Sunday, September 08, 2013

Oconee County Land Use Committee Invited TDR Committee To Tuesday Meeting

Request For Proposals On Agenda

The Oconee County Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning has extended an invitation to members of the county’s Transfer of Development Rights Committee to meet jointly on Tuesday night at the Community Center in Veterans Park.

The Land Use Committee issued the invitation after a discussion of nearly 90 minutes on Aug. 13 in which individual members expressed confusion about their mandate, opposition to a TDR program on the mistaken belief that it involves the federal government, and frustration with the Committee leadership.

Committee Chairman Abe Abouhamdan stated personal reservations about TDR programs from the very start of the meeting and slowed down discussion to make sure opponents had a chance to make their case.

Abouhamdan 8/13/2013

He said in bringing the issues to the Land Use Committee he was responding to the request of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners that the Land Use Committee debate whether to go forward with consideration of a TDR program.

Commissioners met informally with representatives of the city of Milton in Fulton County on April 30 to learn about that city’s new TDR program but took no action then and have not even discussed a TDR program for Oconee County in any public meeting since that time.

Request For Proposals

At issue is whether the county issues a request for proposals for development of a TDR program, which was endorsed unanimously by a 16-member BOC-appointed committee in 2008.

That TDR Study Committee recommended that the county “hire a consultant and conduct the necessary study” of a possible program for Oconee County. The county did not take any action in response to the TDR Committee report.

A TDR program begins with the recognition that the owner of every piece of land has the right to develop it.

Through a TDR program, a government designates certain areas as appropriate for future growth and certain areas that would be better left undeveloped.

The former would be classified as receiving areas, and the latter would be classified as sending areas.

A land owner in the receiving areas could purchase the development rights from a landowner in the sending area. The owner in the receiving area, by buying the development rights, would be able to develop the land more densely or achieve some other development advantage.

The land owner in the sending area, in selling the development rights, would agree to place deed restrictions on the land that would prevent the land from being developed.

Discussed In 2012

The Land Use Committee had discussed TDR programs at its meeting of Nov. 13, 2012, before the county issued a request for qualifications for someone to conduct a TDR study for the county.

Through that request for qualifications, the county identified two individuals or clusters of individuals it considers to be able to conduct the study.

The Land Use Committee took up the issue again, this time to debate whether it recommends that the county take that next step.

Despite the discussion last year and a 10-minute refresher on TDR programs at the start of last month’s meeting by Wayne Provost, director of strategic and long range planning for the county, many committee members demonstrated little understanding of TDR basics.

Chairman Abouhamdan, himself a developer, told the Committee members at the outset that he was concerned a TDR program would have negative impact on development in the county. He also said the 2008 Study Committee report reflected the economic concerns of that period, not those of today.

Confusion with Farmland Protection Program

Provost said a TDR program could assist the county in farmland protection and referenced a separate county program that purchases easements on farmland to keep it from being developed. The county has used federal funds for that program and followed federal guidelines in selecting farmland for protection.

Committee members Bob Sanders and Stuart Cofer used that as an opportunity to voice strong opposition to the federal government, saying that the county should not go forward with a TDR program because it would involve the federal government.

In fact, a TDR is based on local regulations and could be operated completely independently of any federal programs.

The video below, which runs less than five minutes, contains clips of the conversation involving Sanders and Cofer as well as of other Committee members.

Next Step Controversial

Several Committee members, as the clips above indicate, expressed frustration with the lack of knowledge on the part of other Committee members about TDR programs and with Chairman Abouhamdan’s desire to continue discussion of the topic.

Kate McDaniel suggested that staff member Angela Helwig inform Committee members of the upcoming meeting. Helwig does that routinely.

In the end, the Committee voted 9-2 to continue discussion after inviting the members of the TDR Study Committee to join them. The Land Use Committee has 14 members, but three were absent from the meeting.

Committee member Sanders, ignoring the unanimous vote of the TDR Committee on 10 different recommendations, implored Abouhamdan to make sure he got difference of opinion of the TDR study group represented at the Tuesday meeting.

The meeting on Tuesday is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Who Gave Mandate

Abouhamdan told the group that he had brought the issue to the Land Use Committee at the request of the Board of Commissioners, and Cofer even suggested that BOC members come to the Land Use Committee and brief the Land Use Committee before the Committee gives its recommendation.

Abouhamdan told me in a telephone conversation on Aug. 23 that the BOC request had been relayed to him by Provost, who serves as staff liaison to the Land Use Committee.

Provost told me in another telephone conversation on Aug. 26 that the possibility of the Land Use Committee making a recommendation to the BOC came up at a staff meeting, attended by BOC Chairman Melvin Davis and Oconee County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko.

“The Commissioners want to make sure however they move that they get some advice from the Committee that deals” with land use issues, Provost said.

Citizen Input

Land Use Committee member Bill Tollner said at the Aug. 13 meeting that he wanted the Land Use Committee to reach its decision on a recommendation to the BOC without having to listen to any citizen input. His comments are captured in the video clip above.

Abouhamdan told Tollner the meeting had to be held in the open and citizens had to be allowed to comment.

As is the custom, however, citizens will be able to comment only after the Land Use Committee has finished dealing with the TDR issue itself, meaning that, as Tollner requested, citizen input will have no impact.

The agenda for the meeting on Tuesday night carries this stipulation, which is normally listed on Committee agendas:

“Please remember: When called to order, the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee is formally in session and conducting Committee business. Please reserve your questions and comments until the end of the meeting when comments will be called for and please restrict your comments to items on the agenda.”

The TDR Program discussion is listed as the second item on the Tuesday agenda, and public comments are listed as the fourth item.

Odd Start To Aug. 13 Meeting

The Aug. 13 meeting began with Land Use committee member Flynn Warren reporting that the BOC voted at its meeting on Aug. 6 to reduce the size of the Land Use Committee.

BOC Chairman Melvin Davis had told the Commissioners at their agenda-setting meeting on July 30 that Abouhamdan had relayed the desire of the Land Use Committee to cut back on the number of members.

Abouhamdan said at the meeting on the 13th that “a couple of members have emailed me and asked if we can reduce the number.” No vote of the Land Use Committee was taken.

The cutback will be through attrition, and, in fact, incoming member Jim Butler attended the meeting on Aug. 13 and participated in the discussion as if he already were a member.

Butler was one of six members appointed by the BOC to the Land Use Committee on July 9 for two-year terms expiring Sept. 30, 2015.

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