Saturday, September 19, 2015

Rezone Request For Mars Hill Road Highlights Pressure For Commercial Development On The Oconee County Corridor

Follows Session On Overlay

Residents along Mars Hill Road–fresh from a four-hour session on future land use along the roadway–will have another opportunity to express their views on future development in their neighborhoods on Monday night.

The Oconee County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing that night on a proposal by one of the land owners to move forward with a rezone of property even before the county takes action on an overlay district it is considering for the corridor.

Faye C. Kellar, 1991 Mars Hill Road, is asking the county to allow her to carve one acre from the front of her 3.9-acre property and convert the small residence on that part of the property into an office.

The public hearing will take place during the regular meeting of the Planning Commission, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

Overlay Referenced

The overlay district being considered by the county was the topic of the meeting held from 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Community Center in Veterans Park.

Thirty-four people signed their names to the sheet at the entrance to the meeting, which was designed to give those who attended a chance to comment on the proposed legislation setting up the overlay district as well as on the maps outlining proposed future land use.

That legislation would set up a set of requirements that would be on top of those in existence for development of property. As written, it also would identify future land use preferences.

The meeting on Thursday also gave visitors a chance to talk about the road construction itself with staff from the county Public Works Department, a team from the Georgia Department of Transportation, and a representative of G.P.’s Enterprises, contractor for the Mars Hill Road widening project.

Most of those who attended focused on the future land use and overlay ordinance, in contrast to what dominated the two earlier meetings the county held on the overlay district. At those, most of the comments dealt with problems of the roadway design and construction.

Nature Of Comments

Many of those who spoke on Thursday raised concerns about the amount of future commercial development reflected in the land use maps shown.

One person who spoke with B.R. White, Oconee County Planning Department director, said some kinds of commercial development along the corridor were acceptable to her, but other types were not. The video below shows a clip from that exchange.

OCO: Depends On Type from Lee Becker on Vimeo

Also of concern to a number of those present was a provision of the draft legislation that states that “Rezoning and special use requests for an individual property may only be initiated by the Board of Commissioners at the owner’s request.”

White said that provision would be reviewed in light of the concern of several of those present, who said it took away their right to rezone their property once the overlay was put into place.

The Board of Commissioners will have to adopt the proposed overlay district before it can become law.

Kellar’s Legal Challenge

Attorney Jeffrey W. DeLoach, representing Kellar in the rezone request that will be before the Planning Commission on Monday night, made reference to the overlay district in correspondence filed with the county.

The maps that consultant Bill Ross prepared for the overlay district designate the Kellar property as part of a “Residential Conservation Area,” which is at least partially a misnomer. It anticipates and allows office use, though it proposes that the commercial development retain a residential character.

“It seems everyone can recognize that the widening of Mars Hill Road is going to impact the properties immediately adjacent to the new roadway,” DeLoach wrote. “Acknowledging this fact, the county has undertaken a land use study to address this coming change.”

The new roadway will make the 864-square-foot house at the front of Kellar’s property less suited for residential use, the attorney argued, and the existing residential zoning diminishes the value of the property.

DeLoach said Kellar has a constitutional right to rezone her property for nonresidential use.

Zoning Narrative

The narrative for the zoning application states that the existing residence at the front of the lot will be converted to office use to accommodate Kellar’s son, who is an accountant.

The residence will be renovated to provide office space for the accounting business. In the future, the car port will be enclosed to provide storage space, the narrative states.

Tax records indicate the residence was built in 1962.

The remaining acreage will be divided into two parcels, according to the narrative, but the narrative does not indicate how those two parcels will be used.

A map submitted with the rezone documents shows one of those lots surrounding a second residence on the property, built, according to tax documents, in 1971.

Additional documents in the Planning Department file indicate that the Georgia Department of Transportation paid Kellar $24,402 and split out 0.056 acres of frontage on her 3.9-acre lot for the road construction.

Staff Report

Kellar is asking the county to rezone her property from AR-1 (Agricultural-Residential One Acre) to O-I-P (Office-Institutional-Professional) use.

The staff report states that “The subject property is entirely surrounded by properties zoned AR-1 (Agricultural-Residential One Acre) with single-family residences. The current request is not compatible with the zoning or land uses adjacent to the subject property.”

The existing AR-1 zoning classification does not diminish the value of the subject property, according to the staff report, and “if the property is rezoned as requested, property values of neighboring residential properties could be negatively affected by non-residential valuations.”

Despite the negative review, the staff did not offer a recommendation on action regarding the Kellar rezone request.

Neighborhood Opposition

The staff report notes that, if the property is converted to O-I-P use, it could in the future be used for business and professional offices as well as for social, fraternal, political, civic and community organizations.

The O-I-P zoning district also is designed for institutional uses such as hospitals, nursing homes, convalescent centers, institutional planned developments and clinics, the report said.

Opponents have submitted a petition stating that the rezone would “drastically change a longtime well established residential neighborhood to commercial development, a possible increase in property taxes and set a precedent for more SPOT ZONING.”

The petition contains the names of 16 persons.

Other Comments

A perusal of 27 pages of comments submitted to the Planning Department since the discussion of the overlay district began shows citizen concerns to be varied.

A number deal with specifics of the road construction.

Many deal with a concern about commercial development.

“Mars Hill could easily turn into some version of the Atlanta Highway,” one person wrote. “And twenty years from now, it too could have its own array of vacant store fronts.”

“Please preserve the residential integrity of our part of Oconee County,” the writer implored.

Other Rezones

Also on the Planning Commission agenda on Monday night is a request by National EMS Inc. to locate an operations center in the Lampkin Branch Business Park off U.S. 441 just north of Watkinsville. The staff recommends approval.

Ralph Len Dolvin is requesting a rezone of 2.7 acres of land on the southwest corner of New High Shoals Road and U.S. 441 from agricultural use to business.

Dolvin wants to develop a commercial complex with a pharmacy and other retail and commercial tenants.

The staff recommends approval.

Note: I misspelled Faye Kellar's name in an earlier version of this report. I apologize for the error.

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