Sunday, September 13, 2015

Oconee County Consultant To Unveil Implementation Details For Mars Hill Road Overlay District At Rescheduled Meeting

Format Changed As Well

Consultant Bill Ross is expected on Thursday to unveil details for implementation of an overlay district for Mars Hill Road when he meets from 3 to 7 p.m. with Oconee County citizens at the Community Center in Veterans Park.

The overlay district proposes land use that is at odds in significant ways with the county’s future development map, approved by the county in February of 2008 under Ross’ guidance.

The land use proposed as part of the overlay district also is inconsistent with the county’s current zoning map.

The county rescheduled the timing and format of the meeting on Thursday at Ross’s request. The county web site was changed late on last Thursday evening, and the county sent out an email message just before 10 a.m. on Friday announcing the change.

Rather than hold a formal meeting with a presentation of the details for putting in place the overlay district, as originally planned, Ross will use what is being called a “drop-by” format that will allow people to ask questions about the plans.

In addition, representatives of the Oconee County Public Works Department and the Georgia Department of Transportation are scheduled to be available from 5 to 7 p.m. to answer questions on the Mars Hill Road widening project.

Timing Of Meeting

Ross has been circumspect in the two previous meeting he has had with citizens about his plans, but he told the Board of Commissioners at their meeting on Aug. 25 that he would provide a rough draft of an ordinance for an overlay district at the meeting on Sept. 17.

The meeting had been previously advertised to start at 7 p.m., and that start time appeared on the county web site until late in the day on Sept. 10.

The 7 p.m. time also appeared in an article on the Mars Hill Road project in the Sept. 10 edition of The Oconee Enterprise and remains on that paper’s web site.

The Sept. 3 issue of The Oconee Leader listed the start time of the meeting on the 17th as 7:30 p.m., and that time is listed on the paper’s web site.

Commercial Development

Ross has consistently told the public that the goal of the overlay district is to protect residential neighborhoods, but many of his comments have focused on commercial development.

At the second meeting with the public on Aug. 13, for example, Ross said that a small subdivision at the end of Barber Creek Drive should be designated as appropriate for redevelopment for commercial or office use.

He also identified a large tract of land south of Dooley Boulevard that he said also should move from its current residential zoning to commercial or office use.

At the BOC meeting on Aug. 25, he identified two properties on Mars Hill Road that he called “captive lots.” He said the county needed to help them find a way to transition to commercial use.

The video below is of his comments.

OCO: Ross On Captive Lots from Lee Becker on Vimeo

Land Use Map

The current Future Development Map, which is targeted to run through 2030, designates all of the area along Mars Hill Road from Cliff Dawson Road north to Barber Creek as Suburban Living, with one exception.

Part of the area along Mars Hill Road at the Hodges Mill Road intersection is designated as Neighborhood Village.

Suburban Living is the category of land for residential use and “semi-public and institutional uses” compatible with residential use.

Neighborhood Village is for small-scale commercial development designated to serve nearby neighborhoods.

Part of the area along Mars Hill Road north of Barber Creek also is designated as Suburban Living, with the area closest to the road designated as Regional Center, where large-scale commercial development is expected.

The area south of Cliff Dawson Road is mostly designated Civic Center, where commercial and office development is expected.

Ross was a consultant to the county for development of the Future Development Map.

Overlay Designations

The Land Use Study Policy Maps that Ross has developed for the overlay district propose major changes in the Future Development Map. (The policy maps are on the county web site.)

Commercial development is envisioned along major parts of Mars Hill Road between Hodges Mill Road and Cliff Dawson Road.

Several residential areas, including those along River Haven Lane and Pebblestone Drive, Windy Creek subdivison, and Northwest Woods subdivision, would find themselves sandwiched between commercial development.

The area between Cliff Dawson Road and Hog Mountain Road would be almost entirely commercial or institutional.

Only small pockets of residential would exist between Hog Mountain Road and the U.S. 441 Bypass.

The overlay land use designations almost certainly would be referenced in future zoning proposals if the Board of Commissioners adopt them.


At present, the zoning maps for the areas along Mars Hill Road, also available on the county web site, show that most of the land is designated for agricultural and residential use.

For example, only four of the 15 lots on the west side of Mars Hill Road and Old Mars Hill Road between Daniells Bridge Road and Hodges Mill Road are designated for commercial use on the zoning maps.

In Ross’ proposal, all but one of them is.

The properties on west side of Mars Hill Road south of Dooley Boulevard up to Colliers Creek Road are all designated as residential with one exception in the zoning map.

In Ross’ map, only the lot at the corner of Colliers Creek Road would remain residential.

Comments To Date

The changes being proposed by Ross have not drawn much reaction from residents so far.

At the meeting on Aug. 13, almost everyone who spoke commented on the problems associated with the road construction, not on future use of the land once the roadway is completed.

Representatives of the Public Works Department of GDOT were added to the program for Thursday night with that in mind.

Ross’ proposal, if approved by the Board of Commissioners, would designate a number of the existing subdivisions as Residential Preservation Nieghborhoods, meaning they would be surrounded by commercial developed but, in theory, would be “protected from nonresidential intrusions or redevelopment.”

The BOC would retain the right to go against the overlay district map, as it does with some frequency with the Future Development Map.

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