Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Oconee County Approves Rezone Request for Senior Facility Off Virgil Langford Road After Nearly An Hour Of Discussion

Luke Raised Concerns

The owners of 24.6 acres just off Virgil Langford Road got their rezone last night from the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, but only after lengthy negotiations.

Ken Beall of Beall and Company, representing Eco Development Group LLC, agreed to place a condition on the rezone of the property for The Fairways Seniors Community requiring that buildings have brick, stucco, stone or cultured stone exteriors, architectural shingles, and varied facades.

No citizens spoke against the rezone, which had been recommended by the Planning Commission as well as by the county planning staff.

Beall agreed to the condition after being pushed by Commissioner Jim Luke, who lives at 1021 Millers Point, across a Jennings Mill Country Club fairway from the planned continuing care retirement community.

Luke seemed to be an unlikely obstacle to the rezone, as he has been an advocate of prezoning of property by the BOC as a means of speeding up projects in quickly developing corridors such as the one represented by the Fairways project.

Luke Objections

Luke questioned the sewage arrangement for the development, the quality of the proposed buildings, and whether the developers had secured a Certificate of Need from the Georgia Department of Community Health for the project.

Utility Department Director Chris Thomas told the commissioners that the Eco Development Group and the future project developers had been informed of the need to pay for future sewage infrastructure, and Beall acknowledged the arrangement and said his client intended to comply with the requirement.

Luke said the architectural plans before him were “pretty plain” and that the developers of the master planned development that had been proposed for the site had promised “exceptional architecture.”

Luke wanted some guarantee that the new development would not be less than what had been promised earlier. (See the clip below, which runs 36 seconds.)

He also said he was concerned that the developer might not get a Certificate of Need from the state.

“I don’t want a piece of property rezoned for something that won’t work under that rezone,” he said.

Certificate Of Need

Beall told the BOC that no developer had been required to get a Certificate of Need for a project of this sort in the past and that he had “not heard any comments about this particular item whatsoever in the five months that we have been working on this rezone request.”

Beall also said he wasn’t aware that such a document was needed, and Luke conceded that he, too, was not certain of the need.

According to the web site of the Georgia Department of Community Health, new hospitals, major hospital renovations, new or expanding nursing homes and other medical facilities require a Certificate of Need.

A continuing care retirement community is not on the list of projects needing a certificate of need.

Development Plans

The proposed Fairways Senior Community sits behind a medical business park on both sides of Langford Drive. That road intersects Virgil Langford Road just east of its intersection with SR 316.

The property had been zoned R-3 Master Plan Development for local landowner and businessman Mike Power in 2005. That project was started and then abandoned.

Eco Development Group is proposing to redevelop the 24.5-acre tract into a continuing care retirement community that would include one multi-story building, 23 two-unit cottages, and one separate two-bedroom unit.

The multi-story building would be 112,000-square-feet in size and feature 158 beds, a full service dining facility, a kitchen, a beauty shop and other similar facilities.

The 23 cottages would each have two bedrooms and include a 1,200-square-foot clubhouse in addition to the living units.

Owners And Purchasers

While Eco Development Group currently owns the property, Oconee Medical Properties intends to purchase it, pending the outcome of the rezone, Beall told the BOC. That group also developed the Three Sixteen Professional Quarter, in front of the now-undeveloped land.

Beall, whose firm is at 3651 Mars Hill Road, said that Oconee Medical Properties plans to purchase the property to protect the quality of its other development.

A market development analysis convinced Oconee Medical Properties to go forward with the continuing care retirement community, he said.

Oconee Medical Properties will partner with another group to develop the project and then sell it to that partner, Beall said.

Prezoning Proposal

Luke, along with Commissioner John Daniell, has argued that the existing county zoning process is cumbersome and lengthy and overly restricts developers.

They have advocated doing away with the kind of negotiations the BOC engaged in last night in favor of prezoning of land that seems destined for development. The prezone would take place before the land owner requests the change.

The two asked the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority to study the issue and reacted positively when the IDA concluded that prezoning was a good idea.

At the BOC meeting on Aug. 26, the IDA was told by Luke and Daniell to continue its work and come up with concrete plans for implementing prezoning.

The BOC approved the rezone request last night after 55 minutes of discussion and negotiation.

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