Oconee County Code Enforcement has logged five complaints against Oconee Waste Transport following acknowledgment by the county in early April that it had agreed to allow the company to operate in violate of a county zoning ordinance in part because neighbors had stopped complaining.
Five different residents of the small subdivision off Greene Ferry Road south of Watkinsville complained to the county on three different dates in late April and early May that OWT was operating before 6 a.m.
|1750 Greensboro Highway (SR 15)|
Oconee County Magistrate Court Judge Eric W. Norris in early October of last year found OWT to be in violation of the county rezone ordinance passed in September of 2010 when the company asked to be allowed to put its offices and trucking operation at 1750 Greensboro Highway, or SR 15.
That ordinance specified that hours of operation of the OWT facility should be only from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
County Attorney Daniel Haygood asked Judge Norris at the end of October to vacate his order, at least temporarily, and Judge Norris did so. Haygood said later the lack of complaints was one of the reasons he asked the judge to set aside his order.
Three Complaints On April 26
Susan and Homer Hansford, 1091 Maple Lane, told the county they were awakened at 5:20 a.m. on April 26, a Friday, and “deprived of sleep because of loud banging noise” coming from OWT, according to documents provided me by B.R. White, director of the Code Enforcement Office for Oconee County.
“The noise continued almost uninterrupted for several hours,” according to the complaint by the Hansfords.
“Ms. Hansford stated that the above noise disturbance is a continuous problem that seems to occur on Monday and Friday of each week,” according to the documents given me by White.
Martha Doster of 1081 Maple Circle and Joe and Tauna Ruiz of 1081 Maple Lane complained that same day that they, too, had been disturbed by noise between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m. from the OWT site.
May 9 And 10 Complaints
Ms. Ruiz called at 5:18 a.m. on May 9, a Thursday, to complain about noise from trucks on the OWT site, and Ms. Hansford called the next day, at 5:04 a.m. “to complain about loud banging noise” that lasted about 20 minutes and came, she said, from the OWT site.
Code enforcement reported visiting OWT at 6:10 a.m. on May 9 and “observed only one white pick-up truck at Oconee Waste. There were no vehicles idling and no person in sight.”
According to the report, the unidentified code enforcement officer returned to Maple Lane and “could hear the sound of vehicles traveling up Hwy 15.”
The officer reported that a return visit to the OWT site at 6:40 a.m. found that workers were on the site and there was movement of OWT trucks.
County Cited OWT Following Complaint
The Oconee County Code Enforcement Office cited Matt Elder, CEO of OWT, and OWT itself for violation of the rezone ordinance on July 11, 2012, following a complaint on April 9 by Angela Branton of 1110 Maple Circle.
Branton said that Elder was starting up trucks at 4:30 a.m. at the OWT site.
The county claimed in the citation that Elder operated his business before 6 a.m. despite the specification in the ordinance zoning his property that the hours of operation should only be from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
The facility must be closed on Sundays, according to the ordinance, which was passed by the BOC at its meeting on Sept. 7, 2010.
In the hearing before Judge Norris, Elder acknowledged that trucks move about on the site before 6 a.m. but said that the office itself is not open. His attorney argued that Elder was not in violation of the ordinance since the office itself was not open prior to 6 a.m.
Costs Cited As Reason
Elder had indicated he planned to appeal Judge Norris’ ruling, and County Attorney Haygood said on April 8 that he estimated it would cost each side $15,000 to $20,000 to go forward with the appeal and that cost was one of the factors that led him to ask Judge Norris to set aside his decision.
Haygood said the complaints from neighbors since the Magistrate Court decision last fall “had completely dropped to nothing.”
He also said that, since the county was discussing changes to its Uniform Development Code dealing with operating hours, that was a good time to determine the sentiment of the Board of Commissioners on the interpretation of what operating hours mean.
Nothing has come before the BOC as a result of any discussions of the meaning of operating hours.
Request Of White
I sent Code Enforcement Director White an email message on June 2 asking him for a record of complaints filed by people regarding OWT's operating hours in the last two months.
Paul Smith of Code Enforcement compiled the list, and White provided it to me on June 3.
The complaints come from different parts of the small subdivision, which abuts the back of the OWT site.
The map below identifies the sites of the most recent complaints in blue, the site of the complaint leading to the citation last year in pink, and the OWT site. Use the + and - symbols to zoom in and out to see the full map.
View Neighbors of Oconee Waste Transport in a larger map
Residents of the subdivision had spoken out against the rezone back in 2010, saying that it was an industrial operation that would adversely affect their quality of life and reduce the value of their homes.
Maple Lane and Circle
The county’s planning staff recommended against the rezone request, saying that the “request is not compatible with the land uses or zoning classifications of neighboring properties” and “does not meet the guiding principles, policies, development strategies” of the county land use map.
The BOC voted 3-1 to allow OWT to operate under the Office Business Park zoning category despite the inclusion of heavy trucks, the loading and unloading of heavy canisters, and a planned maintenance facility onsite. The OWT office fronts the highway and is the most visible part of the operation.
Elder, whose full name is Courtney M. Elder Jr., was appointed the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority by the BOC shortly after the rezone was approved. Elder was reappointed to the IDA on Oct. 9, 2012, five days after Magistrate Court Judge Norris found Elder guilty of the violation of the zoning ordinance.