners approved that request on Dec. 6 of that year.

Average dwelling price was to be $450,000 for what was to be called “The Bend on the Apalachee.”

At that time, most of the land immediately around the 422 acres was zoned A-1 for agriculture use, according to the report of the Oconee County Planning staff. It stated that another nearby project, called the Trestle at Apalachee, was proposed for five-acre residential development.

A in ALP stood for Dan Arnold, who was then and is now the chairman of the Planning Commission.

The Georgia Secretary of State database of corporations in the state lists the other partners as Ludger Lanthier and Jerry Peck. The company is based is Winder.

According to the Oconee County tax records, the property is actually two separate tracts, with a current assessed value of $1.1 million.

Classic city paid $1.3 million for the parcels in October of last year after a foreclosure on the property while it was owned by ALP Development. It had been assessed at $3.6 million in 2005.

The registered agent for Classic City Properties, according to the state database, is David Dismuke. The company is located at 1720 Epps Bridge Parkway in Oconee County.

“Before this property could be developed within the AR-5 zoning,” Classic City Properties wrote in the narrative, “the real estate bubble burst and the market crashed. It is our belief it will not be economically feasible to develop this property as was anticipated.”

“We believe that best use for this property for the foreseeable future is agriculture,” the narrative states.

An A-1 classification “reflects the majority of property in this part of Oconee County,” the applicant wrote.

Page told me that he hopes to talk to the owner of Classic City Properties and revitalize his efforts to establish the River Walk. He has created a web site that spells out the goals of the project.

In June of 2008 the county downzoned 308 acres on Price Mill Road owned by RJC Land Development Inc. from a zoning classification allowing for three-acre residential lots to agriculture. That subdivision was to contain 72 lots.

In October of 2009, the BOC downzoned 147 acres on Malcom Bridge Road owned by Zachary McLeroy from Master Plan Development to A-1. That project was to have 257 residential units plus commercial space.

B.R. White, planning director for the county, told me last week he “wouldn’t be surprised” if more such requests come before the Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners in the future, given the depressed nature of the Oconee County housing market.

The meeting tomorrow night will start at 7 p.m. and be held in the courthouse in Watkinsville. The Planning Commission only advises, and the matter is scheduled to be before the Board of Commissioners on Oct. 11.

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