The Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 last night to deny fellow commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes’ request to rezone six acres of land he owns on Old Greensboro Road south of Watkinsville for a recreational vehicle storage and mini-warehouse facility.
Commissioners John Daniell and Mark Saxon voted for the denial of the rezone request. Commissioner Jim Luke voted against the motion to deny.
The vote came after a nearly hour-long discussion of the request, with all three commissioners expressing concern about the implications of a change in the zoning category on future land use in the south of the county.
The Commission put off a vote on another rezone request to remove a piece of property near Elder Mill Bridge from a historical preservation overlay district that has been in existence since 1968.
Commissioner Mark Saxon made the motion to remove the discussion of the property from the agenda, saying he needed more time to explore issues surrounding the request.
At the beginning of the meeting, Russ Page offered to write a grant pre-proposal to the Georgia Land Conservation Program for funding for land conservation in the county.
Page has been a long-time advocate of farmland and historic site preservation, and he said the money from the state program could be used in conjunction with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues the county has collected and is collecting for scenic and historic preservation.
Page said he has spoken with a representative of the Georgia Land Conservation Program about funding for preservation of Elder Mill and the area around the mill and for the area south of Barnett Shoals Road that the county is considering for greenspace preservation.
“I volunteer to write that proposal,” Page said.
No one on the Commission expressed any interest in the offer.
Human Resources Policy
The Commissioners adopted a revised Human Resources Policies and Procedures manual after last week rebuffing an attempt by Commission Chairman Melvin Davis to rewrite the document to make himself equal to the county administrative officer in administration of the policy.
Davis had inserted references to the commission chair throughout the document after it had been agreed to by Human Resources Director Malinda Smith, County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko and former Administrative Officer Alan Theriault.
Those changes ran into opposition from Commissioners Jim Luke, John Daniell and, to a lesser extent, Mark Saxon at the meeting last year.
Smith told the commissioners last night that the document had been revised to remove those references.
Instead, a general statement was added that said, if the administrative officer is unable to act on issues covered by the policy “due to illness or unexpected absence, and the matter requires immediate action, the chair of the Board of Commissioners shall act in his stead.”
First Motion On Rezone Died
Wilkes left the room before discussion about his request for a rezone began.
Following the discussion, Commissioner Jim Luke made a motion that the rezone be approved but removed from his motion mention of the self-storage and mini-warehouse part of the proposed plan, leaving only the recreational vehicle storage sheds.
That motion died for lack of a second.
Commissioner Mark Saxon made the motion for denial of the rezone, and that motion was supported by Commission John Daniell but not by Luke.
All three voted in favor of a motion to deny a special use permit that would have allowed the mini-warehouse and self-storage part of the proposal.
The video below is of those votes.
Four persons spoke during the public hearing on the rezone.
Jon Williams of Williams and Associates, representing Wilkes, asked the commissioners to focus on the proposed use of the land, which he said was compatible with the area, and not on the actual request to change the land from an agricultural zoning classification to an office and business classification.
Businessman Mike Power said the facility to be build would be a “quality development” that “would serve a need” for people who cannot store recreational vehicles in their subdivisions because of restrictive covenants.
Ted Evans Jr., who owns Watkinsville Storage and planned to build the facility on the Wilkes property, said he gets lots of calls from people who “want RV and boat storage.” He said “I think it would fit a need for the county.”
I spoke against the rezone and asked the commissioners to consider the report of the county planning staff, which recommended denial of the rezone request on the grounds it was inconsistent with zoning in the area and with the county’s future land use plan.
At the beginning of the meeting last night, during the commissioner comment section, Commissioner Daniell said he had looked into the decision by the county to spend nearly $10,000 for a redesign of Mars Hill Road to allow for a reconnection of Old Mars Hill Road to the new roadway.
Daniell said he concluded there was “no violation of the county purchasing policy by any staff member” but that the “I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson in this process about how we need to communicate and move forward with project’s of that big of a scope.”
Last week I had asked the commissioners if they could tell the public who made the decision to spend the money for the redesign, which was rejected by the BOC when the public spoke out against it.
Daniell did not address that question.
Daniell also said that a proposal made last week by Sarah Bell that the county consider an ethics policy for volunteer boards is “definitely something I would for us to look at at some point in the future.”
The video below is of Daniell’s comments.
Human Resources Director Smith said the county had found a new health plan offered by Cigna that would result in only a 5 percent increase over the total premium paid last year.
The change is necessary because the current provider is getting out of the health insurance business, she said.
She said the program has a $500 deductible, which the current plan does not have. But the deductible is low in comparison with other plans, she said.
Smith said the county has 259 employees who are eligible for insurance and 223 are on the current plan.
The Board voted to go forward with the Cigna health plan.