Sunday, December 13, 2015

Oconee County Planning Commission To Consider Request To Bring Hots BBQ and Reception Hall Into Zoning Compliance

Historic Sites

The Oconee County Planning Commission tomorrow night will consider taking steps to bring Hot Thomas Bar-B-Que, a famous south Oconee family restaurant operating since 1984, into compliance with Oconee County zoning ordinances.

It also will consider plans to make a more recently opened reception hall in a historic seed house next door to an existing cotton gin consistent with current land use laws.

Both facilities are operated by Mark Thomas, a member of the Oconee County Board of Education and of the county’s Industrial Development Authority.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

Restaurant Site

Hot Thomas it located in a 1,884-square-foot white building five miles south of Watkinsville on Greensboro Highway (SR 15).

The building was constructed in 1948 and served as a general store for the area.

The building was converted to a restaurant in 1984 and operated by Thomas’ father, who went by the name of Hot.

Also on the .76-acre-tract are a cook house, a historic home, and agricultural storage buildings.

Gin And Seed House

Just a short distance south of the restaurant is the cotton gin, with all of the existing equipment still operable.

Restaurant With Seed House on Right

The cotton gin was built in 1875, according to the rezone narrative, and is the last existing cotton gin in Oconee County and one of the few in the state in its original working condition.

The seed house, across what was Greensboro Highway from the cotton gin, was built in 1958, according to the narrative.

Seed is a byproduct of the cotton gin process, and the seed can be used for a variety of purposes.

Rezone Purpose

Thomas is asking the county to rezone the .76-acres on which the restaurant and adjoining buildings sit and the 2.2 acres on which the cotton gin and seed house sit from their existing A-1 (Agricultural) to B-1 (General Business) use to bring them into compliance with county ordinances.

The properties have been zoned A-1 since the county adopted zoning on May 7, 1968, according to the staff reports for the two properties.

The restaurant essential was “grandfathered” to allow it to operate as a commercial site in what was an agricultural area of the county.

Thomas has renovated the seed house into what the county zoning law terms a reception hall, which cannot be operated in an A-1 zone.

A reception hall can be operated in the proposed B-1 zone.

Seed Hall Use

Thomas is not proposing to make any changes to the restaurant and adjoining facilities.

He also proposed to keep the cotton gin as it is and to not make additional changes to the seed house.

The seed house will be used for school field trips, agricultural tourism, farm tours, community events and wedding receptions, the narrative states.

The seed house also has been used and will be used for church gatherings, according to the rezone narrative.

Staff Recommendation

The county has made similar attempts to bring farm facilities operating as reception halls into compliance with zoning law in the past.

In December of 2013 the Board of Commissioners approved a rezone request by Barton Q. and Melanie L. Cartey for 1.6 acres on Snows Mill Road from A-1 to B-1, to allow for operation of a reception hall on what the couple calls Antique Acres.

The planning staff is recommending approval of both of the rezone requests by Thomas.

The staff report states that the county’s 2030 Future Development Map designates the area as “Agricultural Preservation,” but it allows for small country crossroads commercial uses.

The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners, which is scheduled to take final action on Jan. 5 of next year.

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