Saturday, April 05, 2014

Oconee County Sign Ordinance Not Enforced At SR 316 Intersection With Oconee Connector

Boswell Properties Listings

Oconee County granted permits in August of last year for signs on two undeveloped pieces of land at the busy intersection of SR 316 and the Oconee Connector.

The signs are for land offered for sale by Boswell Properties, owned by Jamie Boswell, Athens real estate broker and, since early 2013, District 10 representative to the 14-member State Transportation Board.

The Transportation Board oversees the Georgia Department of Transportation, which is expected to let contracts in June for the widening of the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill Road to Butler’s Crossing, running more traffic past the properties Boswell is listing.

SW Corner Of Connector And SR 316

The county’s sign ordinance requires that temporary signs advertising property for sale be set back at least five feet from the edge of the property, but one of the Boswell signs is in the right of way of the state and the other does not appear to meet the five-foot-setback requirement.

Georgia code also specifies that signs cannot be in the state right of way.

Oconee County Director of Code Enforcement B.R. White said he is aware that one of the signs is in the state right of way and of the possible problem with the second. He said his office has informed Boswell of the issue.

Although the county has the right to remove the signs and even fine Boswell, it has not done either.

Appointment Of Boswell Praised

Appointment of Boswell to the state Board was considered a coup for local officials, and County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis has mentioned Boswell favorably in public meetings.

Boswell was a contributor to the 2012 re-election campaign of Davis, giving $500 on June 28 of that year, according to campaign finance records.

The county, through the Industrial Development Authority, in October of 2011 transferred $10,000 into a trust account for Boswell Properties for an option on property the IDA was considering for purchase.

In the end, the IDA did not purchase the land, and the records do not indicate what, if anything, Boswell retained of that $10,000.

Boswell Group

According to it web site, Boswell Properties LCC is one of three companies that make up the Boswell Group. The other two are Boswell Appraisal Services LLC, and Boswell Insurance Group LLC.

Jamie Boswell is listed on the web site as the owner and broker for the real estate division and the owner, broker and appraisal manager for the appraisal division.

The offices for the Boswell Group are at 788 Prince Avenue in Athens.

State corporate records in the Secretary of State database list Boswell as the agent for Boswell Appraisal Services LLC and Boswell Insurance Group LLC. It also lists Boswell as the agent for Boswell Group LLC, but the records show that corporation was dissolved in 2010.

All three records use the 788 Prince Avenue address.

The state records contain no active listing for Boswell Properties LLC.

Permit Application SE Corner

Boswell Properties completed a sign permit application on Aug. 19 of last year for a 4.5-acre property at the southeast corner of the Oconee Connector and SR 316.

SE Corner Of Connector And SR 316

The property, according to county tax records, is owned by 316 Holding Group, in care of James J. McDonald of 1010 Prince Avenue in Athens.

The contractor was listed as ABC Davis Sign Company of 2175 W. Broad Street, Athens.

The permit shows a picture of the sign with the notion “min 5 ft off of Row” and shows an aerial photograph of the sign located within the state right of way at the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection.

Permit Application SW Corner

On Aug. 22, Boswell Properties completed a second sign permit application, this time for a 26.8-acre property with frontage on Virgil Langford Road, Mars Hill Road and the Oconee Connector.

Because the state right of way is very wide, the property does not extend to SR 316 and is some distance from it at the southwest corner of SR 316 and the Oconee Connector.

The property is owned by Deferred Tax LLC of Loganville, according to county tax records. The permit lists the owner as Maxie Price LLC. State records show that corporation as dissolved in 2010.

ABC Davis Sign Company is listed as the contractor, and a map submitted with the application shows the sign as being located along the Oconee Connector about one third of the way between SR 316 and the Mars Hill Road intersection.

The actual sign is located at the southwest corner of the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection, clearly in the state right of way, based on the map submitted with the application.

Third Application

Boswell Properties completed a third sign permit application on Aug. 22 for a third piece of property also owned, according to tax records, by Deferred Tax LLC.

This 6.9-acre tract is in the northeast corner of the Mars Hill Road and Oconee Connector intersection and abuts the 26.8 acre tract. The 6.9 acres also are owned by Maxie Price, according to the sign application.

ABC Davis Sign is the contractor, according to the application.

This sign is set back from the intersection and, according to the map submitted, within the property owned by Deferred Tax.

No Complaint File

Code Enforcement Director White told me in an email message on March 3 that the county had received questions about the locations of the two signs at the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection but that these were not viewed as complaints and no complaint file was made.

In an email message on April 2, however, he said that, his office has determined that the sign “on the west sign is clearly in the R/W.”

White said that the “sign on the east side is difficult to determine the position relative to R/W.”

White said that a code enforcement officer “has spoken directly with Mr. James Boswell and one other person at Boswell Properties” and informed them of the problems with the signs.

Boswell did not move the signs in response to the comments, he said.

Listing Document 46 Acres

Boswell Properties, on its web site, lists the property at the southwest corner of SR 316 and the Oconee Connector as part of a 46-acre tract that includes the property at the corner of the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill Road and a third, adjoining property, also owned by Deferred Tax LLC.

According to the listing, the property “has excellent visibility from Highway 316" and is “ideal for retail/office development.”

An attached map shows the wide right of way for the property along SR 316 and makes it clear that the sign erected is in that right of way.

Listing price is $325,000 per acre. The property could be subdivided, the listing states.

Listing Document 4.5 Acres

The Boswell Properties web site lists the 4.5 acres on the southeast corner of the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection as “an ideal retail corner lot with excellent visibility from Highway 316.”

