Friday, May 03, 2013

Oconee County Commissioners Scheduled To Revise Sewer Policy for Assisted Living Facility

Identity Still Mystery

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday is scheduled to approve a change in sewer policy requested by Chairman Melvin Davis to facilitate construction of an assisted living facility at the corner of SR 316 and the Oconee Connector Extension.

The new policy repeats the existing requirement that no more than 50 percent of the capacity of either of the county’s two sewage treatment facilities can be allocated to residential use, and it excludes from the calculation of residential use facilities operated as an “assisted living community.”

The policy does not restate the decision of the Board of Commissioners on Dec. 2, 2008, that new sewer capacity in the county’s treatment plants is to be restricted to commercial use, but County Attorney Daniel Haygood said he does not see that as a problem.

County Utility Department Director Chris Thomas said policy set in 2008 only applies to sewer capacity the county will realize when it upgrades its two plants at some point in the future.

“My understanding of the policy,” County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko said, “is that under no circumstances can the county go beyond the 50/50 split and that any other plant expansion should be for commercial, not residential.”

Haygood Brought Policy To Board

Without offering any explanation for the timing, Haygood told the BOC at its April 23 meeting that he was asking it to add assisted living facilities to a short list of facilities excluded from the residential sewer definition.

The policy states that residential use shall include condominiums, duplexes, mobile homes, single family homes and apartments, but it shall not include facilities operated as a continuing care retirement community or an assisted living community.

On Aug. 15, 2007, the BOC had specified that continuing care retirement communities were not to be included as residential users.

The commissioners, without discussion on April 23, put the sewer policy change on the consent agenda for the Tuesday night meeting, meaning it will be approved without further discussion unless a commissioner asks that it be removed from the consent agenda.

The Commission meeting is to begin at 7 p.m. in the courthouse in Watkinsville.

Presbyterian Homes of Georgia Request

The change in policy in 2007 to exclude continuing care retirement communities from the list of residential uses was put into place by the Board of Commissioners on behalf of Presbyterian Homes of Georgia, which was requesting a rezone to build a retirement facility near Butler’s Crossing.

PHG did not follow through on that project, and the issue came up again in August when PHG proposed to put its continuing care retirement community on Rocky Branch, rather than near Butler’s Crossing.

At that time, Utility Department Director Thomas, then County Administrative Officer Alan Theriault and Attorney Haygood had to huddle before making a decision on how the PHG request met with county policy on sewer allocation.

Ultimately the three decided that PHG could receive a letter indicating that sewer capacity was available for the project. PHG decided in December to put the project on Rocky Branch Road on hold until next month.

Mystery Initiator Identified

I sent Haygood email messages on April 24 asking him to explain the implications of the change in sewer policy he had proposed the night before and the reason for it.

Haygood told me he did not believe the change overturned the policy of the Board restricting future capacity to commercial use. He said it was “not appropriate for me to comment on the motives for the change.”

I asked Benko on the following day if he had initiated the policy change, and he said he had not. Thomas gave me the same answer when I asked him about the policy change later that day. B.R. White, director of the Planning Department, told me on the 26th that he had not initiated the policy.

“I think I did ask Daniel to consider it,” Chairman Davis told me by telephone when I talked with him on April 28.

“We always have questions,” he said when I asked him if someone had requested the change. “There may be the possibility of an application for some assisted living facility in Oconee County,” he said.

Williams With The Answer

Jon Williams, president of Williams and Associates, 2470 Daniells Bridge Road, had been in the audience at the BOC meeting on April 23, and he left as soon as the commissioners voted to put the proposed change in sewer policy on the consent agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting.

Williams was traveling at the end of last week. When I talked with him by telephone on Tuesday he acknowledged that “we’ve been working on an assisted living facility.”

Williams would not reveal his client, but he said the project would be at the intersection of SR 316 and the Oconee Connector Extension.

The 31-acre tract is owned by LCN Oconee LLC and Frank Halpin of Canton, according to county tax records. The Georgia Secretary of State database does not list officers of LCN Oconee.

Nichols Land and Investment Company is listing the property under the name “Norris Tract” and showing it as available for $11.9 million.

Williams said he will submit the paperwork for a rezone application to the Oconee County Planning Department on Monday for consideration at the June meeting of the Planning Commission.

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