Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Presbyterian Homes Rezone Request In 4-0 Vote

Conditions Added

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 tonight to grant Presbyterian Homes of Georgia its rezone request to build a continuing care retirement community on 70 acres fronting U.S. 441 and Wellbrook Road.

The commissioners stipulated that Presbyterian Homes must limit traffic leaving the main entrance to the campus on U.S. 441 to right-hand turns.

And they stipulated that traffic coming out of the secondary entrance and exit on Wellbrook Road can only turn left.

Those two decisions addressed two of the concerns of opponents–that a left-turn into and out of the facility would be unsafe and that right turns out of the Wellbrook Road exist would direct traffic through the residential areas of Lake Wellbrook and Phinizy Meadows.

But the conditions will direct more traffic along Wellbrook Road to its intersection with Hog Mountain Road. That intersection is a short distance away from the Hog Mountain Road terminus at U.S. 441.

Opponents tonight and at earlier meetings described that intersection as already overburdened and congested.

Large Turnout

More than 150 people turned out for the hearing on the rezone request, held in courtroom 1 at the Courthouse in Watkinsville. Most of the 20 benches in the courtroom were nearly full, and people lined the sides of the room and spilled out into the hallway.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis suspended his usual rule limiting speakers to three minutes, and only three people spoke in favor of the rezone and the same number spoke against it.

OCO: Vote On Presbyterian Homes Rezone from Lee Becker on Vimeo

The arguments were mostly repeats of those at the two public hearings held by the Planning Commission, with proponents saying the continuing care retirement community was good for and needed by the community and opponents focusing on safety and traffic issues.

Most of the large crowd filed out after the vote on the rezone of the 70 acres. Had they stayed they would have heard the Board also approve a variance allowing PHG to construct a taller building at the core of the complex than allowed by county ordinance and a related rezone of 10 acres on Wild Azalea Lane.

Opponents Caught Off Guard

When the public hearing ended, Commissioner Bubber Wilkes asked Jon Williams of Williams and Associates, representing PHG, if his client would accept the left-hand turn restriction at U.S. 441 until the state allows a traffic light at the intersection.

Williams expressed no surprise at the request and accepted immediately.

Commissioner Jim Luke then asked Williams if he would accept the prohibition on right-hand turns out of the secondary entrance and exit on Wellbrook Road. Again, Williams accepted.

Members of the audience expressed frustration that they could not hear the discussions or understand their implications.

Davis did allow Judy Adams of Lake Wellbrook subdivision, to ask a question, and that turned into a tense exchange with Wilkes over the consequences of the conditions being proposed.

Wilkes made the motion to approve the rezone. Commissioner John Daniell seconded. Commissioner Mark Saxon joined Luke in the 4-0 vote.

None of the commissioners made eye contact with the audience during the vote, as the video above shows.

Commission Chairman Davis votes only in the case of a tie.

Note: In the initial version of this report, I wrote that the county also restricted entrance to the Presbyterian Homes campus to right-hand turns. This is what Commissioner Wilkes initially requested, and I missed the change that was made, without open discussion, in the condition actually approved to limit the restriction to right-hand exists. The story I posted on May 6, 2015, explains the circumstances of the error, for which I apologize.


Anonymous said...

They rejected the Homeowners request to study and confirm facts prior to acting. This despite a precedent case rejecting a rezone in the same area due to traffic safety. Acting without facts, or in the face of facts, does not serve the community.

They essentially said the 400 voters on the petitions did not matter.

Xardox said...

So they got it jammed in there with some sort of turning scheme.
Money talks.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, we will remember this come election time...

Anonymous said...

I driven by the intersection of Wellbrook road and Hog Mountain road every day for fifteen years and have never seen congestion.

Anonymous said...

Never seen congestion? Really? Have you ever been there at rush hour in the morning? I drive it every day, and it's a complete mess.

Anonymous said...

I have sat at the intersection of Welbrook Road and Hog Mountain in the morning and afternoons and only got out when a Samaritan let me out when the traffic backed up from 441.

You do not know unless you live it.

Patrick Cline said...

This intersection is a log jam frequently at peak traffic times. Maybe the comment meant it didn't have traffic there 15 years ago? That was a pretty dumb comment!

Victoria Cruz said...

This will be a massive conglomeration of buildings housing perhaps hundreds of people, employing many more, shoe-horned into a largely residential and pastoral area with poorly planned entrance and exit to surrounding roads. PEOPLE: We are not opposed to senior living facilities in Oconee County. We just believe that this is the WRONG LOCATION.

Anonymous said...

Y'all can fuss about this...or you can do something about it and vote Melvin Davis out of office!