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.
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.
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.
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.