Landscape designer Jane Bath is unhappy.
She says developers in Oconee County are planting too many red oaks and red maples, planting them too close together and in straight lines, and planting them too close to power lines.
She says the problem is with the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) and the county’s planners.
|Bath, Gridley, Benko 11/21/2013|
On Thursday, at the invitation of Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, she brought a group of land planners and nursery owners to the Planning Department to lend support to her complaints.
The group didn’t necessarily agree with Bath, however, and at least one voiced strong opposition to any changes in the UDC that would put more regulations on landscaping in the county.
Williams Opposes Restrictions
Jon Williams of Williams and Associates, when invited by Bath to speak on Thursday, said “We don’t want to do anything to stymie growth and development in this county.”
Williams acknowledged that his clients often wait until the end to think about landscaping, want to cut costs, and don’t want to do much more than the minimum to meet the code.
But he said he doesn’t think the problem is with the UDC.
“You can’t write code strong enough to legislate people to do right,” he said.
Responding To Savannah
Williams was responding to suggestions by Valerie Hinesley of Picadilly Farms that the county follow some of the things that Savannah has done to improve landscaping in the city.
Hinesley said at the Thursday meeting that she served on a committee when she lived in Savannah that defined kinds of trees and shrubs to be planted, provided guides on spacing, and set other landscaping regulations.
Hinesley said she agreed with many of Bath’s criticisms of what is done in the county.
Piccadilly Farm is a retail and wholesale plant nursery at 1971 Whippoorwill Road outside Watkinsville.
Code The Problem
Bath stated repeatedly that the Unified Development Code and the way it is enforced is the problem.
“For some reason, it ain’t working,” she said of the UDC. “We can sit here and talk about this and talk about that, but it ain’t working.”
Bath owns and operates Land Arts, a residential and commercial landscape design firm located at 2411 Hog Mountain Road near Butler’s Crossing. She and her husband also own a 245-acre farm at 2430 Snows Mill Road in the northwest of the county.
Criticism Of Code
Bath started her complaints against the county and the UDC more than two years ago, but she has turned up the heat in recent months.
In June of 2011, Bath wrote a lengthy critique of the Landscaping and Buffers section of the UDC.
She called the code “arbitary”, “poorly written” and “draconian.”
She said at the meeting on Thursday that she had given the critique to BOC Chairman Melvin Davis in June of 2011 but had never heard anything in response.
County Planning Director B.R. White told Bath his staff had responded to each of her criticisms and given the response back to Davis in 2011. White gave me a copy of Bath’s critique and responses by Planner Krista Gridley. The document is 10 single-spaced pages.
“I never got it,” Bath said.
“That is something you need to speak to Mr. Davis about,” White said.
Chairman Davis told Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost and White in an email message on Oct. 18 of this year to set up the meeting with Bath that took place on Thursday.
The meeting started at 9:30 a.m. in the conference room at the Planning Department offices in the Courthouse Annex, across the street from the courthouse in Watkinsville.
In addition to Hinesley and Williams, those in attendance, at Bath’s invitation, were Bob Smith, a land planner whose offices are just outside Butler’s Crossing, Stuart Cofer, who owns a garden store in Athens-Clarke County but lives in Oconee County, and Jim Bob McElroy from Williams and Associates.
The county was represented by County Administrative Office Jeff Benko, Planning Department Director White, Planner Gridley, and Strategic and Long-Rand Planning Director Provost.
Blake Giles from The Oconee Enterprise also was at the meeting. I was the only citizen not invited by Bath, and I had to leave the meeting at 10:40 a.m.
White told me on Thursday afternoon that the meeting broke up at 11:20 a.m.
According to White, Administrative Office Benko, at the end of the meeting, asked all of those in attendance to send White the changes in the development code they would like to see enacted.
Developers of two gas stations and convenience stores on intersections of Mars Hill Road in recent years were outspoken in voicing concerns about county tree planting requirements in the UDC.
One of those developers was doing the planning in 2009 for the QuikTrip at the intersection of Mars Hill Road and the Oconee Connector.
In the end, the Board of Commissioners would not grant a variance to allow the company to reduce the number of shade trees on the property that were required to visually screen the parking lot from the roadway.
The other request for a variance in the UDC was for the RaceTrac at Mars Hill Road and U.S.78.
In that case, the BOC in 2010 granted a variance to allow the company to cluster the trees rather than spread them across the green space on the property. It denied a request to reduce the number of trees.
Williams of Williams and Associates represented RaceTrac in that project. He told the county that the change in the tree planting rules was necessary “to allow for enhanced visibility of an upscale commercial development.”