Virgil Langford And Connector

The attached map shows the right of way for the property and, if that map is correct, shows that the sign is in the right of way.
The listing indicates the property could be subdivided.

Listing price is $4.5 million.

Other Boswell Listings

Boswell has listing for four other properties just north and south of the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection.

One is for just more than 14 acres on Daniells Bridge Road just east of the road’s intersection with the connector. That property is being listed at $150,000 per acre.

The second is the property at the southwest corner of the intersection of Mars Hill Road and the Oconee Connector. That 3.6-acre property has just been graded down for development and is listed at $1.1 million per acre.

Cleared Property
At Connector And Mars Hill

The third is a 1-acre parcel at the corner of the Oconee Connector and Virgil Langford Road. The property is being listed at $1.1 million.
The listing for this third property indicates that it can be combined with another, just to the west on Virgil Langford Road. Listing price for this 9-acre tract is $550,000 per acre.

The value of all of these properties will be enhanced by improvements to Mars Hill Road and any future improvements to the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection.

The Georgia Department of Transportation was to replace the present at-grade intersection with a multi-grade intersection had the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax been approved by voters in 2012.

The wide right of way held by the state for properties around the intersection would decrease the costs of that improvement.

Boswell And GDOT

Bowell will have detailed knowledge of and influence over the decisions made by the Georgia Department of Transportation because he is the local representative to the 14-member State Transportation Board, which oversees GDOT

He also has influence over how money is allocated among the 25 counties in his district, which also is the 10th Congressional District.

Boswell won his five-year term in a secret-ballot vote by legislators who represent parts of the district.

He was championed by Rep. Regina Quick, the Republican who represents in the Georgia House the three precincts of Oconee County surrounding the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection, and Sen. Bill Cowsert, a Republican who represents Oconee County in the State Senate.

The previous representative to the GDOT Board had been from Augusta.

Boswell’s term expires on Apirl 15 of 2018.

Boswell and IDA

Boswell’s involvement with the activities of the county’s Industrial Development Authority remains sketchy.

I learned of the $10,000 payment to Boswell’s company by the county’s IDA when I examined records of the Authority for a posting I did on its involvement in the Caterpillar project.

I sent an email message to Oconee County Finance Director Wes Geddings on Feb. 17 asking him to identify the services provided by Boswell that were linked to a $10,000 payment to a Boswell Properties Trust Account on Oct. 13, 2011.

Geddings wrote me the next day saying only that “Boswell Properties Trust Account is a trust, similar in nature to the escrow account for a mortgage.”

I wrote him back that day and asked what was being paid off by the transaction. He answered simply: “The payment was for an option on property.”

Executive Session Records

The minutes of the IDA for its meeting on Sept. 12, 2011, indicate that it went into executive session “for the purpose of discussion of real estate matters.”

I sent an email message to Angela Helwig, open records officer for the IDA, on Tuesday of this week and asked her for help in determining what transpired at that meeting.

She wrote back on Wednesday and told me, based on the advice of County Attorney Daniel Haygood, that prior to 2012, action on real estate contracts was not required to be done in open session.

“Because the transaction was finalized,” she wrote, “the executive session information is available as public record.

“By the way,” she continued, “the law changed in 2012 so that these motions must now be made in open session.”

Minutes Show Option

Helwig provided me a copy of the minutes of the Sept. 12, 2011, executive session, in which the IDA agreed “to accept the assignment” of an option for a piece of property surrounded by other properties owned by the IDA and a part of the Gateway Industrial Park on SR 316 near the Barrow County line.

The IDA also voted to reimburse Carl Nichols for the $10,000 option payment, on the condition the money would be refundable if the IDA decided not to purchase the property.

In fact, the IDA did not purchase the property.

The minutes make no reference to what role Boswell Properties played in the transaction.

Temporary Signs

Boswell Properties was required to apply for the permits for its signs on the properties at SR 316 and the Oconee Connector and elsewhere in the county under conditions of the county’s Unified Development Code.

Signs for property sale are considered temporary signs under the code, and all signs 15 square feet or larger require a permit.

The Boswell signs replaced signs on the two properties that White said were not in the state right of way.

The 4.5 acres on the southeast side of the SR 316 and Oconee Connector Intersection was listed by Crane Properties. That sign faced the Oconee Connector about halfway between SR 316 and the entrance to the adjoining property housing a fire station.

The larger property in the southwest corner of SR 316 and the Oconee Connector had been listed by Griffith Realty. A sign for the property was located at the corner of Mars Hill Road and the Connector.

Campaign Signs

Signs for sale or lease of a property are only one type of temporary sign covered by the county’s Unified Development Code.

Campaign Sign With Boswell Sign

Another is campaign signs, which can be put up only on opening day of qualification for candidates and must be taken down 10 days after the election has ended. There is no limit to the number of election signs a person can erect on his or her property.

The code specifies that all temporary signs, including election signs, must be “located at least 5 feet from any street right-of-way line, any side or rear property line, and the pavement edge of a driveway.”

The Boswell sign in the right of way on the southwest corner of SR 316 and the Oconee Connector now is accompanied by a sign for candidate Maria Caudill. Candidate Bubber Wilkes has a sign in the right of way in front of that property on the Oconee Connector.

Both Caudill and Wilkes are running for the same slot on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.

Code Enforcment Director White acknowledged that it is hard for the county to remove these signs when the nearby Boswell signs are in the right of way.

(I took all of the pictures above on Feb. 16, excepting the last one, which I took on March 29. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

1 comment:

Beanne said...

Thanks for acting on these sign issues and keeping an eye on Mr. Boswell. Hope we can find out what happened to our $10,000. I thought these people were supposed to look out for us taxpayers.