Oconee County Board of Commissioner Chairman Melvin Davis yesterday morning turned what was billed as a work session on the proposed Mars Hill Road corridor overlay district into an opportunity for a single land owner, his family and his land planner to call for rejection of the ordinance.
Following 37 minutes of comments by consultant Bill Ross, who developed the overlay plan, Davis turned the session over to Doug Dickens.
Dickens gave a six-minute critique of Ross’ plans before being joined by son Jason and land planner Ken Beall in a back-and-forth with Ross about the plan. Another family member present did not speak.
When Dickens, son Jason and Beall were finished with the exchange more than 30 minutes later, Davis brought the discussion to a halt, thanking Ross for his “time” and responses to the questions raised.
The commissioners didn’t articulate any consensus on the plan, and it was left with the uncertain future it had when the session began.
Work Session Scheduled
Davis scheduled the work session at the Dec. 15 Board of Commissioners meeting after Ross gave a summary of his work to date and commissioners John Daniell and Jim Luke questioned the overall goal of the overlay plan.
The commissioners first publicly discussed the possibility of an overlay district for the Mars Hill Road corridor now under reconstruction back in January, and Ross has held two public hearings on the plans since.
He also met twice with the county’s Citizens Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning to discuss how an overlay district would supplement the county's existing planning documents.
At that December meeting, Commissioner Jim Luke pushed Ross to do a kind of prezoning as part of the overlay district, but Commissioner John Daniell said the plan went too far and Ross should step back and address more general goals.
Davis scheduled the Friday morning meeting ostensibly to get the commissioners to resolve their differences about the overlay district before Ross takes it to the Planning Commission and then brings it back to the BOC for adoption.
To begin the discussion, Ross went over four different clusters of properties on the map, asking the Board to help him decide what to do with each.
The first was a row of properties on Old Mars Hill Road, and the second was a cluster of properties on the west side of Mars Hill Road itself just north of Dooley Boulevard.
Ross wants to leave the Old Mars Hill Road properties in a category allowing for development and to relax earlier requirements regarding the properties north of Dooley Boulevard.
The third was land owned by Dickens Farms Inc. on Mars Hill Road south of Dooley Boulevard. Ross offered some changes to his classification of those properties.
The final question Ross posed was whether more of Northwest Woods subdivision should be included in the overlay district, rather than just the part close to Mars Hill Road. Ross didn’t want to make that change.
Modifications Not Enough
When Ross finished listing each of these four issues he wanted resolved and giving his advice for a resolution, Davis interrupted the discussion.
“I see we have some land owners and a land planner in the room,” Davis said. “Let me give them an opportunity if they want to make any comments to the Board they may desire.”
Doug Dickens rose to his feet and went to the map Ross was using to illustrate his presentation.
“You all have got full control of it now,” Dickens said pointing to the map. “What is the point of this?”
Dickens said past Commissions had made decisions about how land along Mars Hill Road was to be zoned, and it would be “unfair” to limit the opportunities for him and his family to make similar uses of their property in the future.
The video below is of the initial comments by Dickens.
At regular Commission meetings, Davis frequently interrupts citzens who speak, telling them to stay on topic and limit the amount of time they use.
And commissioners have a stated policy of not responding to or interacting with the citizens who do speak.
As soon as Dickens paused in the comments in the video above, Commissioner Mark Saxon responded very personally to Dickens.
“Doug, I don’t think we came to any agreement about the blue at all,” Saxon said, referring to the color of Dickens’ property on the map. “I’ll be honest with you. We have not came to any agreement on that blue whatsoever.”
At the meeting on Dec. 15, Commissioner Jim Luke had warned that he also wasn’t interested in getting into a dispute with Dickens over use of his land.
Dickens is not just any citizen, of course, but a part of an old family with deep roots in Oconee County.
The same is true of Saxon, Commissioner John Daniell and Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes.
Luke, who missed the meeting yesterday, is married to a Sims, a member of another old Oconee family.
The county has roads bearing the names of Daniell, Saxon, Sims and Wilkes, and the families have interconnections.
The people Davis, who was born and raised in Floyd County, restricts at Commission meetings don’t have those names or connections.
The work session yesterday was held in the Grand Jury Room of the Courthouse. The first part of the meeting dealt with bids for Parkway Boulevard Extension.
The room is oddly shaped, making it difficult to video record meetings held there and for citizens to hear much of the discussion of those around the table. Some of those around the table have their backs to the audience.
Sarah Bell and I both shot video, but Bell had the better angle for much of the discussion that took place.
The video below was made by Bell.