Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Oconee County Judge Sweat Congratulated Architect For Watkinsville Plan

Crowd Enthusiastic

Architect Robert Smith got a warm reception Sunday afternoon from the 35 people who turned out for his second presentation of his plan for a revitalized downtown Watkinsville centered around the existing courthouse and a new, nearby government building.

The crowd twice applauded enthusiastically and thanked Smith for coming forward with his vision for the county seat.

The most important endorsement came at the very end of the presentation, however, when Chief Superior Court Judge David Sweat stood to speak.

“I’m thrilled to see the kind of interest you have shown in this,” Sweat told Smith. Sweat labeled what Smith had put forward “a creative proposal” and congratulated Smith for his work.

Sweat Took Lead

Sweat said that he has taken the lead in the discussion about a new courthouse for Oconee County because of the needs of the judiciary, particularly for increased security.

As a result of those needs, Sweat said, he has put forward a request that the Board of Commissioners include $25 million for a new judicial facility in the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum now under consideration.

Sweat said, however, that he and his colleagues had not said where the new facility should be located.

“We knew that was going to be a concern,” he said.

Second Hearing Feb. 10

The Commissioners are holding a second public discussion of projects to be listed in the SPLOST referendum language, beginning at 6 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road.

The first was held Jan. 13, and no one from the public spoke in support of the proposal for $25 million for a new courthouse or judicial facility.

The idea of a new courthouse has been discussed in the county several times in recent years, and the county’s Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning recommended in 2010 that the county build a new judicial near the jail on Experiment Station Road.

Smith Plan Explained

Smith repeated on Sunday at the Watkinsville Library all the basics of his presentation of Jan. 22. That session, at the Watkinsville Civic Center, also was warmly received by the 75 people present.

The cornerstone of the plan is a new government building at the end of a three-block-long green running from the existing courthouse to the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation and Board of Education facilities in downtown Watkinsville.

The existing courthouse could be converted to a judicial facility under that plan, and other county offices could be housed in the new building and another adjacent to the courthouse.

Smith Said Watkinsville Important To Him

Smith spoke for 45 minutes at the Sunday presentation at the Watkinsville Library, near the existing jail, and took and responded to questions for another 30 minutes.

Smith, now working in Atlanta, developed his plan as part of his master’s thesis. He is the son of Bob Smith, former Representative in the Georgia House.

“It means so much to me–this place,” Smith said of the town he knew growing up. “That is my only motivation” for presenting the plan, he said.

“I’m here on behalf of myself.”

Judicial Concerns Not Explained

While Judge Sweat spoke of security concerns on Sunday, as he has in presentations before the Board of Commissioners, he did not elaborate.

In fact, when he and Sheriff Scott Berry met with the Commissioners on Dec. 15, they closed the meeting to the public, though the Board of Commissioners took no formal vote to go into executive session.

At the request of County Attorney Daniel Haygood, the BOC went into executive session after the public meeting on Jan. 30.

Haygood said one of the topics to be discussed was security at the courthouse.

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