Wednesday, March 27, 2013

County Attorney Haygood Told Oconee County Commissioners That Prezoning Raises Significant Issues They Will Need To Address

Possible Appearance of Conflict Of Interest

Oconee County Attorney Daniel Haygood told the Board of Commissioners last night that he has a list of at least 22 issues that he feels the commissioners need to address before the county can move forward with prezoning of property for development.

Haygood said the county should consider the consequences of abandoning the current approach of reviewing individual zoning requests and reflect on the method that will be used to select properties for prezoning.

He said the county needs to develop a process that would eliminate or reduce the “appearance of political favor or conflict.”

He said the county also should determine whether the current approach has caused any businesses to locate elsewhere. And it should look at other issues that may inhibit commercial and industrial development in the county.

The commissioners took no action following Haygood’s presentation, but they agreed to put the issue back on the agenda for discussion at the meeting next Tuesday night.

Four Previous Discussions

The discussion next week will be the fourth time since the Jan. 24 “visioning session” of the BOC that it has devoted time to the issue of prezoning, or selecting property for rezoning before anyone comes forward and asks for the change or even states that she or he wants the land developed.

The stated goal of Commissioner John Daniell and Commissioner Jim Luke, the champions of prezoning who raised the issue at the Jan. 24 meeting, is to learn from the county’s success in landing the Caterpillar plant near Bogart.

That land, owned by the Orkin family, had been rezoned and available for development when Caterpillar selected the site.

“We came up with the issues that are going to have to be looked at if you are going to rezone property outside the framework of how we have rezoned it previously,” Haygood said last night.

Haygood said he developed the list after conversations with Planning Director B.R. White and with others on the planning staff.

Conditional Zoning Now Used

At present, the county reviews individual requests for zoning changes after holding a public hearing where citizens get to voice their concerns.

Often, the BOC places conditions on those rezones after the hearings, restricting, for example, the size of buildings that can be constructed and even the uses for the property within the broad zoning category.

A prezone, at least as discussed by Luke and Daniell, would eliminate that review process. Their stated goal is to have the land ready for use within the zoning category as soon as someone comes forward to build.

Haygood Cited Historial Issues

Haygood broke his concerns in to four categories.

He labeled the first group historical and asked the Board to consider what properties have been zoned commercial or industrial in the past but have not been developed.

He said the county needed to learn what had kept these properties from being developed.

“Is there research that indicates this (prezoning) is an effective way to promote the type of development sought by the county?” he asked.

Ordinances and Plans Cited

Haygood also asked the Board to consider the impact of a change to prezoning on existing ordinances and county plans.

The changes will have impact on transportation and utility infrastructure, he said. He asked how the costs of those changes would be financed. Developers at present are required to assume some of those costs when their property is rezoned.

He also asked if the county needed to change its zoning categories to accommodate development that will occur if no conditions are placed on it at the time of prezoning.

He also asked if the county’s Unified Development Code will need to be changed.

Selection of Property

A big issue is selection of property for prezoning, Haygood said. That was his third broad category.

He said the BOC will have to figure out how to deal with property owners who do not wish to be included in the prezoning initiative.

The county also needs to decide on the areas for the prezoning and examine the effect of prezoning on the property taxes of the target property.

His concern with the appearance of political impropriety fell into this category.

Listed Other Issues

Haygood said he had other concerns that did not fit into the first three categories.

Included is the impact of prezoning on consideration of a Transfer of Development Rights program, which a citizen group has endorsed in broad terms.

He said the county should determine if there is a need for property that is “pad-ready” or even has speculative buildings built on it that would help the county attract development.

Daniell Alone Responded

Commissioner Daniell alone responded to Haygood’s list.

He said he wasn’t interested in changing everything the county already does in the area of planning and zoning.

Daniell again said his goal is to replicate the success of the Caterpillar project, though he said he expects that success to be on a smaller scale.


Anonymous said...

The board should listen to their attorney's recommendations!

Xardox said...

While not letting any cats out of the bag, the attorney is at least showing the bag squirm.
This issue and the discussions to follow will be more interesting watching what will not be said more than what will be.