Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Oconee County Commissioners Approve One New Road But Put A Halt To Three Controversial Road Project Agreements With State

Discussion Of Prezoning Continues

The landowners behind Wal-Mart and Lowe's on Epps Bridge Parkway got approval of a contract for design work for a new roadway to open up their land for future development.

The Industrial Development Authority got encouragement to continue its work on prezoning of land now classified for other use to spur more commercial and industrial development in the county.

Those who use the walking trail in Oconee Veterans Park got paving for an additional three-quarters of a mile, closing the now-incomplete loop.

And those concerned about the widening of Daniells Bridge Road, construction of an extension of that road to fly over SR Loop 10, and the widening of Jimmy Daniell Road got a reprieve.

The Board of Commissioners spent nearly two and a half hours last night dealing with these issues and more.

The Board also approved the current tax rate at its current level, but it held off on making a decision on a $12 million loan to continue construction of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in Walton County, pending receipt of the delayed legal loan agreement with the state.

GDOT Agreements

The Board was scheduled to get an update on the two proposed Daniells Bridge Road projects and the widening project on Jimmy Daniell Road, and that update and the subsequent comments of county staff, citizens and commission members lasted just more than an hour.

Much of that discussion was in reaction to critical comments made by county Public Works Director Emil Beshara, who said significant discrepancies exist between the agreements from the state and county plans for the three road projects.

Commissioner John Daniell pushed BOC Chairman Melvin to explain why the Board was even presented with the Georgia Department of Transportation Project Framework agreements, given these problems.

Davis said, in the clip below, that he had been surprised by receipt of the documents when they arrived.

But this was not what he had communicated to the commissioners just after he received the documents on July 3 and July 9.

Davis Letter To Board

Davis told the Board in a letter he wrote on July 10 that the county had received the contracts from GDOT for the three road projects and that he was making “certain pages” from those documents available to the commissioners for review.

“I will be meeting with the GDOT officials to discussion these projects in greater detail next week,” Davis wrote. “If all goes well, plans are to have these items on the July 29, 2014, BOC Agenda.”

Davis put the items on the agenda and provided the four BOC members with his July 10 letter a few days before the July 29 meeting.

When the item was discussed by the Board on July 29, Davis also did not express any surprise about the timing of the agreements or reservations about them.

Board Action

The Board decided last night not to approve the agreements with GDOT and to send the three projects to the county’s Citizen Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning for review.

That group had not been consulted about or initially even informed about the GDOT agreements.

At the meeting last night, county Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost laid most of the blame for the problem on GDOT. (Please see my note below.)

He said GDOT, not the county, controlled most of what is done with projects involving state and federal funds.

Beshara Offered Different View

Beshara said that the county had to decide its own priorities and might even decide to do the widening of Daniells Bridge Road and of Jimmy Daniell Road using its own funds entirely.

Beshara also offered diagrams of the Daniells Bridge Road Extension that had not been presented before.

He said these were not the only such plans that have been created and that they show a different path for the flyover and extension from some of the other plans.

The larger diagram shows the loop at it leaves the Oconee Connector at Home Depot and then connects with Daniells Bridge Road before that road reaches the curve at the on-ramp to SR Loop 10 from SR 316.

The second shows the intersection of a new section of Daniells Bridge Road with the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover.

I have added additional labels (in white) to the two diagrams Beshara released. Click on the diagrams to enlarge them.

Parkway Boulevard Extension

The BOC gave tentative approval without discussion to a design service contract to plan an extension of Parkway Boulevard to the Oconee Connector.

Parkway Boulevard now leads to Kohl’s from Epps Bridge Parkway. The new road would turn back to and connect with the new Oconee Connector, crossing 114 acres owned by the Evelyn and Frank Gordy Family and 41 acres owned by Rod and J.L. Wright.

The BOC decided to accept the low bid for the design work submitted by Abe Consulting, 2410 Hog Mountain Road, just west of Butler’s Crossing, for $96,925.

Beshara told the commissioners the design work should be completed in about six months.

Walking Trail

The commissioners also approved a contract with Garrett Paving Company of 1195 Winterville Road in Athens for three-quarters of a mile of paved walking trail to complete the 2.5-mile walking trail loop at Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.

Parks and Recreation Department Director John Gentry reminded the Board that it had approved $60,000 for the project in the current fiscal year from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues.

The contract with Garrett is for $73,500, but Gentry told the BOC that he had saved money from other projects and could make up the difference.

Work on that walking trail is to get underway soon to avoid the cold weather.

The Board put both the Parkway Boulevard and the walking trail on the consent agenda for next week, meaning the items will be approved without further discussion unless a commissioner asks to remove them from the consent agenda.

IDA Report

Rick Waller, chairman of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, got largely positive feedback from the commissioners on the report of the group’s Product Development Committee

That Committee asked the BOC to set aside its current practice of rezoning property only when an owner requests the change in favor of advance zoning to reflect county plans for future development.

Commissioners Jim Luke and John Daniell had pushed the IDA to study prezoning, and they said the group should continue its work along those lines.

Russ Page, who has championed numerous plans for farmland protection in the county, including a Transfer of Development Rights program, was much less enthusiastic.

Page said the group had not considered TDR programs despite his request that it do so and had not been open in its deliberations.

I said that the discussion of prezoning should not be continued, since the current zoning is working and a stronger role of the county in determining private land use is not appropriate.

NOTE: Provost did not use the word "blame." That is my characterization of what he said. In a conversation I had with Provost on Sept. 9, 2014, he correctly noted that he had not used that term. He said that he was merely explaining the procedures. I thank Provost for his feedback.

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